Category Archives: Stigma
I’ve made no secret of the fact I suffer from depression. In fact I’ve been diagnosed with ‘Severe Clinical Depression’ on 3 separate occasions now, for which I was medicated. This tends to happen sporadically, in between I’m mostly sound as a pound – but now and then I get little dips.
The last week or so has been one of these dips. To start with I tried to chalk it up as January Blues but after a few days I realised it was more than that.
I can identify the signs right from the beginning:
- Lack of energy
- Inability to get out of bed in the morning
- No desire to go and do things
- Becoming withdrawn and quiet
- Feeling lonely
A few years ago I’d knuckle down, get stuck into some big project at work and then come home and cuddle up with the husband to worm my way out of the depression. I don’t really have that option any more. My job is neither interesting nor involved enough to bury myself in, and my luck in love has been beyond awful for the last few years.
I actually started writing this article 30 minutes ago, with the idea of writing how I’ve been working hard not to show my depression to the guy I’ve been dating, as he’s been so sweet and understanding with regards to the whole HIV issue. But only 10 minutes ago I got a text message saying he was breaking up with me because he couldn’t handle the strain on him of dating someone who was HIV+. So I’m kind of lost now.
I just want someone to cuddle up with on the cold nights, chat to about my worries and how I’m feeling. It’s not easy being HIV+, it’s doubly not easy being HIV+ and suffering from depression. I can’t see this cloud clearing in the next week now. Sigh.
Sorry for the miserable blog but sometimes I just need to vent, and seeing as it’s just me here you lot get the raw end of the deal.
An appropriate clip from Sex & The City…
The January issue of Attitude Magazine is out today in iPad format, and hits shops next Wednesday (12th December). Yes I know it’s not even half way through December yet, but that’s how things work in the publishing world apparently!
In my column this month I go off on a bit of a rant about my privacy or lack there of when it comes to my HIV status. People, it seems, have been gossiping left right and centre and I’m less than pleased – to put it mildly. Seriously, people wonder why there’s stigma still attached to HIV…
Also in this issue you can enjoy an interview with the stunningly handsome Olympian that is Jonnie Peacock, a special on the hottest men in theatre, Rhianna’s 777 Tour and exclusive behind the scenes info from ‘The Hobbit’. Essential reading to stop you going stir-crazy over the holidays…
Have a fun Friday!
Welcome to Monday morning! I hope you’re enjoy a cup of coffee, I’m on my third at this point.
What a crazy weekend that was, with gallery openings, World AIDS Day events, street collecting for the Terrence Higgins Trust in the freezing cold, speaking engagements and being interviewed on live radio to top it all off.
I got a call on Saturday afternoon from the producers of the ‘Double Take’ show on BBC Radio 5 Live, asking if I’d be willing to come on air for a few minutes to talk about my experience with HIV, and where I think we’re failing in light of the recent figures realised showing that in 2011 more gay men were diagnosed HIV+ than ever before.
I was in Milton Keynes on Saturday night/Sunday morning and had no way to get to a BBC studio, so had to conduct the interview from a spare room at my friend’s house over Skype. It was pretty brief but I think got part of my message across. HIV is manageable, but not curable and we can’t continue to be complacent. We need a widespread and mainstream ad-campaign that reaches everyone in the UK regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, wealth or age.
You can listen to the interview on BBC iPlayer for a week here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p3mwy
My interview starts from time: 23 minutes and 45 seconds in.
Have a great week everyone!
Today, Saturday 1st December 2012, is the 24th World Aids Day.
We’ve come a long way in thirty-four years. Back then a HIV diagnosis was more often than not followed with an AIDS diagnosis and a high likelihood of death. Now in 2012 HIV is a manageable condition, with early diagnosis and modern treatment regimens we can expect to live as long as any of our HIV- contemporaries, some say even longer with the constant health monitoring and care we receive.
But HIV still has no cure, it’s a life long condition – one that is not easy to live with, either physically or emotionally. The HIV related complications are numerous, the risk of certain cancers is dramatically higher and that’s not even mentioning the stigma and discrimination HIV+ people can still face today.
