Trigger Warning: Suicide / Discriminatory actions against People Living with HIV
I had stigmatized HIV and looked down on people who were poz. Regretfully, I used to think they were ‘dirty’. At 20, I dated someone for a few years who did not tell me that he was poz. That was really scary for a 20-year-old in the 90s - perhaps my outlook on HIV was scarred as a result! Unfortunately, when I was diagnosed, I took all of that ignorance, shame and anger and directed it at myself. Depression set in and I attempted suicide August 10, 2016 (5 months after diagnosis). Thankfully I’m still here!
I had a really rough journey with my medication also. I was put on Triumeq and I suffered badly with side effects. Diarrhea, nausea, hot flashes and trouble sleeping were problems for me every day for almost 1 year - unfortunately, my doctors were reluctant to change my meds. Nobody told me about the side effects! I went off sick from work for about 13 months to deal with my mental health and the debilitating side effects of the meds. During this time, I was protected by law from having to disclose my diagnosis, but I was harassed by my employer and told that I was not being truthful about my medical situation. I had told them everything that was going on except that the diagnosis was HIV. I was in a senior position and was worried about being stigmatized. I was ultimately fired from my employer. However, I raised a case against them for discrimination and WON! What they did was wrong, and it made my already fragile mental state, much more difficult. I had no idea depression could take you to such low levels. I am thankful I survived that.
Altogether, it’s been a really tough journey for me, but I am stronger, healthier and more informed than I ever was before!
My advice for anyone (POZ or not, gay or straight) is to become informed of what it means to be HIV+, what undetectable means and stop the stigma. I let my ignorance isolate me and take away my self-worth for many years. It took me until recently (2020) to begin making strides back to good mental health. Looking back, I wish I would have sought out help and tried to connect with HIV support groups to help inform me. I really needed it. I stigmatized myself and took myself through an extremely tough journey that almost killed me. I now call myself a survivor. And…I’m much kinder to myself.
I’ve realized it’s OK to be HIV+! Take your meds and you will be fine! Be kind to yourself! Seek out support if you need it!"