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John from Hertfordshire was diagnosed back in 2013 and, with the support of his friends, family and local support group, has changed his outlook on life.

JohnpynaertHello, my name is John Pynaert, I’m 32 years old and live in a town in Hertfordshire. I’ve always been a laid back “go with the flow” type of guy. I’m very friends and family orientated,  and currently live with five housemates.

Growing up was not always the best, I was bullied at school for being a little different, but I didn’t realise how different until I was 11 years old. This is when I discovered that I had strong feelings and urges for the people of same sex. I never fought with it and just went with it – it just felt natural to me. I came out to friends and family when I was 19 years old.

I’ve always been hard working and always preferred the practical side of learning, I was never any good at the theory side. I have always loved learning new topics – I qualified as a horse riding instructor by the age of 19, worked as a silver service waiter, but now currently work in debt collection (yes I know, I can hear the boos from here).

I was diagnosed HIV positive in June 2013 and my life couldn’t have been more of a roller-coaster ever since if I’d tried. I volunteered to help during National HIV Testing Week in November 2013, providing support and answered questions to those who were tested. We also raised awareness in a well-known supermarket and at my local college. During this week I was interviewed, live, on morning radio and was also interviewed by my local newspaper. Here is an extract from the story:

In 2012, more than 950 people were diagnosed with HIV in Hertfordshire.

But while it was once regarded as a death sentence, those with the condition can lead normal, healthy lives with support and the right medication.

John Pynaert is a 31-year-old gay man who was diagnosed as HIV positive in June 2013, and is now awaiting blood test results which will decide if he needs to start taking life-long medication to control the virus.

But John, who has been getting regular tests for several years, is pragmatic about his situation. He said: “At first I was in a bit of a daze. What was I going to do?”

“But the way I was brought up was that if something happens, you just deal with it.”

Human Immunodeficiency Virus can be transmitted from person to person via bodily fluids, which includes blood, semen, and even breast milk. In 2011, 95 per cent of those who were diagnosed with HIV had contracted the virus through unprotected sexual activity.

John said: “Safe sex is the way forward. In the LGBT community, gay sex and unprotected sex go hand in hand, and they shouldn’t.

“It’s often the case that there are people who are uneducated, or who don’t want to know about it.”

“The way I look at it, it’s similar to diabetes – part of my life and something to be managed. I’m not ashamed. I’m an open book when it comes to my sexuality, and people contract infections and diseases all the time.”

John stresses that re-education and honesty are the key to fighting the stigma associated with a positive HIV diagnosis.

He said: “It’s not the death sentence it was back in the 1980s. The medicines available have been developed and are so much better.”

John cites support group Herts Aid as being instrumental in his decision to open up about his diagnosis.

“If I hadn’t have found them, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. They’ve been an absolute lifeline.”

John, who lives with housemates in the town centre, said: “Since being diagnosed, so many doors have opened up. Through my Herts Aid support buddy, I’m getting involved with a European project focusing on the violence and discrimination that the LGBT community faces every day.

“I’d say if anyone does have any concerns, the best thing they can do is get tested and contact Herts Aid.”

Since this interview I have started treatment. Initially I was on a combination that included Efavirenz which my body rejected and reacted to quite badly. With my consultant’s help I have switched to Eviplera, which is better tolerated and more suited to me, but this will be different for everyone.

Since my diagnosis, the support I have received from both friends and family has been second to none, it has made me rethink my outlook on life. Not everything has to be doom and gloom as there can usually be something positive to come out of it (pardon the pun).

I am also reconsidering my career choice. I have always been a hands on person who has enjoyed working with the general public, so now I am now looking to change my career and become a HIV support worker. I am studying Health and Social Care to give me a better understanding of the field of work.

I’m often asked what I would tell anyone that was diagnosed positive, or to those supporting them (like friends and family), my response is simple: don’t be ashamed. There is support for you and you don’t have to go through it alone. Your local sexual health and HIV services are not there to criticise you but to support you – from diagnosis to when you start medication and your ongoing care.

There are support groups out there too, you can find some of them in the beyondpositive support section, but these aren’t necessarily for everyone. Find out what works for you. But don’t go through it alone.

John.

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