I was 25 when I got the phone call telling me I had to go to the Hathersage clinic immediately.
My heart sank. I knew why. Having been the victim of a sexual assault months before and having all but one test come back negative, I just knew.
The journey from Salford to Manchester City Centre seemed to take forever that day but still felt like a blur. I got to the clinic and was rushed into a room and handed an inconspicuous brown envelope as the nurse told me that I had been diagnosed with HIV.
Instantly the logic part of my brain kicked in. The scaremonger ads from the 80’s and the PHSE lessons from the 90’s were outdated. People were not dying from this, they were LIVING with this and I knew people who were living with HIV. Facts and figures I’d accumulated over the years spiralled around my head as did scenes from Angels in America and songs from Rent. Logic told me I was going to be OK.
Emotion, however, was not privy to this and naturally took over. I asked to make a phone call and called my best friend and calmly told him the news. He jumped on the first train back to Manchester that day. I left the clinic with follow up appointments booked. As soon as I stepped outside, I broke down – I was in such a state a passing cyclist stopped and asked if I needed anything (despite the rain, Manchester still remains one of the friendliest cities I know)
I went home and went through the envelope which had a barrage of information about medication, living with HIV and a leaflet for support from the George House Trust. Going to work after my diagnosis, my head was still in a spin. I lasted possibly about an hour before the second breakdown took hold of me and in amongst my banshee like wails, I explained to my manager what had happened after being escorted off the shop floor.
He hugged me, told me I was going to be OK and that everyone here was my family and would treat me no differently. But I had to own what had happened to me, and accept that I could not change it. Slowly I opened up about my status to my friends at work (only one breakdown this time), my family and my friends outside of work. I attended meets at GHT (at the behest of my manager at work) and to thank them for their support I ran charity runs to help raise money for their ongoing fantastic work and for the past two years I've helped raise money on World Aids Day with my collegues for the LGBT foundation here in Manchester
It's not been an easy road and I have faced stigma, but this has been easily outweighed by the overwhelmingly positive messages calling to end the stigma and the continued support from my family, friends and work
I’m 34 this year. I’ve lived with HIV for nearly 10 years. I’m getting married next year and looking to start a family. I’m here because of the support I received from my colleagues and friends at Vodafone, my friends and families, The George House Trust and LGBT+ community.