DURHAM – Mike T. Wilson found out he was infected with HIV in 1988. Now, almost 25 years later, he’s healthy and happy.
“Life is good, and I enjoy life,” Wilson said in an interview at Thursday’s World AIDS Day event at Hayti Heritage Center.
Wilson, 45, discovered he was HIV positive during a physical to re-enlist in the Navy. He was shocked at first.
“I had some time to think about what I would do,” he said. “It was difficult, but I overcame most of the challenges in my life. Today, I’m doing well for myself.”
Wilson once took 45 pills a day, but now, he’s down to just four. He said he feels better today than 10 years ago.
He credits that to better medications and a great attitude.
“I keep myself happy, because the happier you are, the healthier you feel,” he said.
Wilson works with HIV-positive support groups in Durham, and tries to help people stay positive.
“People ask me how I make it and say they can’t do it,” Wilson said. “And I say: ‘Yes, you can do it. You’ve got to have your mind set to do it.’ ”
Wilson, whose nickname is The Ambassador, said he’s surrounded by friends “and a lot of positive things. I stay busy all day.”
The worst thing for Wilson about having the disease, he said, is “the discrimination and stigma.”
“It’s really bad in the South,” Wilson said. He is originally from New Jersey and a frequent visitor to New York. “Many people say you can’t say this or that. It’s challenging down here.”
Wilson said the stigma in the black community against those with HIV can be “very harmful.”
“But I tell people: ‘There are just some things you’ve got to try to deal with. Push through it. Don’t let it bother you.’ ”
“Some people get offended, and that’s why many people don’t come forward, because they don’t want anybody to know that they’re [HIV] positive.”
Wilson said being open about the disease can be liberating.
“You get a sense of release,” he said. “I have a great church family and a lot of friends. I share my story with everybody, and that makes me feel good. I hope to help others by encouraging them.”
“Everybody has a different reaction to it, but everybody knows I’m positive,” Wilson said. “There’s no secret. I say: ‘Stop hiding behind the walls. Take your mask off.’ ”
Wilson said it’s important to educate people about HIV/AIDS, especially because the number of infections in the South “is horrible.”
He advises young people, especially those who “love to party,” to get tested and behave responsibly.
“You need to protect yourself,” he said. “Do the right thing. Be smart about it. Go get tested.”
Wilson urges those with HIV to get treated with today’s improved drugs, but he worries that not everyone has access to them.
“I want to see more treatments being offered to people in areas where they don’t have it, and don’t have facilities like we have here in Durham,” he said.
And for those who are tempted to stop fighting the disease, he says to stay positive.
“Just be strong,” Wilson said. “Don’t quit. Don’t ever give up.”