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I did something yesterday that at the age of 40 I should have done many many years ago. Something that I had put off because of nothing other than pure fear. A fear  started by a sinister creepy tomb stone falling advert engrained in the psyche of my youth, then carried along with me picking up momentum and size as I grew in to an adult, and part of a ‘community’ that stigmatises HIV as much as it frowns at someone for wearing the wrong brand of underwear. Yesterday, I went for my first HIV test.

For some the adverts of the 1980s did more harm than good.
For some the adverts of the 1980s did more harm than good.

I’d always known that one day I would have to take responsibility for myself. I knew that either I did, or that one day the potential alarm bell of ill-health would start ringing loudly, potentially at a point too late to make a difference. As far as I was concerned I was always safe and always have been. My long term partners had all been negative (or so they said) and using a condom had always been like second nature to me. But there’d been plenty of oral sex over the years to know that yes, they tell us it’s ‘low risk’ but certainly never no-risk. And there’s been the occasion ‘whoops it slipped in’ moments too. ‘May dress like a Christian but the similarities end there’ is perhaps the extreme but it makes a great metaphor – thank you Eddie!

So in I went. Afraid, nervous, holding the hand of my partner as I went in after my test had ‘cooked’ (really they need to change that description) for the right amount of time. I’d told myself enough times over the years that a regular visits from the cold sore fairy and at least 2 nasty chesty coughs a year must mean something wasn’t right. In a way I’d accepted a reality that was concocted of fear, fear and more fear.

The metaphorical coin I flipped came up negative. Negative? Wow!! I’d been preparing myself for either. Either would ultimately be ok, perhaps with one taking a little longer to get used to. I had a little cry of relief, and then intense frustration crept in that it took me so damned long to do this. Like I’d been stuck on some mental treadmill of worry for such a long time and all it took was 15 mins of waiting and a small finger prick to unplug all of that.

But for me this doesn’t end there. Having slept on this over night I’ve woken up with a huge sense of frustration. The thing that is frustrating me is that because of fear I hadn’t done this sooner. Not a fear of illness but the fear of being and feeling different because of stigma. Because people are actually unkind enough, thoughtless enough, insensitive enough and vile enough put HIV-Positive individuals in to a box that they don’t belong in and certainly never chose to be in. I’ve seen the venom people will spray on the apps, the things they say online, the hate they will switch on at a moments notice and as I sit here that hurts my very being. It affronts me that people can be that unkind. That people can be that vicious, That people can be that disgustingly stupid.

Whichever way yesterday had gone I’d come to realise that there is life beyond positive, if that had been my outcome, and that, that was ok because there were and are people out there who, if i’d needed it would have given me the hand holding I needed. The one’s who would have told me that it’s ok and will be ok. It is that very knowledge and safety net that ultimately got me over that wall of fear yesterday. Too long…too many years of fear…too many ‘i’ll do it next week’. All because of stigma, something which I have always despised and now despise even more.

So to those of you who run, write for or support the very hard work done by charities and support groups like beyondpositive please know that you provided me with what I needed to know to get to yesterday and I thank you with love in my heart, and to those of you who need me to stand with you as the continued building of the barricade against stigma goes on, I’m all yours. Just let me know when you need an extra pair of hands, a few chosen words, a kind smile or a hell-of-a-lot of welly – I’ll do what I can when I can. My result doesn’t mean I stop fighting. It makes me more realistic and determined. As for you ‘stigma’ and those that perpetuate you – I pity you and your ignorance, I give you a look of disdain and invite you to enjoy this single-fingered gesture.

Neil, London

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