Alex: “A lot of people stopped seeing me when I told them about my status”

Alex, it’s been a while since we last spoke, please let our readers know a bit more about yourself. What are you up to? Where are you based these days?

Well since we last spoke I have been studying fine art at Manchester School Of Art, whilst also working within our gay community. I am based in the south of Manchester however I love to live in the city for its busy fast pace life style.

City living is also my personal preference! Can you tell our readers how old you and how old you were when you were first diagnosed?

I am now 21 years old, although I was diagnosed with HIV when I was 17.

I always forget how young you are, you’ve always seemed to have a good head on your shoulders. Can you please share the story of your diagnosis?

I know it was hard for me at that age.

I found out when I went with a friend as he had a scare himself and then we both got tested. His came back negative and mine came back positive, which I later found out that my current boyfriend at the time was also HIV positive.

That’s pretty scary. You say you were scared when you found out your status, did HIV stigma contribute to your fear?

Well if I’m openly honest I didn’t really know much about STD’s or STI’s as going to a Catholic school and sixth form we weren’t taught about them, so I only knew what I had seen in films which scared me.

I am now more recently hearing about the lack of education on medical conditions such as HIV in educational environments. Had you had known what HIV really is today would that have helped you back then?

I would have to agree that there is a a lack of education with certain medical conditions which aren’t discussed in schools.

If I had been taught what HIV was and what it is today it would have helped to understand and face the fear of living with it, however nothing could stop that panic and the emotion that you have when you first find out.

I agree, it’s something I think we should be pushing the education authorities to implement. Now your story as to how you contracted the virus from your now ex boyfriend, from what I remember is fairly unique. Would you be able to tell us a bit more about that?

This is a sensitive area, however, I contracted HIV as my ex boyfriend at the time had cheated on me and caught HIV from a one night stand which he later passed to me through a condom breaking.

That’s ridiculously unfortunate and must have been heart wrenching for a 17 year old to go through. Who did you turn to for support and guidance?

It was a very hard thing I had to deal with. I luckily had one friend Richard who took me to the clinic and was there for support which helped me through all the hard times.

It’s great you had somebody to help you, many of the newly diagnosed don’t have anyone to turn to, do you have any advice for those struggling with their new medical condition?

All I would say is don’t go through it alone try to have that one person you can talk to even if it’s someone in the same position. Don’t sit and struggle in silence!

I again agree with you, we are always here to encourage others to speak about what’s on their mind. Did you have any support from your family?

Sadly I didn’t have any help from them as they didn’t know and most of them do not know to this day, however to an error which I cannot discuss, my mother now knows and is there for support although I do not talk to her about it as I wouldn’t want to worry her.

Very sad to hear, it sounds so lonely, however you are always in good spirits when I see you. Moving on to stigma, have you ever experienced any HIV stigma or has that had an affect on you in some way? For example, has it had any impact on your dating life?

I have sadly and the most of it has come from people I have been seeing as a lot of people have stopped seeing me when I told them about my status although I have met someone who has accepted me for who I am which makes me smile!

That’s really great to hear, I’m astonished at how much rejection I have witnessed, even today when HIV is supposed to be known as a well controlled virus with minimal chances of transmission with an undetectable viral load. Can you explain how you felt when you reached an undetectable status in comparison to how you felt when you were first diagnosed?

To be honest it felt like heaven is a place on earth! I know it sounds cheesy but it makes you feel complete again.

It’s comments like that which make my day in hopes that a newly diagnosed person will read that and gain some reassurance from those hopeful words you’ve just mentioned. Do you have any advice for us? We want to help people who are struggling with HIV stigma and those who are newly diagnosed. As activists, would you like to see us do anything in-particular that perhaps would have given you some reassurance back when you were first diagnosed?

I would say don’t give up and keep pushing as it’s only a matter of time until we find a cure, but until we achieve that we must all do our own little part to help people living with HIV and help people understand what HIV is for those who don’t know.

Thank you Alex for taking the time to talk to us. Do you have anything else you’d like to say?

Your welcome, all I would like to say is if you ever need help or anything else just ask!

Also that if you do have HIV just remember you are not alone!

Want to take part in our #STIGMAWARRIOR campaign? Have your say on HIV stigma and get in touch: stigmawarrior@destigmatizehiv.com