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Friday, May 18, 2012

Anthony Ellis: Shining Positivity on HIV

by Cyrus Webb

I can remember the first time I heard the term "package" when talking about HIV, and I remember thinking out sad it seemed. Imagine being the person that is being referred to and having to live with not just the disease but the stigma as well.


Enter Anthony Ellis.


I was introduced to him earlier this year, and was immediately a fan not only of his book He Got That Package but his mission to educate others about HIV and the importance of loving yourself. Diagnosed in 1993 at the age of 23, Anthony thought at the time that his life was over. What the now 41 year-old has since learned is that in many ways a new journey had begun, one where he could not only appreciate his own gift of life but help others to live life on purpose.


Anthony allowed Conversations LIVE to be the first radio show to share his story, and he entrusted me with the opportunity to chronicle his experiences in this interview. This is our conversation...

Anthony, thank you for agreeing to talk with me about your book and your life. I know you were twenty-three (23) years old when you discovered you were HIV-positive. What caused you to get tested?
Cyrus I thank you for this opportunity to share my testimony. The way this all started is that I had gotten sick and went to the Emergency Room. After some tests I was advised to have an HIV/AIDS, because I was told that my immune system was too low for someone my age.

And the test came back positive. What initially was going through your mind?
I couldn't believe it. I was in denial at first. It just couldn't be true. You have to remember most of the information we had at that time made me feel like HIV was pretty much a gay man's disease. Being heterosexual, I just didn't think that I could get it or had to worry about it. After I took the first test I decided to take two more. Each one came back the same. Positive. At that point I knew it wasn't a game. It was real.

I learned that there are four ways you can get the disease: blood, breast milk, vaginal secretions and semen When I found I was kind of angry with myself. I felt like I should have known.
Anthony, had you had any symptions or signs that would have alerted you to anything being wrong?
Not at all. I had felt like my health was pretty good until then. I had never been hospitalized or anything. Growing up I was pretty healthy.

So did you see HIV as a death sentence?
Yes I did. Society told you that if you had HIV that you were going to die. I conditioned myself to live that way. I told myself that since I was going to die there wasn't really any reason to live. Alcohol and drugs became my way of dealing with it. I saw it as a way out for me.

But you're still here. What changed?
After a few years of giving myself over to alcohol and drugs something in me just woke up. It was then that I realized that HIV and AIDS weren't going to kill me. I was doing it to myself. I knew then that I had a chance to live.

That's powerful, Anthony. After you had the epiphany about your being here is when you decided to write the book?
I started writing HE GOT THAT PACKAGE: about 3 1/2 years ago. I hadn't thought about writing a book before, but I realized I had an opportunity to join in the conversation about HIV and try and help slow this disease down and stop it. I had been through so many emotional changes through this disease that I knew I could help someone. I was ashamed of the "package", and that is where the name of the book came from. My goal was and still is to help others get rid of the ignorance still surrounding HIV.

For some people others finding out about them being HIV positive is a concern. Was it for you?
When I first found out the first person I told was my first cousin who was very close to me. To be honest other than family members I didn't tell any one. I kept it a secret. I was really living a double life. I now know that anytime you have to try and hide a part of yourself from society you aren't going to be able to really live. Back then, though, I thought people would judge me.

In the book you discuss the issue of faith quite a bit. How has your belief system changed or evolved since living with HIV?
I was raised up as a child in the church. I knew about God, but I didn't really have faith in Him. That has changed tremendously. Now I know that God is the only reason why I am still here. I thought that life was over for me, but it is my faith in what is possible that continues to keep me strong.

Thank you again, Anthony, for sharing this story with us and the world. What do you hope people take away from your book when they finish it?
The book came out in November 2011. After reading my book I want you to ask yourself this question: Are you positive you are negative? Get tested. The life you save might very well be your very own.

Find out more information about Anthony and his book at www.onebrotherthreesisters.com.

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