Category Archives: Support
Tuesday 29th January 2013 heralds a new era for the LGBT community in Birmingham, and the Midlands in general with the opening of the Birmingham LGBT Health & Wellbeing Centre.
The Big Lottery Fund and Birmingham City Council have generously donated £479,263 and £250,000 respectively to get this ambitious project off the ground.
None of this would be possible without the hard work and persistence of Steph Keeble (Director) and David Viney (Health & Wellbeing Manager) who’ve worked tirelessly over the last year and a half to make this project a reality.
The centre will offer a range of services from it’s in-house clinic including a Sexual Health service, provided by Healthy Gay Life and Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust – along side smoking cessation and alcohol misuse counselling.
Depression, self harm and suicide continues to damage the LGBT community and especially LGBT youth. This problem is especially profound in Birmingham where 48% of LGBT people interviewed claim to have thought about suicide, and 20% claim to have attempted it.
There will be a Cafe/Bar area run by MatchBox – who will provide a range of healthy light meals and drinks, this space will be available in the evening for events in the LGBT community, along with a number of training and meeting rooms – which will also be able to be hired out by local businesses.
To find out more about the Birmingham LGBT Health & Wellbeing Centre either pop along to (38/40 Holloway Circus Birmingham. B1 1EQ) or visit their website: http://www.blgbt.org/
I hope you’re all having a good Friday are enjoying the snow as much as you can do. I’m sat on my sofa with a box of biscuits in my dressing gown as I watch the pretty white stuff float past my living room window – I have little intention of moving for the foreseeable future.
Last night Channel 5 (in the UK) showed ‘Gareth Thomas - Coming Out: My Secret Past’
The whole programme was incredibly moving and has inspired me to write my own coming out story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin…
I’d known I was gay from a very young age. Around the age of seven I knew something was different about me, I wasn’t interested in playing ‘kiss chase’ with the girls – instead I’d rather hang out in the library with a good book. By the age of nine I was already being gently teased for being gay. I wasn’t sure what the other children even meant by that.
I had a couple of girlfriends (as much as any nine year old can) but they never felt right.
At the age of twelve I had my first gay kiss with a neighbour of mine, he was a year older than me. I was over at his on a particularly hot Summer’s day, we were playing in the garden and at one point sought shelter from the sun in a tent that we had put up earlier that day. We were talking in the tent when all of a sudden he grabbed me and kissed me. It was a moment of realisation for me. It just felt right, everything clicked into place and suddenly the last few years started to make sense to me.
The next year was a confusing one for me. I know knew what I was, I was “gay”, but I wasn’t willing to accept it yet. I was certain that my friends and family would be ashamed and upset that I wasn’t “normal” and so I tried to hide it. I got myself another girlfriend, I started getting more involved with sports at school even though I didn’t enjoy them – I wanted to be one of the lads. Despite this the teasing progressed into bullying, things got more difficult for me at school and my grades started to suffer as a result. I even stopped going to P.E. lessons (gym & sports class for overseas readers), I simply skipped the lessons and went and hid in the library or IT room.
Things got too much for me. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate at school and I didn’t feel like I could confide in anyone. One evening I snuck out of the house and wandered up the country lane to a phone-box and called ChildLine – I wanted to know what I should do. They put me in touch with the local Gay & Lesbian Switchboard, I spoke to the guy at the end of the phone for what felt like hours. He told me of his own coming out story and I was stuck by how similar it was to my own. He also told me that no-one could make me “come out” (the first time I’d heard that phrase) only I could do that for myself when the time was right – but the sooner I got it off my chest the better I would feel. I owe a lot to that gentleman.
A few weeks later, not long after my thirteenth birthday, I was at school. I was in a chemistry lesson and another boy in my class was picked on for being gay. I could feel myself getting angrier and angrier. I couldn’t hold it back any longer, the words were coming up like a tsunami, I yelled across the room: “WHAT’S WRONG WITH BEING GAY? LEAVE HIM ALONE!”.
