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It’s only now that I realise how much my family’s opinions and reactions came from ignorance surrounding the truth behind HIV. They had no idea how to behave because they’d never assumed they’d have to face the issue head-on.

I was diagnosed with as HIV+ on the 28th of March 2006. I was 18 years old and had been in a relationship with my then boyfriend, Thom, for three months.

I remember everything that day so clearly, getting the phone call in the morning while I was still in bed saying that I needed to come back to the clinic for a health consultation following my sexual health check up a week before. I remember calling Thom and asking if he’d been asked to go back as well, he hadn’t.

I had to go and tell my mother that I needed a lift to the station because I wanted to see some friends, I didn’t want to say anything at the time.

Later that day I was given my diagnosis, HIV+. I was terrified and confused, all I’d read about it was that it was the worst thing ever and that I was going to dead by 30. They talked to me about the way my life would change and that I wouldn’t need medication straight away, but when I did I’d have to take a specific combination as the strain of HIV I had was unaffected by certain medications due to the rapid mutations of the virus, so I was restricted with my options.

Trying to think back to when I could have contracted the virus was difficult and I’m still not sure where or who I got it from, but I’m not ever going to hold them responsible, it’s a two-way street, and it’s no one’s fault.

 I had to come to London and see her, my father and my sister, it was difficult time for me, especially being away from Thom just after my diagnosis. When I eventually got round to telling my mother she flipped, she completely lost the plot and was distraught. I can’t blame her for feeling that way, but I do think that she let it affect her more than thinking about how it was affecting me.

My mother was confused and angry that it had happened, and for some reason started telling all of my relatives about it, which in turn completely changed the way they behaved around me.

I remember being at a birthday celebration for my mother and her twin brother, and I offered my uncle some cake from my fork – he backed away and then used his own fork and later commented to my mother about how I’d made him feel uncomfortable. My cousin also complained to her mother, who in turn complained to my mother that I should have thought about kissing her hello when I saw her. My mother was even told by a friend to be careful around me because “you can get HIV from tears if he’s crying”.

It’s only now that I realise how much my family’s opinions and reactions came from ignorance surrounding the truth behind HIV. They had no idea how to behave because they’d never assumed they’d have to face the issue head-on. Which is really how a lot of stuff works, ignorance breeds ignorance.

Thom’s mother also had an irrational reaction to the situation, telling Thom that she wanted him to leave me in order to protect his health and
well-being.

For me, the natural thing to do was to just get on with my life and ignore them all, which is pretty much what got me through it. I didn’t need to be the one to have to educate them on this issue, and it was unfair of them to assume that I would. I surrounded myself with people who didn’t judge me, and who didn’t let it affect them more than it affected me. I haven’t lost contact with anyone in my family, but I have made it clear to them that some things are my business, not theirs, which they seem to respect now.

Now I have a wide circle of HIV+ friends,  we can talk about stuff that’s bothering us or getting to us, because we’ve probably all gone through something similar at one time or another. I don’t know where I’d be today without these people, or whether I’d be here at all.

If there’s a message in this, I guess it’s that you should be in control of who finds out about your diagnosis and how. It’s taken me almost 8 years to be in a place where I can tell people without worrying about their reaction, but I’m here now and I’m happier than ever.  I still have Thom in my life, we’ve been in a Civil Partnership since 2010 and he’s still HIV-Negative.

Hamish MacKenzie-Sempill
(@agaytoremember on twitter)

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, I think it shows how people still don’t know enough about HIV and the stigma that surround it!

    But I was genuinely so happy when I got to the end of your story to find you are still with Thom. Obviously got yourself a good egg there!

  2. Amazing that you had such strength at a young age. Glad there was a happy ending with you and Thom still being together 🙂

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