Well… Wow. Just wow.
There aren’t many occasions where I’ve been lost for words, but the last 48 hours has been comprised of nothing but feeling completely overwhelmed and absolutely blessed. There have been messages sent from various corners of the world from both complete strangers and friends alike.
Honestly, I am totally speechless and cannot express my gratitude for the kind words uttered in regards to my diagnosis but also being told that my account of being diagnosed with HIV had changed people’s mindset, prompted them to take their sexual health more seriously and get tested more regularly.
But there is one major topic that has repeatedly cropped up over the last couple days and this has been brought to my attention by people taking the time to share their own experiences with me. Each and every time that someone has made the decision to share this information it has moved me to the point of tears, purely because there is a resounding theme in every single story that has been shared; loneliness.
To those of you that have read my previous post (located here: http://goo.gl/gfDf8y) you will have seen that my family and friends showed me so much support and love over the course of my diagnosis, and truthfully – I don’t think I’d be here now without them. In the majority of these stories, this hasn’t been the case.
A number of people have messaged me though Facebook, Twitter, email and other social media sites to share their own experiences of dealing with HIV with me, be it a scare or a full diagnosis, but not one of them thought that it was something that they could confide in someone through fear of the stigma that is attached to HIV.
The journey through to diagnosis is not an easy one, if you are lucky enough to be told early on that you’ve been exposed to the virus, you can be placed on a course of drugs to combat the possibility of infection. This is called PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) and has proven to be effective in reducing the risk of infection following exposure. However, as with all drugs it carries side effects that can range from severe headaches to vomiting. The course is 28 days long and can be extremely taxing on the body.
For more information about what PEP is and where to get prescribed a course if you feel that you may have been placed at risk, please visit this site: http://goo.gl/zoFWQW
Hearing these accounts from people, some of whom I call friends, has well and truly opened my eyes to the problem of the stigma that is associated with HIV testing and diagnosis. HIV is not something that anyone should ever be ashamed of and it truly breaks my heart that so many people think that walking that road alone, whilst dealing with the emotional effects and in some cases the physical effects of being placed on PEP, is a necessity.
In a way talking about being HIV+ or even the possibility of being diagnosed is like “coming out” again. You fear that those who you love dearly will turn their back on you out of fear or the rejection of something within you that you cannot control. It’s a tragedy that at a time when the love and support of those around you is needed the most, you feel at your most alone.
We all need to remember that regardless of our status we all share a responsibility and we are all affected by HIV at some point or in some way. Someone you know may right now be going through one of the most traumatic and turbulent times of their life and is petrified to tell anyone at all, be it family or friend.
So be kind, always. You never know who could be walking that road.
Thanks for reading – Tom