HIV and me
Craig is 23 and a bar manager in Manchester.
Can you tell us about your initial diagnosis?
I found out from a guy that I was seeing that one of his friends had HIV, turns out I was one of those partners. I went for my test and I was positive.
How did your life change from that moment on?
I was completely in denial, I was working in gay bars and used alcohol and going out to escape from it. I was scared of the reaction I would get from being positive.
Did you reveal your HIV status to your friends and family?
My family don't know. I told my best friend the day after I was told about my ex. Then I told a few people as and when I wanted. It wasn't until I found out some people I knew were telling everyone that I actually stopped caring who knew, I stopped worrying about other people's reactions.
What’s been the hardest thing for you since being diagnosed?
Having bad results from the hospital. It crushes me, it's happened twice. The second time was just a few weeks ago, I'd been really sick and kind of expected it, but it stills scares me. For the first time I thought HIV might actually kill me. It's done me good to have a bad result as it’s made me realise the reality of having to look after myself.
Are your attitudes to sex and sexual health different now?
I go for my bloods every 3 months and if I’ve been sexually active (which is pretty much always). I get screened for everything, I’m shocked after talking to people who have never been before. With sex I tell everyone I’m Positive, it kills me when they tell you to f*** off but it’s their loss. I like having sex with other positive guys as it takes away the worry of passing on the virus, this isn’t exclusive mind!
What is the most surprising thing that you have learned about yourself and others?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Being a positive speaker for George House Trust, and listening to other people’s stories has opened my eyes to the world. I went from being in a dark scary place to being strong and confident. I did a speech at Manchester Pride’s candlelit vigil, in front of 3500 people. It was the most amazing thing I’ve done in my life!
Do you think that we are complacent about HIV now?
ABSOULUTLEY! HIV is all around us, and the more we continue to ignore it the more it will continue to grow. The easiest way to stop the spread of HIV, as well as wearing a condom, is by talking about it…stigma and discrimination are usually the biggest things that affects a positive person.
What is the most notable thing in your day to day life that you feel has changed for you since your diagnosis?
Taking my meds - Hate it! Remembering to take them same time every day, to take them out with you etc. It’s a pain in the arse but they are a means to an end and keep me alive - so I guess they’re not that bad!
What are your hopes/plans for the future?
I‘m on the look out for a boyfriend, but that will come when it comes. At the moment I’m having lots of me time, and sorting my life out. This year has been tough, but if I’ve got through it, and survived being diagnosed positive, I can do anything!
The Lesbian & Gay Foundation run a 20 minute HIV testing clinic every Thursday from Number 5, Richmond Street in Manchester City Centre. Click here for more information >>>
Chris is 35 and is an ex Nurse from Cheshire. He was diagnosed with HIV four years ago and the timing and the aftermath of the results were particularly upsetting.
“I was officially diagnosed on World Aids Day on 2005,” says Chris. “My partner had been poorly and as a nurse I encouraged him to see his G.P who asked him to have an HIV test. A month later a letter came asking him to contact the clinic and the following Monday we got the news. It was like a bereavement. Although I was a nurse, my knowledge of HIV was limited so I had a lot of questions especially as I instantly realised that I would be positive too, although it needed confirming with more blood tests.”
So how did this affect their relationship and their lives?
“I needed to take time off work as I was suffering from depression and anxiety and I found it hard to look after myself but because we were both going through the same thing at the same time we could help each other and it did make things a little easier.”
And what about friends and relatives?
“I felt that I needed to tell people but in hindsight I wish I had kept it to myself. My family told some neighbours and I ended up with smashed windows and fireworks posted through my letter box. I nearly lost my home and I had to re-locate. The Crown prosecution Service couldn’t prove who had done it even thought I knew. What made things worse was the year after my diagnosis my employers told me that my job wasn’t there for me anymore. So I end up having to re-build my life while living on benefits. I question who I tell now and how I tell them as you can’t untell them afterwards.”
All of these events would be enough to test anyone’s strength of character but surprisingly Chris rose to the challenge.
“My coping mechanisms were stronger than I thought they were. Since all this happened to me I have found it easier to deal with other things that life has thrown me and I can now help other people come to terms with what has happened to them after a positive diagnosis. I’m happy to be part of George House Trust’s Positive Speakers programme and I would like to go into practice at some point but it depends how my health goes as I take every day as it comes at the moment.
“My health has improved but I don’t take things for granted. I go for regular check-ups and I am more aware. I took a long hard look at myself and I changed the things that needed changing. I’m still with the same partner and I’m happy with the way things are now.”
Does Chris think we are complacent about HIV now?
“People don’t talk about HIV enough and take unnecessary risks.We only really hear about HIV on Worlds Aids Day. I don’t want people to take their sexual health for granted. Nobody was responsible for my diagnosis except me. Only you can look after yourself.”
You can find all of this information in 'Sex bomb' - our guide to HIV for gay and bisexual men.
Packed full of information on HIV and HIV prevention, this guide was created for World Aids Day 2008 and designed to target 16 to 25 year old gay and bisexual men.