Whilst things may have improved dramatically for people living with HIV in the developed world the same thing can’t be said for others around the world. Deaths from HIV/AIDS in Africa are still unconscionably high. We need to work on providing support, education, cheaper medication and contraception. If we’re going to fight this epidemic we need to hit it – HARD.
Closer to home, I hear a lot of people asking “What does World AIDS Day have to do with me?”, and until I was diagnosed I’m ashamed to admit that I was one of those people. We’re bombarded with so many “international days” it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening when and whether it’s worth getting involved. In November alone there are TWENTY-FOUR “international days” including:
- World Planning Day
- World Kindness Day
- World Pneumonia Day
- World Hello Day
- World Fisheries Day
But World AIDS Day is one of the biggies. It happens in most countries around the world with the backing of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. It’s a time to reflect on those we’ve lost to the disease internationally over the few decades, time to think about how we can help work towards a HIV free generation, and time to think about our own behavior.
Leading up to this year’s World AIDS Day there was the first UK wide ‘HIV Testing Week’ – an initiative to get people up and down the country regardless of gender, age, sexuality or ethnicity to go and get tested. Something I wrote about the other day ‘Read more…’
But don’t let the good work stop there, if you didn’t get chance to go get tested this week – go next week! Once you’ve done it put an appointment in your diary to go again in six months, the short time it takes to get tested is a small price to pay for peace of mind and being in control of your own health, and the health of those you sleep with.
I’m going to be spending today wandering around Central London with the Terrence Higgins Trust rattling buckets and collecting money to help continue the fight against HIV. If you see us please fling some change our way, and if you don’t perhaps you could go online and donate something?
Whatever you do this World AIDS Day do it with kindness, love and thought.
Currently 100,000 people are estimated to be living with HIV in the UK, but an estimated 25% of those are undiagnosed.
That’s 25,000 people who have HIV and don’t know about it! As we come to the end of HIV Testing Week in the UK and approach World AIDS Day 2012 I put some of your questions about getting tested and HIV to Dr Sebastian Winckler from DrEd.
1. Why is it so important to get tested for HIV?
Early testing is vital both for you, and for the people you’re sleeping with.
If you’ve got HIV and you’re getting treatment you can expect to live 40 years longer than someone who isn’t receiving treatment.
If you’re taking antiretroviral medication, you become less infectious to other people. Being aware of your status means you can start putting certain measure in place (such as safe sex)
to prevent transmission, as well as looking after your own health.
2. What stops some people from getting tested?
There are a lots of reasons why people avoid HIV tests, but usually it’s down to:
- The stigma surrounding HIV and AIDs: Despite advancements in treatment, in some communities there is still stigma about being HIV+, so many people feel embarrassed about getting tested. Remember, there is no shame in being HIV+.
- The inconvenience of testing: If you work during the day, it can be hard work finding the time to go.
- Fear: Some people are simply scared off getting a result they don’t want to hear. Remember though, it’s better to get tested and treated rather than making yourself, or others, ill.
3. Where can I get tested?
HIV tests are available free and confidentially from:
- Sexual health (GUM) clinics
- HIV testing centres (Terrence Higgins Trust Fastest centres, for example)
- LGBT Centres
- GP’s and family doctors
- HIV tests are available to buy from:
- Private clinics
- Online doctors services
4. I haven’t had any symptoms, so I probably don’t have HIV, right?
Wrong. Most people will experience a short, flu-like illness about 2- 6 weeks after being infected. This is your immune system putting up an initial fight against the virus and can last for up to a month. But, this can be easily mistaken for the flu and 20% of people don’t experience any symptoms at all.
After this has gone away, you are unlikely to notice any other symptoms for a long period of time. So the only way of knowing for sure is getting yourself tested.
5. Can a test pick up any HIV infection, regardless of when I’ve caught it?
No. A certain amount of genetic material needs to build up in your system before it can be accurately detected by a test. The time taken for this to happen is called the ‘window period’ and this is different for every test.
