It's been quite a while since I was diagnosed with HIV in September 2018. As could be expected, the news came as a tremendous shock. My first instinct was: "I am not living with this. My life is over."I refused to live being branded by people uneducated about HIV. I cried so much that at times I had to gasp deeply for air. Still today I have those moments when I just burst into tears when no one is around.When people first saw me after finding out, their reactions broke me. I did not know that simple words could inflict so much pain. It even went as far as me being labelled a whore. Being a young mother in small-town Uitenhage, Eastern Cape, I wanted to end my life to spare my precious daughters the embarrassment of having to be raised by an HIV+ mother. Having to deal with such a whirlwind of emotions while trying to hide it all eventually became too heavy a load to carry. My bottle of compacted emotions exploded. My room became my hiding place. I cried and cried for days on end. I lashed out at my family for the most random of things, feeling irritated by just existing overall. The way people treat you differently hurts beyond expression. One evening I was standing in a queue at a fast food restaurant looking at the menu and saw two guys who once were my friends standing in front of me in the same line. I tapped one of them on the shoulder, smiled and said, “Dude, it's been a while.” He turned around, and with the most disgusted look on his face told his friend, “Let's go, bra.” They instantly left the line. The pain I felt was nauseating. I stayed up that whole night crying. Since then, I’ve been so afraid of being seen in public and having to keep my emotions intact for the stares, glares and comments of those who are uneducated about HIV. A couple of months ago, my canister of hidden emotions exploded once again. I stopped using my medication for quite a few weeks, I starved myself and excluded myself from the family. The hatred I felt towards myself was amplified. I skipped my clinic visits and basically disconnected and unplugged myself from everyone. The uninformed commentary from people I once had good relationships with was unbearable. Soon my immune system weakened and I found myself not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. At the time I was breastfeeding and I realised I had to consider my beautiful daughters. How could I possibly leave a beautifully blooming six-year-old and a one-year-old motherless in this world? I admit I felt like an embarrassment to myself and thought my family felt the same way. I needed much more than just my normal medication from the clinic. I needed to personally set goals and work just as hard. In May 2019, I scraped together the courage to visit the clinic. I got my medication and then the hard work started. I was unable to work due to breastfeeding and desperately needed a means of income to get myself back on track. I started doing jobs privately, cleaning acquaintances' houses without informing anyone. I did not want to burden my parents even more financially. It was hard work leading a double life. I had to do my jobs fast in order to arrive home before my daughter arrived from school and still had to complete our own house chores and responsibilities before the rest of the family arrived home from work. This was no problem at all for me. It boosted my confidence knowing I'm earned my own money for my vitamins, healthy snacks and drinks for my road to recovery. It's like I made myself proud of something so small. Handouts from my parents were simply not an option. I helped myself to boost my self-confidence and rebuild my self-esteem. The part that was most difficult was to forgive myself and to stop being hateful towards myself. I am so far from being an exemplary Christian, but I am eternally grateful to God for being so lovingly merciful that He has blessed me with a better chance at life. What this whole life experience has taught me is that no matter how strong you are, there is no way you can deal with emotional, physical and mental issues alone. Once you're at peace everything feels so much better. In order to have a happy and blessed future for myself and my daughters, I need to fully love myself first. No disease, disorder or illness can take over and redefine who God has made you to be. Slowly, I am discovering the bubbly, always laughing, inquisitive me again.Do you have a story to share? Send it to email@example.com include your contact details and a photo. Visit Landisa for more stories.