Peer support opened my eyes to the walls I built after my HIV diagnosis

Monday 24 November 2014

"Peter" (not his real name) is a NZAF peer support group member. He shares his story of stigma — and how support and understanding have changed his life.

"My reaction to the HIV diagnosis was a huge shock. It took me a few weeks just to believe it. The doctors were very supportive, but I was so afraid that I went straight into smoking weed, lots of cigarettes and a deep depression. My doctor said to me, 'You won’t win anything by telling your partner or family. I have not seen anyone gain anything by telling people.'

"Before being diagnosed, I used to think that HIV was something that made you skinny – that it was something that happened to people with low levels of education and would kill you in a few years. This is not true and HIV should be seen as another chronic disease. It is manageable and is not a death sentence anymore. There are worse diseases, but I would tell people to always use protection and not get HIV in the first place.

"Today, only my partner and doctors know about my diagnosis. I told my partner first. Our story is one of love and perseverance. I met him three years ago and it was amazing – love at first sight. Circumstances were such that we lived apart from each other for a year after we met but we had an agreement to be monogamous. Sometime in that year I became sick and, after lots of examinations, I got tested for HIV. The result was positive.

"For me it was the end of the world – and my relationship – because of my fear of stigma around having HIV. I always wanted to have kids and a normal life. The first thing I did was to break up with my partner. I didn't tell anybody — only my doctors knew about it.

"After one month my partner asked me about the reason for the break-up.  I couldn't lie and told him the truth. I was only trying to protect him but it was very funny when he asked, "Is that it?" I was so surprised and shocked because even I couldn’t imagine dating a person living with HIV. He got tested straight away and he was negative.

"The stigma has always been worse than the virus. My partner and doctors have been really supportive. So has the NZAF’s peer support group I have been going to. The other group members opened my eyes to the walls I had built around me. I learned there are people who have been living with HIV for the last 30 years, pretty much since I was born.

"I feel relieved when I share my story, even if it is anonymously. I am not defined by HIV; not at all. My partner and I have now been living together for one and a half years in the same house. We are planning to get married and have kids too. I'm very healthy and live a normal life, we love each other so much and HIV is not an issue in our relationship."

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