A young person from CHIVA shares feelings and facts about her health and the stigma she faces
I was born with HIV, 18 years ago. I was aware of what it meant when I was about 11 or 12 years old. When you’re born with HIV, the virus is passed to you from your mother. This is usually because the mother doesn’t know she has HIV, and hasn’t had any symptoms.
Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) doesn’t happen in the UK anymore, or only very rarely. All pregnant women are tested for HIV early on in their pregnancy and they’re able to take HIV medication to prevent the virus being passed onto the baby.
MTCT is not the only way in which HIV is transmitted. More commonly, HIV is passed on via unprotected sex or by injecting drugs with infected injecting equipment.
However, in recent years, huge developments have come about with HIV medication. A person who is on regular treatment and whose HIV virus is ‘undetectable’ will not pass the virus on, even by having unprotected sex. This development is called U=U (Undetectable = Untransmittable). You can read more here.
Living with HIV has an impact on my life, in as much as I need to take daily medication to keep me healthy.
I know there is still a lot of stigma, with negative attitudes and beliefs about people living with HIV. Due to this discrimination I used to find it difficult to form relationships with the opposite sex (boys).
One of my first experiences of disclosing my HIV status was very awkward. My boyfriend felt angry and said some hurtful things when I told him. Eventually he told his friends, which resulted in his whole year at school knowing about it.
My best friend at the time defended me, although she didn’t realise that it was the truth; I do have HIV
I felt angry, mostly because I thought I could trust the guy. I was scared about what other people would think. Luckily he is a year older than me, so only his year group found out. I was slightly relieved about that, since I knew it was less likely I’d be bullied about it in my year.
I saw my ex, maybe a few months after I told him, and he was apologetic about it, and we bounced back. I guess you can say that we’re friends now.
My best friend at the time defended me, although she didn’t realise that it was the truth; I do have HIV.
I guess at that age, 16, a lot of young people are ignorant about how people get HIV. They assume it is only spread through unprotected sex. See here to get the facts.
Throughout my experiences of telling other people about my HIV, I have learned that talking about it early on is the best way. Not, of course at the very start, but perhaps a few days or weeks after getting to know someone.
I have also felt that people seemed to respect me for telling them first-hand, which has benefited me as well. If people’s reaction is cool, I know it’s worth continuing to talk to them.
However, it’s up to you to decide when to tell someone; and how you do it.
When I’m uncertain about how people will react, I think the best way to learn whether they are a safe person to tell or not, is to ask about their attitude towards sex and then follow up with questions about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)/HIV.
People with HIV, we’re all human, with skin, bones, teeth and hair, you know?
I consider myself to be independent; I try to stay motivated with taking my medication. When I’m feeling too lazy to take it I always say to myself, “It only takes a second, and the meds keep me well.” This helps, and it really does only take a second or two.
Through Children’s HIV Association (CHIVA) I met one of my closest friends, who I am still in touch with. I regularly check in with how she is, and if she has taken her medication. She does the same for me, which is a great support.
I think schools could provide more education about STDs, with up-to-date information. In my experience, schoolteachers, usually from the science department, provide sex education.
Schools could bring in expert health workers to give talks and show interactive videos about HIV, going some way to tackle the stigma. For example: Educate Yourself, CHIVA
People with HIV, we’re all human, with skin, bones, teeth and hair, you know? Having HIV doesn’t have to define who you are. You determine who you are, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
I feel that everything happens for a reason. If I didn’t have HIV, some of the opportunities I’ve had, wouldn’t have been open to me. I have made close friendships and gained huge support, through activities made possible through CHIVA.
I’m proud of who I am. You should be too.
If you are struggling with any issues I have covered here, you can find support here. Also if you are feeling anxious and confused about COVID-19, and you are living with HIV, check this at CHIVA.
Please watch CHIVA’s ‘Life Growing Up’, a short film created from the real stories and thoughts shared by young people who have grown up living with HIV. It was recently selected as a finalist in the Charity Film Awards 2020.