Four years ago today my life changed forever.
Four years ago today I was diagnosed HIV Positive.
One year ago today I decided to end my silence.
When I was initially diagnosed I didn’t believe most other people living with HIV when they told me that in time I would become at ease with my status and think about it less, or at least, not let it get in my way. But as the cliché goes “time is a great healer” and gradually I came to terms living with the virus and realised it only had to change my life if I wanted it to, and those changes didn’t have to be negative.
And so just over a year ago I knew I was ready to be publicly open about my status, and no longer hide it. I decided that I didn’t want to tell everyone on just any day. I waited until a year ago today, the anniversary of my diagnosis. I wanted to turn a day that could be remembered for the wrong reasons into something ‘positive’ (do you see what I did there?!) and a day that I could look back on and be proud of.
There are many reasons why I didn’t want to hide my status any longer, primarily because I came to believe that as long as people continue to hide it the general public will continue to judge that it is something to be afraid of. And it is fear that breeds ignorance and stigma.
I wanted to be a voice for change, to be able to speak up about what I thought was right, what I believed people living with HIV need to live normal lives. I know that this isn’t always a popular decision and plenty of other Positive people probably wish people like me would shut up and keep quiet, I respect that opinion but I don’t agree with it.
I don’t walk around the streets with a massive banner telling every stranger I meet my status, I don’t have a big ‘HIV’ tattoo on my forehead. That’s not what being open is about. It’s about having the guts to stick up for people who aren’t confident or aren’t able to use their voice. It’s about being a visible presence for newly diagnosed people who want to ask questions and it’s making people think about their actions and where they can lead them to. It also gives an insight to who I am, and I am someone who is honest, out in the open and not afraid of other peoples prejudice.
I didn’t choose to be open about my status to make new friends, but that has certainly been one of the benefits, it is easy to forget that the HIV community is actually very small, and it can feel like you’re alone at times. But with social media, in particular Twitter and websites like the myHIV Forums I have met some great people, and had the pleasure to have now met some of them in the flesh as well. This past year has been a rollercoaster ride and I feel that this is just the beginning.
In one year I’ve been involved in various awareness-raising initiatives, I helped make a documentary to raise awareness about HIV, I’ve written for various blogs and magazines and I’ve had my photo snapped a number of times in order to stand up without shame and speak out that “I am HIV Positive!” And it’s not stopped there; I’ve spent a lot of free time writing to MPs, companies, charities and of course penning this blog.
And I want to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to everyone who reads, comments and messages me about it. I really appreciate people spending their time reading my ramblings (I know I can go on and on sometimes) but it makes it all worthwhile to hear other people’s views and opinions, whether I agree with them or not. The best result I can get out of blogging is engaging with people and getting people to talk about HIV. The more we talk about HIV, the more we progress, and the closer we come to a day where living with HIV doesn’t mean living with the associated stigma. It doesn’t matter if we don’t agree with what each other has to say, it doesn’t matter if we think we’re ‘spot on’. It’s the silence that kills people, which will endanger lives. So let’s get talking. I mean it when I say ‘ask me anything about this virus’.
I’ll never forget 6th November, and it will always be remembered as a day that changed my life, but not just because I was diagnosed with HIV, but because I chose to stand up, speak out and fight the stigma associated with living with this virus, and more importantly that so many people continued to support, care and love me regardless of my status.