Monday 30 April 2018
“For the last 29 years, I’ve been living with a lot of guilt, shame, and anxiety,” says John*, a self-identified gay man of Pacific descent who lives in Auckland.
“Growing up, we didn’t talk about sexuality. I’m from a religious family, and we never speak about sex, let alone safe sex.”
“My dad is unaware of my sexual orientation, and I grew up feeling anxious and guilty for being gay and different. I know my family doesn’t accept my sexuality, and I know my dad especially wouldn’t if he knew. I don’t have anyone that I can confide in and to really talk about my feelings. Growing up, I didn’t know a lot about being gay or how to protect myself from harm.”
John’s upbringing meant testing for HIV and STIs was a completely new arena for him. “I had a few casual relationships before, and I had never heard of testing for HIV. A guy I was with at that time recommended me to go for a test.”
John says he didn’t know anything about HIV or how to protect himself, but with help from the NZAF he quickly learned that he needed to make his health a priority.
After his first HIV test, John found himself with a deep sense of guilt and shame.
“I had a breakdown after the test. It was quite overwhelming. I remember I jumped in my car and cried after the test. It was a negative result, but I couldn’t help but be shaken by the experience. I felt so overwhelmed by the test because of shame. I think I felt ashamed of what I had been doing for the few months leading up to the first appointment, and just feeling alone and not having anyone to talk to. I think the main thing is that I felt ashamed of who I am and what I had done.”
With a new-found realisation from his testing experience, John awakened to the thought of speaking to a professional.
“I thought I should talk to someone before my world started crumbling down. I was new to the community, and I was naïve, and I am still learning. And I came out not long ago, so everything was so new to me.”
It was a huge turning point in John’s life when he first booked himself in for the first of eight counselling sessions at the NZAF Burnett Centre in Auckland.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way after the sessions. I feel more comfortable in my skin, and now it feels like this huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I can walk around just being comfortable with myself and having not to worry about what people think. If people accept me for me, then that’s cool – if not, no harm is done really.”
John says he now feels that he has everything in control and that thanks to our free counselling service, he is in tune with his mental and physical wellbeing.
“I’m thankful for the counselling service, and I would recommend it to anyone who needs it. Regular HIV and STIs testing at the Burnett centre is keeping my health in check and every time I test, I learn more about HIV prevention from the friendly peer testers. Being able to speak to a professional counsellor confidentially makes me feel like I am being looked after very well.”
“I wouldn’t have had the courage to come out to my mum if it hadn’t been for the support from NZAF’s counselling services. I would have carried on living a secret life and it would have been very difficult to continue to lie to myself and my family.”
John also urges anyone who can donate to do so.
“The services are fantastic, and they are helpful; I would like to see the NZAF grow and help more people. However, I am also aware of the fact that it takes public support and donations to continue the service and its positive impact. This could only happen with continuous funding, public support, and generous donations. There are a lot of people out there who is just as confused and unaware as I was and I would love for them to go through the same help that I had from the NZAF testing and counselling services.”
*John’s name has been changed to protect his identity