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.
I tested positive two years ago in November 2015.
I’ve always believed that everyone who is sexually active should check their sexual health. Especially nowadays with online dating websites and applications we are all more exposed to risk. I tested in my local Sexual Health Clinic. I had tested before when I started or ended a relationship and in a few instances when I had unprotected sex without knowing the status of my partner.
I am a heterosexual woman and I have a pretty standard and “risk free” lifestyle however like most girls of my age I dated and I had sex and while most of the times I used protection there is always that time a condom slips or breaks or that one time that you don’t use protection in the heat of the moment thinking: “oh come on, it cannot happen to me…”
It was a routine test. I had recently ended a relationship. I had suspected my ex-partner had not been completely honest with me so I decided to get tested for peace of mind. At first I was numb. I still remember every moment. Everything the nurses and heath advisor were telling me sounded surreal like I was just having a bad dream. Then the shock hit me the day after.
I am glad I was diagnosed in a sexual health clinic since I received immediately a lot of support. I had the finger prick test which gives you a result in a couple of minutes so I didn’t have to wait too long. Also the staff there was very supportive. They gave me the news in a very calm, respectful and empathic manner. They immediately “normalized” the diagnosis telling me that I was going to be fine and that nowadays there are plenty of medicines available with very few if no side effects. They also reassured me that since I was diagnosed just a few months from my infection the prognosis was very good and that my immune system was not seriously damaged yet.
The same day the health advisor suggested me to contact Positively UK since they offered peer support. As much as it did not sound of great comfort, in that moment the idea that I could contact someone in the same situation made me feel less alone and gave me some encouragement.
I started treatment three months after the diagnosis. Since my immune system was still very strong the doctor advised me that I could take my time and that there was no need to rush. I let Christmas pass and I took a bit of time to do some research on the various medicines. Once I made up my mind I went back to the clinic and I told the doctor I was ready to start straight away and so I did the day after. Looking backwards I would probably start even earlier now. The web is full of bad and outdated stories about side effects which can be scary and confusing. I had none of those side effects.
Starting treatment made me feel in control of my own health and gave me confidence around other people. I am aware that being undetectable the virus is suppressed so unable to damage my immune system so I can lead a healthy and normal life. Also being undetectable I’ve never felt being a “threat” to others or being “dirty and infectious”. It also gives me confidence when challenging ignorance from others.
My life actually has not changed much since my diagnosis. I never missed a day of work, I had a promotion this year, I still travel for work and leisure and I still have wonderful friends around me. From a physical point of view I am no different from when I was HIV negative. I have no side effects from medications, I am strong and healthy, I am actually in a better shape since the diagnosis motivated me to look after myself more.
I would be lying if I said that this was very easy. Emotionally it was hard at the beginning and I had low moments however most of it has to do with internalized stigma and attitude one has to life. Most people I disclosed to have been very supportive. In some cases I experienced some level of ignorance but every time it was an opportunity for me to educate others.
Everybody’s journey is different and people have different ways of overcoming obstacles. What helped me was connecting with other people living with HIV and getting peer support from charities like Positively UK. An HIV diagnosis can be very scary and isolating at the beginning, however there is support out there and in my case it was fundamental to keep an optimistic approach.
Most of the times self-sabotaging will be your worst enemy. Believe in the scientific evidence and reject old and wrong myths on HIV as this is now a very manageable condition with a near to normal life expectancy.