Monday, November 20th, 2017
Many people don’t test for HIV because they’re scared of a positive result, they don’t think HIV affects them or they don’t think they’ve been at risk or are vulnerable to HIV.
In support of National HIV Testing Week 18-24 November 2017, Positively UK wants to remove the fear and stigma of testing for HIV.
During National HIV Testing Week we will be sharing the stories of seven people who have had the HIV test and received a positive diagnosis.
We hope this diverse range of experiences will reduce the anxiety some people may have about testing and will enable those who may test HIV positive to seek support to live well with HIV.
I was diagnosed as HIV+ at 09:05am, November 3rd 2014, aged 25. A bright morning with a cold, crisp breeze that let you know winter was around the corner. I had tested the week before in my local GUM clinic. At the time I would visit the clinic every 3-5 months for routine screening. I had been really unwell the month before with an unusual illness, that it could be HIV had crossed my mind, so I had my suspicions.
Suspicions however did not prepare me for the news. I was devastated. I was conscious of other STI’s, but did not think that HIV really effected young people. The previous few years I had been struggling with my mental health, unemployment and being unable to support myself independently. I had hit rock bottom. My diagnosis felt like evidence that I deserved the situation I had found myself in.
I knew that I needed to break down my barriers and ask for help. Through it all I have been gifted with great friends. I borrowed some money and spent two weeks visiting those closest to me. Getting the weight off my shoulders was the greatest thing I did in those early days. I do not think I would be alive today and flourishing without their love and support.
I started treatment 10 months later on my clinician’s recommendation, though if given the choice again today I would start immediately. Being on treatment helped me shed the shame around my diagnosis, I was taking control of my health and my life. I quickly became undetectable, and I learnt that If I maintained my treatment I would live as long as my peers and I could not pass on the virus: Undetectable = Untransmittable.
About a year ago I trained to be a peer mentor. I firmly believe that peer support should be offered and encouraged for all people living with HIV, especially at point of diagnosis. Working with other positive people, sharing our lived experience and supporting each other is profoundly empowering.
If you are a young person that has been diagnosed then seek out help! Contact your local HIV service and access peer support if it is available. Reach out to someone close to you. You are not alone, you can get through this and become a stronger person because of it.
When I was diagnosed, I thought HIV would tip me over the edge. But living with HIV and facing those challenges head on helped me develop the tools to transform the rest of my life. Three years down the line those dark days seem like they were in another life. I am a proud positive young man, flourishing in a new career. I am happy, healthy and own my HIV.
Wednesday, September 18th, 2013
Born in Kampala, Uganda in 1989, I was a great shock to my mother and my family members. Mum had been so excited about having her second child [me] but was taken by surprise when the doctors had told her that I had pneumonia and was HIV positive.
I was disclosed to at the age of 12 and it completely threw me off. I instantly believed that that was it for me; I was going to die! I had no real knowledge about HIV (I mean, it’s never really taught in schools is it?) and thought I was extremely ill and had no chance in living (it seems silly now, looking back on it). My doctors explained it to me over and over again, however, I chose to block out all of the positive facts they were telling me and was stuck in ‘’doom’’ mode. I took this as a learning curb, and decided to research more, gain knowledge and figure out what this ‘thing’ is.
Over the years I was asked if I wanted to join support groups with other kids my age going through the same things I may be going through. And every time I was asked, I refused! I wanted to do it on my own; I didn’t want anyone to be let in. I acted like I was strong enough to deal with the whole world and all its problems. I was coping well with my treatment and had no major concerns about my health. So I said ‘’NO’’ Until I was blue in the face. I thought I’d be judged. And to be completely honest… I was scared! The stigma that surrounds HIV can be daunting, unbearable and harsh. Then I was introduced to CHIVA (Children’s HIV Association) where I met the most AMAZING and lifelong friends a person could ask for, I was taught so many different skills, gained new and exciting knowledge on living with HIV and was able to find myself. I finally realised that I am NOT the only one who a puts on a hard exterior and holds things in (due to fear). The stigma I thought I would face by meeting other people quickly turned into love, support and understanding from my peers. I was able to off load, I was able to advise, I was able to share and explore the many wonders of life in the eyes of a HIV positive young person. I went on to holding summer camps and speaking at world-wide conferences for other young people who were in the exact same position as me. Children who were full of fear, doubt and confusion. They looked up to me and wondered where I got my strength, courage and knowledge from? It all drew from the help and support of my peers, Doctors and family members. I realised that when I was strong, they stayed strong. And it got me through. I began working for Positively UK where I began my peer support work for young people also living with HIV. And I can proudly say that my CD4 count is over 350 and I have remained with an undetectable viral load!
I’d be lying if I said I don’t have my off days, sad hours and scary moments. However I have learnt to embrace my status, and make a difference in the lives of young people like myself who may have a few more off days, sad hours and scary moments than I do.