My name is Gladys Maria de Oliveira Nathan, I am forty-nine years old, and I live in the Pavuna neighborhood. I am HIV-positive, and I am physically disabled because of a stroke I had in 1993. The stroke left me so that I can’t walk very well, and I have trouble using my arm and my leg.
I discovered I was HIV-positive in 1991. How I caught it, I don’t know. I think that when we have the disease, it is here to stay, and it doesn’t matter who I caught it from, because since 1991 I have been living with HIV.
These photos were very important for me. I can’t tell you what the purpose is, because I don’t have a purpose, but I know I took these photos for a reason. They gave me a kind of tranquility, a peace. It’s as if I were up in the clouds, admiring the world from above. It’s as if I didn’t exist.
There was a time in my life when I suffered a lot, and I was alone. When the doctor told me about my status, my health was getting worse, and I became desperate. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I went home, I locked myself in for a week. I didn’t want to go outside, didn’t want to see anybody, didn’t want to talk to anybody. All I did was cry and say that I wanted to die. It was a whole week. When I realized I wasn’t dying, I said, “Okay, the only thing to do now is live. There is nothing else to do.”
It was an enormous struggle. In 1991 I had no information—I didn’t know what AIDS was and I didn’t know how to protect myself. The truth is that I didn’t have any friends, anyone to guide me. I discovered my HIV status around the same time I separated from my ex-husband, so it was two very difficult blows at once. It was a hard life.
I was able to get on with my life by putting a veil over my eyes, as if it weren’t true. I didn’t want to believe it, and this was easy at the time because I didn’t take any medication. Between 1992 and 1993 I started taking medication, and then in 1993 I had the stroke.
My doctor said that HIV was not the cause of this stroke. He said it was from nervousness. Then I realized that I really didn’t understand anything, and my head was all messed up. I wanted to understand why I had the stroke, why I had HIV, but I just didn’t understand. I spent all my time wondering what would become of me, because I had nobody to turn to. I was completely lost.
In 1992 I met a man named Francisco from Niterói. He decided to help me, and take control of everything. I told him I had HIV, and he turned to me and said, “I don’t want to know if you have HIV or don’t have HIV, I want to take care of you.”
I had gone to a hospital where there were no doctors, no nurses, no medication. I thought my only salvation would be death. One of the caretakers told my sister to come and get me, but there was no place for me to go. Francisco came to get me, to take me back to Niterói.
I said to him, “Wherever you go, I’ll go. But there is a problem. I can’t walk.”
“No problem,” he said, “I’ll carry you.” And he walked from Rio de Janeiro to São Gonçalo carrying me in his arms.
He had rented a small room where I stayed with him. This was where I started proper treatment. He would say to me, “You can’t surrender. You’re beautiful, you’re intelligent, you have everything ahead of you. You can have everything you want.”
I thank him and God because it was both of them who gave me courage to have what I have today.
Today I do physical therapy; I swim, to increase my mobility. But all this has been a slow process. Because of the stroke, there was a time that I had trouble walking. I was in bed for a year, but today I walk. I live in my own house, and I have chores. I pay my bills. I can say I am a happy person, because I have a home and I have people who love me, and I thank God for being here. And what I wanted to pass on, what I want to say above all, is that it’s worth it to go on living, because despite any problems, and in spite of all my difficulties, I came out on top. Thank God.