For many hearing an HIV diagnosis is thought of as a "death sentence," and they keep it hidden because they fear judgment from others.
It's all something Sharmain Mayes, 23, faced her whole life: She was diagnosed with HIV when she was four-months-old.
"It was really hard to try to juggle finding out who you are as a person and understanding where people are coming from," says Mayes.
Mayes did not reveal her diagnosis herself; when she was 18-years-old a friend began telling people without her permission. "She says, at that point in time my family thought it best that I keep it a secret. But it actually worked out for the better because I decided, ‘Hey I'm not going to let this disease control my life.'"
She now travels across the Mid-South sharing her story, hoping to end the stigmas associated with the disease. Mayes says 30 years after the discovery of HIV and people still have the same stigmas.
"Some people still ignorantly believe that you can get it from contact with the person, from casual contact, from kissing, from toilet seats," says Mayes, "That's really frustrating when I hear a teacher who is supposed to be educated saying that, ‘You can get it this way,' and I just want to scream! I want to stand up and say ‘Now you can't get it like that!'"
She says she and a recent boyfriend recently broke up because he thought some of these same things and that he would contract HIV.
"He was just insistent he was going to get it and he was going to die.," she adds, "I've heard that from guys I've disclosed to are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I'm going to die. We can't be together, you'll kill me.'"
She says she has received threats because she has HIV and battled depression because of it. Now she is all smiles and looking on the Brightside. Mayes is taking the diagnosis she's lived with all of her life to better educate people and end the stigmas.
"It's a part of me and I've accepted it's just a part of me that's helped me grow in a lot of different ways," says Mayes, "I can live just a normal life that's anybody's. I've never thought otherwise."