My name is Maureen. I come from Zimbabwe. But now I live in London and I’m British.
I used to take myself as the perfect one, but when I came to the UK, I started losing weight. I started having some fevers and something was suspicious. I collapsed in the house and I was taken to hospital and they discovered I had pulmonary TB. But, to my shock, they told me I’m HIV-positive. My room was facing the Thames River. One day I thought I should jump through the window and just die. I can’t take the shame, the stigma within my community, the stigma within my family. Then I was introduced to a support group in Enfield and they were looking so good.
With all the confidence that I was gaining whenever I meet people, I started discovering myself. I started speaking openly about HIV and I set myself free and I discovered that within me there is the passion to work with people living with HIV. With the ARVs that we take, especially people of color, the skin changes. I said no, I have to change the way I look.
I love fashion. I mean, my size, I’m big and there is no way I can walk into Harrod’s and get a dress of my size, so I make my own clothes. Everything I do, I do it myself. Before I come out, no matter how late I am, I have to run and peer through the mirror and see how I look, then I come out.
I never thought I would make it up till now. I had my diagnosis when I was 39, but now I’m 51. People used to think someone was HIV-positive should be skinny and all that, and miserable, you know. No, no, no, things have changed. Now we’re looking good. We can do everything. The only thing I always tell people—the only thing I can’t do is donate blood. If you are bitter, everything just doesn’t coordinate.
I love smiling. To me that’s my medicine.