“Shit” I thought to myself, as I noticed them turn their attention away from the other lad and towards me, the girl next to me asked “So you are gay?”. The silence seemed to go on forever, you could hear a pin drop – even the chemistry teacher had stopped what he was doing to listen in.
Eventually I simply said “Yes, I am gay” then turned to the teacher and said “Can we get back on with the lesson?”. That was the first proper time I’d come out to anyone, and I’d done it to an entire classroom of my fellow students. Naturally the news made it around the school in minutes via text message, absolutely everyone knew by the end of the lesson. But oddly enough that’s when the bullying stopped. No more insults or shoving in the corridors, it was like I’d taken the power away from them by doing it myself.
Now that 1,200 kids knew I thought it was probably wise to tell my parents as soon as possible, before they heard from anyone else. I went into the living room after we’d had our dinner, Mum & Dad were there reading their papers. I started up “Mum, Dad, I’ve got something to tell you” – they put down the papers and turned to me. I froze, just couldn’t do it. Announcing it to thirty kids in an adrenaline fuelled rage was one thing, but calmly telling my parents was something else.
I ran. I grabbed my coat and trainers and ran for an eternity until I ended up in a field next to the park in the next village over. I lay there in field staring at the night sky, my analytical mind trying to come up with every combination of words and how they’d be received. Nothing felt right. But my parents knew something was up now. What do I do?
Another couple of hours of star-gazing and thinking passed before I decided to head home. Maybe they wouldn’t ask? Maybe it’d just be forgotten? As I walked home I saw it, the same phone-box I’d used before. It was glowing like a beacon of light and hope on the pitch black country lane. I don’t know what possessed me, but I just ran to it – picked up the phone and dialled home.
Mum answered, she sounded worried, she asked where I was and what was wrong? I felt it again, the word tsunami… out it came “Mum, I’m gay, I’m sorry”. Immediately she replied “Don’t be silly, there’s nothing to be sorry about. Where are you? Your father has been driving around looking for you!”. I told her where I was and a few minutes later Dad pulled up in the car and took me home. It was a silent car ride, not awkwardly though – just a ‘nothing needs to be said’ silence.
When I got home Mum gave me a hug, Dad gave me a hug and I just excused myself and went to bed. I had school the next morning and nothing was going to get in my way any more. I don’t think I’d ever slept as soundly as I did that night.
Coming out was one of the most positive things I ever did for myself, it let me be happy again and stopped me feeling like I was hiding secrets from those who loved and cared about me. Thank you to my friends and my Mum & Dad for being so supportive.
Matthew Walters is the Gay Men’s worker and Health Trainer for Positive East, a vital HIV support charity based in East London. Today he’s telling us all the story his diagnosis and asking that you help support him in his latest challenge, climbing Kilimanjaro to help raise funds to provide essential services – and give back to a charity that has helped him find his feet again after diagnosis. Please read on…
5 years after my diagnosis in 2005, I found myself in quite a bad state. Being HIV Positive was making life difficult. Eventually, everything had started to get on top of me. Some friendships had been lost, and generally I was in quite a dark and depressing place.
I finally plucked up the courage to access support from a HIV charity. New to East London, I found myself knocking on the door of Positive East.
Positive East instantly offered me a wide range of support including Counselling, the Gay Men’s Support Group, Careers Advice, help with Housing and Hardship. I often used to pop in and use the gym and internet café which gave me an opportunity to keep active, make new friends and get on with my life.
Within a short space of time, I went from a place of despair to a bright and happy future thanks to the support that Positive East had given me. Grateful to the support I had received, in 2006 I wanted to give something back so started to volunteer for the organisation. In 2009, I started working for that charity and I’m still here today helping to give individuals living with and affected by HIV the support that I received 7 years ago.
I want to raise £5,000 by the time I set off next month, and I need your help. Just go to http://www.justgiving.com/
You can also follow Matthew on Twitter as: @HIVpozGayMan
Lots of Love,
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:
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,