- The standard antibody (Ab) test will pick up HIV if you caught it more than 3 months ago.
- The combined antibody/ antigen test (4th Generation test) will pick up HIV if you caught it more than 6 weeks ago.
- The HIV PCR test will pick up HIV if you caught it more than 7-10 days ago.
In most cases, you will be given either the standard antibody or combined test. If you test negative for these, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are HIV negative, because you might have been infected within the last 3 months (or 6 weeks). You are therefore advised to take a second test 3 months later for the all clear.
If you want a faster result you can pay for a PCR test. But these are only offered at some clinics and may cost up to £250.
6. I think I’ve caught HIV within the last few days, what do I do?
If you’re worried that you’ve contracted HIV very recently, as in, within the past 72 hours (3 days) then you should go to your local GUM clinic or A&E department and request emergency PEP treatment.
7. I’m afraid to get tested because I don’t like needles
HIV tests don’t have to be done via needle or syringe, some clinics use ‘Fastest’ Rapid Testing which simply takes a prick on the end of your finger. Other clinics may take oral swabs instead, this method is considered less effective than a blood test however, so some clinics won’t offer it.
8. How long do I have to wait for my results?
That depends on the clinic you go to. Most will contact you with your result (or ask you to come back in for it) within 3-5 days. If you take a rapid test your result will be ready within the hour. Some clinics can take up to 2 weeks however, don’t be afraid to ask when you should expect the results.
9. What happens if I test positive?
First off, a positive result doesn’t always mean you’re HIV+. There is a small margin of error, so all positive results must be followed up by a confirmation test.
If you do test positive for that, then the doctor or nurse who informs you of your result will set up a meeting with a specialist who can assess the stage of your infection and talk to you about relevant treatment options. You’ll be put in touch with local HIV support groups who can help you cope emotionally, and make you realise that a positive result is not the end.
Thirty years on and HIV is still a problem in the UK, but it is no longer a death sentence. There is help out there and the earlier you get tested, the better your prospects. Whatever you do, make sure you get tested this HIV Testing Week.
Some charities that can help:
Happy Friday to you lovely people,
Today, Friday 23rd November 2012 marks the start of National HIV Testing Week here in England. This is the first time such a large initiative has been run to encourage the people of England to go out and get tested.
National HIV Testing Week runs from Friday 23rd November to Friday 30th November, finishing just before World AIDS Day on Saturday 1st December.
The initiative is being run by the Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s largest HIV charity (who are celebrating their 30th birthday this year) and supported by a whole host of other organisations such as BASHH, BHIVA and the HPA.
Many people are put off going for HIV test by a fear of needles or having blood taken, but the fact is most clinics these days use rapid testing known as FastTest which involves a simple prick on your finger and you’ll get the results within minutes.
Annie Lennox was interviewed this week for ITV News about her views on HIV and testing in the UK, she said:
“We’re still struggling with the issue of stigma, fear and ignorance, There are many people that now, actually need to get tested. Friday 23rd at the end of the is the begining of National Testing week here in the country and we’ll be encouraging people to go get tested and find out their status… Go and get tested, find out your status, then you can know what you’re dealing with.” You can watch the full interview here: http://vimeo.com/53871991
Boris Johnson, The Mayor of London said:
“London is home to almost half of all people living with HIV in the UK, but a quarter of them are unaware that they carry the virus. It is vital that people who might be at risk get tested, not only to reduce the risk of transmission to others, but to ensure that they get the life-saving treatments that are available”
Even if you’ve been tested recently, or are HIV+ why not help promote National HIV Testing week via your facebook or Twitter using #HIVTestingWeek and encourage your friends to go and get tested. The sooner you know, the sooner you can take control of your health and protect those around you.
Enjoy your Friday and weekend!
Lots of Love,
Today, September 10th 2012, is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Suicide is not something people find easy to discuss, this isn’t helped that by the fact that it is still considered a criminal act in many countries (but not the UK since 1961), or that many religions consider it a “sin” – all of this keeps suicide a taboo subject, one that people tend to shy away from given the chance.
