Jessica Glaspie was just 22 years old in 2009 when she visited the doctor, complaining of swollen lymph nodes in her neck. She suspected the swelling might have been caused by a physical altercation with her roommate the night before, but she wanted to be sure. Her physician drew some blood and scheduled an appointment for a biopsy. When the results came back, the doctor delivered harrowing and unexpected news: She had tested positive for HIV.
“I was thinking about my boyfriend and how devastated he was going to be,” she remembers. “I was also thinking about my ex-boyfriend, who had been my college sweetheart before I moved to Georgia. I was more concerned about what my diagnosis meant for everybody else. I was not educated on what HIV even was. I thought it meant I had AIDS.” It wasn’t until two years later that Glaspie learned how she had contracted the virus. A former beau had been born with HIV but had never disclosed his status to her. “I found out through a close family member of his,” she says. “He had me believe that I gave him the virus, and not the other way around. How does someone do that and sleep at night?”
In 2011, Glaspie moved back to her home state of Illinois to change her life and adjust to her new normal. She went back to school; had two children, both of whom are HIV-negative; and started using her voice as an HIV/AIDS advocate. Then, in 2016, she received a Facebook message from an old crush named Jordan. He said he was okay with her status and even moved to Illinois to be with her. They got married in August 2017 and had a child together, who, like Glaspie’s older children, was born HIV-negative. She was finally living a dream she had never thought possible, with a family to call her own.
But the magic didn’t last. Glaspie’s marriage was tested when she thought her HIV status was being used as an emotional weapon. The problems in their marriage seemed insurmountable. “One of the challenges when you’re dealing with any chronic illness, specifically HIV, is your mental health,” Glaspie explains. “I felt like I couldn’t tell my story and preach the importance of self-care when I wasn’t living that.”
She eventually had a come-to-Jesus moment, after which she left her husband and relocated to Texas with her three children. The fresh start wasn’t easy but turned out to be her best decision yet. Today Glaspie is able to manage her virus with one pill per day. As a busy mother pursuing her M.B.A., she now makes it a point to safeguard her mental health through therapy.
While also working on her memoir, which she hopes to publish in 2020, she feels affirmed in her purpose as she helps other women with HIV find light in the dark. “I want women living with this virus to know they don’t have to settle for less,” she says. “Don’t beat yourself up for the decisions that got you there. Take them as lessons learned. It gets better!”
This article originally appeared in the November issue of ESSENCE.