Friday 17th April 2015.
HIV result: positive.
The three letters that turned my world upside down and changed life as I knew it forever; a day that will forever be etched in to my memory…
As a teacher, it was the last day of the Easter holidays before the start of a new term. I met up with another friend of mine to walk his dog. My phone rang and I was surprised to hear that I had been called by the sexual health clinic following a routine sexual health check-up earlier in the week. The person on the end of the phone asked me if I could go to the clinic immediately.
An hour later I arrived at the clinic. My anxiety flared and I focused on controlling my breathing. The time seemed to drag and the resounding ticking of the clock heightened the tension. I was called in by a sexual health advisor, who sat me down.
I sat there in shock as the news slapped me across the face: HIV positive. She asked me whether I was surprised by this result. I couldn’t talk and just nodded. I broke down and slumped into the chair unable to breathe. I excused myself to go to the toilet to vomit. In the privacy of the toilet I fell to the floor, sobbing and shaking uncontrollably. After a few minutes, I regained some composure and returned to the small consultation room. In my ignorance, I was convinced that my life would be over and I was sure to die. I felt the foundations of my life shift as I thought about not finding love, being undesirable and being unable to have children.
When I think back to the initial days and weeks following my diagnosis, I am filled with profound sadness and a desire to reach out and wrap my arms around my very vulnerable self. I was swamped with a myriad of feelings: grief, self-disgust, anger, sadness and a new found awareness of my vulnerability and mortality. I had to grieve for what I had lost and the potential stigma and obstacles that I had gained.
Two days later and in a dazed state, I travelled home to tell my mum. She was immediately concerned when I turned up at the front door and burst into tears. Her support and understanding immediately alleviated some of the weight. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by the support and unconditional love of my family. Along with this is my family’s wonderfully twisted sense of humour. If someone in my house is having a bad day they are told: “Stop being so HIV negative!
I began to see what support was available and I received support through online forums, counselling and attending a newly diagnosed HIV course. The culmination of these experiences equipped me with the knowledge and skills to live a full life with HIV. I felt empowered. So empowered in fact that I made a video entitled: “My HIV Diagnosis: Coming Out Again” which went viral (excuse the pun) on Facebook. I was inundated with words of kindness and support. I stand firmly behind my decision to do this as it brought down the walls and enabled me to normalise my HIV rather than keeping it as my dark secret.
Being diagnosed with HIV has enriched my life in so many ways. For me, it made me evaluate my priorities. Soon after being diagnosed, I quit my job, moved cities and started a Master’s degree. I also took up running. Running has become a positive outlet and helped me to develop a strong body and a strong mind. In 2016 I ran a half marathon in under two hours raising £675 for a children’s HIV charity.
Reflecting upon what I have achieved in just under two years of living with HIV fills me with a sense of pride and a zest for life. I know now that I can look forward to many more years of living positively with HIV provided that I take my medication and live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
I look forward to the future and I embrace the challenges that come my way. I have battled with my self-esteem and sense of worth but this heals with time and the right support. Despite obstacles, bumps in the road, pain and suffering, to be alive and living with HIV in 2017 is a comma, rather than the full stop that it would have been just two decades ago. For all those lives lost, I see it as my duty to thrive; not just survive. For this reason, I am passionate about being a “positive” ambassador and HIV activist.
I have recently completed the Project 100 Peer Mentor training with Positively UK to support newly diagnosed people at the start of their journey. I cannot recommend this highly enough, for people living with HIV to take forward their personal experiences, insight and wealth of knowledge.
Now there are days when I do not even think about HIV at all. It has become a small, manageable, part of my life. I still face the challenge of stigma, rejection and discrimination but I have developed a thick skin, resilience and strategies to live a life filled with love and laughter.
Next step… finding a husband!