Lisa’s Journey to Acceptance: A Story about Overcoming Stigma and Living with HIV

Lisa (left) participates as a U=U ambassador for National HIV Testing Day in 2019.

Support Lisa and other Manitobans living with HIV by supporting the 2020 Virtual Red Ribbon Walk & Run. Buy a 50/50 ticket or make a donation and participate in our awareness actions from September 14-20.

Lisa Patrick, also known by her Indigenous name Yellowhead River, was in her 30s when she was diagnosed with HIV. “I’ve been living with the disease now for about 10 years, so it’s been a fight,” Lisa says. “Back then, I was working in the bars as a bartender and I had my kid so I was being a family person. I had a little bit of a drinking problem. I had a little bit of a drug problem. I was overcoming that when I found out I was HIV. That’s what totally made me quit right there instead of beating around the bush.”

While Lisa knew she had to change her life to tackle HIV, when Lisa was first diagnosed, she didn’t know what to do. “When I first got the diagnosis, I cried. I didn’t know anything and I didn’t know Nine Circles existed for the first couple of months.”

Having grown up in Winnipeg, Lisa had seen people going in and out of Nine Circles but was unsure of what it was. “I happened to walk in the door to figure out what this place was, because I seen people walk in and out of here. It took courage just to come to the doors,” Lisa says. To her surprise, she immediately recognized a familiar face in the reception area – her physician Dr. Kasper.

“Dr. Kasper, so what are you doing here!” But Dr. Kasper threw the question back at her – “He’s like, no, what are you doing here?” Lisa told him that she was checking the place out. “Well, this is a good place. I’ll put you on the food bank list,” Kasper said.

That was the moment for Lisa when everything started to change and move forward. “The stigma I had inside myself – I was beginning to release it all because you got to fight the stigma within yourself first before you can heal, before I can tell others anything,” says Lisa.

After years of coming to Nine Circles, Lisa says she has learned to fight for herself and fight against HIV. Most importantly to Lisa, she has found a community where she has met new friends that can relate to her. “Like if I didn’t contract this disease I wouldn’t have made friends with those people, so I’m kind of a glad in a way that I caught the disease you know, because I’ve met a lot of new people and you know we’re all sitting in the same boat.”

Lisa attributes Nine Circles group programming to helping her socialize and removing the feeling of loneliness. “Nine Circles has helped me, especially with the Lived Experience Advisory group. And it’s something, that you don’t feel alone, because you got to go out. So, Nine Circles helps with socializing.” Lisa has also attended other Nine Circles’ workshops like Standing Strong and Dream Big and is a member of Sisters of Fire – an Indigenous woman’s group for women living with HIV, at Ka Ni Kanichihk.

For Lisa, her life has changed a lot since gaining the courage to walk through the doors of Nine Circles. “My outlook has changed a lot, and with the information that I got through Nine Circles, if somebody in my family caught it, I’d be able to help. Just to let them speak it out first, you know, and then show them the door here.” But she also feels strongly that she’s learned how to overcome the stigma. “I mean if you had asked me to tell my story 10 years ago, I would have been up here just bawling my eyes out.”

But that’s not Lisa Patrick today. Rather, she’s known as a voice of power.  “People say to me, Lisa, you speak the truth.”

Support Lisa and other Manitobans living with HIV by supporting the 2020 Virtual Red Ribbon Walk & Run. Buy a 50/50 ticket or make a donation and participate in our awareness actions from September 14-20.

Due to COVID-19, we are in the process of adapting our group programming to support physical distancing. Your donation will help us continue to offer programming that combats isolation and helps people build strategies to live well and improve their health.