But talking is what we need to do. In 2010 in the UK 5,608 people committed suicide (4,321 men & 1,377 women). A recent study by the University of Manchester showed that only 27% of people who committed suicide in the UK between 2000 and 2010 had spoken to a mental health professional. That means 73% (4093 people) didn’t feel they could seek professional assistance with how they were feeling.
There’s a tendency these days to shrug off suicide, and even term it a selfish act, and on the face of things I can see how people reach that conclusion, but you need to step into the shoes of the person in question. How bad had things got in their life that they felt that their only remaining course of action was to take their own lives? That they had no-one to talk to? No other form of resolution?
A few months ago I wrote a blog post, ‘The Night I Almost Died’, about how the selfish and callous actions of someone I had trusted left me feeling that there was no way out but to go out on a cold night and jump off a bridge. My reputation, my life, my self worth and confidence were all in tatters due to one vile and baseless rumour, something I thought I’d never live down. I probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my friend Ben, who spoke to me in the middle of the night, who calmed me down when I was shaking and in tears, or without the help of the counsellors at MyHIV.org.uk who helped me rebuild my confidence.
So today on Suicide Awareness Day take a moment to think of your friends, your colleagues, your family – is there anyone who’s feeling down? Someone who’s more anxious or withdrawn than normal? Why not give them a call, or arrange a coffee and ask how they’re doing. From personal experience I can tell you that there’s nothing more reassuring than hearing a friendly voice and seeing a familiar face when you’re at your lowest.
If you’re the one feeling low, why not take the initiative and call a friend up yourself, and if you really feel you can’t talk to your friends about what’s going on there are organisations out there that can help you. If it’s HIV related try the THT Direct helpline on 0808 802 1221, or if it’s more general the lovely people at Samaritans will always be there to listen on: 08457 90 90 90.
Make time for those around you this World Suicide Prevention Day.
Massive cuddles all round,
Good day to you fine men and women of the internets,
If you follow my blogs and tweets you may recall that last week I ran a interactive poll on my website asking whether you could date someone with a HIV status that was different to yours (i.e. if you’re HIV- could you date someone who was HIV+ and vice versa). Over 600 of you (628 to be precise) took part in the poll and here are the results and my musings there on.
Out of the 429 HIV negative people who voted 51% (232 votes) said that they could not date someone who was HIV positive, as opposed to 49% (227 votes) who said that they could. From the 169 HIV positive people who voted 26% (44 votes) opted to say that they could not date someone who was HIV negative, and 74% (125 votes) said that they could.
Let’s look at the HIV negative voters first. That’s quite an astonishing split, pretty much down the line 50/50. I don’t know about you but I find that more than a little disheartening. What that means to me personally is, if I approach someone I like I’ve got a 50% chance of being rejected based purely on something in my blood. That hardly seems fair. This I assume is based on people’s fear of contracting HIV from their prospective partners, but if said partner is on treatment and condoms are used the risk of infection is infinitesimal. To those people I’d recommend they do some reading (sites such as HIVaware.org.uk are very useful) and gain a decent understanding of the risks.
The majority of the HIV positive voters on the other hand, three quarters essentially, stated that they could date someone who was HIV negative, but a quarter said that they could not. Again, I guess this is people who are worried that they would pass on HIV to their HIV negative partner. As above, with treatment and precautions this risk can effectively be negated. It’s hard enough to find a decent partner in this life without limiting yourself to a pool of approx 100,000 people in the UK (0.16%) out of a population of 62,000,000.
I won’t deny that I’ve often thought it’d be easier to date someone HIV+, but with such a small selection of guys to choose from – especially in rural areas like mine, it seems somewhat self defeating. With treatments for HIV rapidly evolving a person diagnosed HIV+ today can expect a normal life expectancy and who knows what new medical breakthroughs are around the corner? So I ask you this, no matter what your HIV status, base your decision on whether to date someone or not on them as a person, not on what’s in their blood.
Have a wonderful Wednesday,