Positive in the Philippines: an interview with Billy Santo.
Billy Santo, of the Philippines interviews himself for PositiveLite.com.
Preferred name for credits?
What would you do today if nothing scared you?
I would educate people regarding the HIV/AIDS Epidemic and would never have to be afraid of disclosing my status. I'd like to make them aware that people like me exist and should be treated normally, without the prejudice and discrimination that comes from every family, the community, the church, the workplace.
What is something that you expected to happen but didn’t – or has not yet happened in your life as a person living with HIV? How do you feel about it?
Surviving AIDS. It was in May 2015 that I suffered with full blown AIDS and nearly died with complications due to a suppressed immune system, with no one attending to my needs in the Intensive Care Unit. I was depressed, isolated and I felt my world was crumbling in front of me.
I was deserted by my family, humiliated by my friends, discriminated against in my workplace and I didn't expect that I would recover from that tragic phase of my life. I was losing hope until I realized the importance of living and how blessed I am that in spite of the illness I was getting help from my doctors and nurses and was already going on with treatment.
I fought for it until I was out and able to walk, breathe, talk and see normally. I got back on track and now I help others do the same through my advocacy in diminishing the stigma against HIV/AIDS. And I have found my calling to educate and give hope to others and guide them to the light in order to fight the condition, so that like me they will still find peace and HIV will not define them.
How did you find out about your status? Can you describe what it was like? – What were you feeling, who did you first talk to etc?
I was a product of late diagnosis; I admit that I was stubborn, childish and irresponsible. There were a lot of times when I could have got myself tested but I refused. I was reluctant, afraid and I wasn’t in the mindset to accept that I might be indeed HIV-positive.
So I went on with risky behavior, thinking every single day and night that I might possibly be infected by the virus. I was restless and weary and this continuous neglect led me to my downfall. If I had gotten tested early I might have avoided a lot of opportunistic infections.
Now I can only laugh, but hey, it made who I am today. Strong-willed, steadfast and immovable. I was no one to turn to at that time. I hid my status and self-medicated at first, until such time that I could no longer stand, talk or assist myself to the bathroom. I peed and pooped in bed and I was losing weight rapidly.
Until I had a total black out. I passed out and the next thing I knew I was in the hospital. I tried reaching out to my friends but one by one they left me. I contacted my partner and was told that I was rotten. I tried to speak to my family but they were so disgusted and were afraid of getting infected by me.
Who do you look up to, or where do you draw strength from on a daily basis?
Right now I have my self as an inspiration. With all the hardship I went through I believe that you can get the support you need from everyone else but the first person who can help you and make you believe that you can continue to live is yourself.
Next are those people who are also undergoing the same condition as I or maybe worse. I see them as a motivation, that I may be lucky to be better off now but that doesn’t mean I should back down or make me feel self-satisfied. Instead, it encourages me to help them and together we will succeed in the combat against this virus.
In everything I do I always wear my faith in Him. In my darkest hour I know that he will provide me with good people who will not just help me but will also uplift my being.
What is your idea of happiness?
Happiness is a choice, not a result. Nothing will make you happy until you choose to be happy. No person will make you happy unless you decide to be happy. Your happiness will not come to you. It can only come from you.
You can never be less of a person just because you made mistakes in the past or you met some wrong people along the way. You face the consequences for those mistakes and that's already enough to bear. You learn from your past and from your mistakes and that will make you a stronger and a better person.
Whatever you did in the past, you must accept. Forgive others and forgive yourself, learn from it, move on and continue life. After all, everything happens for a reason. "We are all human beings! Human error are always inevitable and unavoidable. As humans we are all perfectly imperfect and commit mistakes sometimes."
In life, we may be surrounded by people who judge us. Don't mind them. There's no good in dwelling on something negative. Put some dignity in you for you not to lose your worth. Life must go on. Always remember that life is still beautiful despite everything. You just have to stand still and stand tall.
What is your greatest fear?
I fear that my loved ones will suffer the same thing that I have suffered; I don’t want them to feel the tormenting effects of depression given by this illness. I am afraid of living a life not being able to impart something to them. I am afraid of dying without being able to prove my worth and I am afraid of being unloved, unaccepted and misunderstood. I love my life and I love to live for as long as I can and I will continue to show them that I can live a healthy, fruitful and meaningful life.
What's the most annoying thing that's you've heard people say about people living with HIV?
That it’s a gay disease. That we are given this illness as a punishment. That we deserve to be sick because we were born sinners. That we are immoral and we are worthless and that we need to die and we deserve this virus because there is no place for gay men in this world. That we have this virus because we are sodomized.
What inspired you to come out as HIV-positive?
I was pushed back against the wall. I needed to fight back and get up. I was tired and I was held to my limits. And I could no longer take it. I was close to suicidal and I had to do something. I had to step up and prove them that they were wrong.
All the misconceptions and ignoramus opinion will be put to a halt. As long as you know in your heart that you've done your best, it's all that matters. People may not understand you. But remember, it is not their expectations or opinions that define you. You do the best you can, with what you have and where you are. Live in your own truth, and even if you make mistakes, it is alright. The lessons you will learn will make you stronger, wiser and more resilient.
How would you like to be remembered?
I’d like to be remembered as a POSITIVE person. I am not to be pitied. I want it to be remembered that even with this virus I have touched lives and hearts and was able to contribute, help to save those who were also lost and who dwindled in the dark. I wanted to be accepted and understood.
Any words for people living with HIV?
To my fellow people living with HIV, do not lose hope. The agony, pain and sorrow that you are feeling will soon pass. Let us join hands and make a change. Let’s change hearts and minds and we will soon find our place in this word. HIV will not define us, We may have this virus but we have never lost our humanity.
Any message to your family, friends, loved ones?
To my family, I love you, and I will always respect you. I am sorry for the things I have caused you. We can never regain what's been lost but I know soon we will still be together, because I believe that families can be together forever. I might have been disowned but I know in God’s perfect time, you will understand and your hearts will be shaken and your minds will be opened and you will extend your arms to me.
To my friends, I’m glad that I have you, you are the most important to me. I have felt like second family with you. And although we are not blood related your support means a lot more to me than any cure in this world. You sustain me with your companionship and I am glad to have been a good and sincere friend to you.
To my partner, I thank you for never giving up on me. To always be there at my every cry, and to carry me through my every fall. I love you and it brings me so much courage and determination to have you not just a partner but also an imitation of my love.