Life In My Body Living With HIV
Becky, a 31-year-old secondary school teacher, was diagnosed with the immune condition in 2015
I was bouncing my daughter on my lap when I learned I had HIV, A week earlier, I’d gone for a full sexual health check-up, and was now back to discuss my results.
I’d recently split from my husband of 10 years and father of my five-year-old daughter, and had started seeing someone. One night we’d run out of condoms so had unprotected sex, then carried on after that. When my partner’s ex told him they had gonorrhea, I got checked for that, HIV hadn’t crossed my mind. On hearing the news, I burst into tears.
My first thought was that I was going to die. My second concerned whether or not I could have any more children. The health advisor reassured me on both. Lots of people still think HIV is a killer, but this is down to terrifying health campaigns in the ’80s. I was put on medication that reduces the virus in my blood to “undetectable” levels. This protects my immune system and allows me to fight off sickness just like anyone else. It also means I can’t pass on the virus to my sexual partners (with or without a condom) and I can have more children – as if I remain undetectable, they won’t develop HIV.*
Because we’d been having unprotected sex, I knew my partner would be positive too, so I told him. He had no idea and was very upset. Over the next few days, I researched HIV. I’d been fluey and fatigued, and had lost weight due to what I’d assumed was stress. But they’re all symptoms of HIV. My diagnosis exacerbated my already low self- esteem, but counseling helped me to feel better.
I never resented my partner for passing HIV on to me – we both should have been more responsible. In 2017, our relationship broke down, but it didn’t have anything to do with HIV.
Nowadays, dating is tough. Explaining that my undetectable status means there’s no risk of transmission can be frustrating. I have told some people before I’ve slept with them, but mostly I want them to get to know me. Most have understood, but one said, “How dare you take my choice away from me?”
I’d never put anyone at risk. It takes one Google search to see that undetectable means untransmittable. I struggle to accept people not trusting me once they know the facts. The stigma also means some people assume I was a drug user or sex worker, which is untrue and plays into an archaic narrative surrounding HIV.
At first, I felt my life was over. Now, I’m more confident. At times I feel down, but HIV is part of my life. Like millions of others on a Friday night, I had unprotected sex.
I was just one of the unlucky ones.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
People on effective treatment can’t pass on HIV. HIV medication works by reducing the amount of the virus in the body to “undetectable” levels. “Undetectable = untransmittable” (U=U). It’s legally binding, so if you are HIV+ but undetectable, you don’t have to tell anyone.
Respect the person’s privacy
If someone tells you they’re HIV+, that information isn’t for sharing. Don’t tell anyone without the person’s consent.
Check your terminology
People often use the word “clean” to explain they don’t have STIs, but this implies others are dirty.