I have been HIV+ for eleven years. I don’t really fit any of the usual stereotypes of HIV+ people. I am a straight, 46 year-old, female academic who enjoys church music and films and only does prescription drugs.
I work as a lecturer in Biblical Studies at MCD University of Divinity, Australia’s newest university and only specialist university. Previously I practised as a solicitor and taught law at the University of Western Australia. Before taking up this current job I worked as Executive/Research Assistant to the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia.
Although being diagnosed HIV+ came as a huge shock, I’d had a lot of experience of chronic illness. I lived with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for 18 years, and so HIV was in some ways just another chronic illness. Ironically, CFS was far more debilitating on a day-to-day basis, and so far the only physical symptom of HIV that I’ve had to deal with (after the initial illness) has been a worsening of my CFS symptoms.
Happily, I’ve overcome the CFS and since beginning HIV treatment have settled down to a normal life, free of symptoms, and with possibly even more energy than I’ve been used to having because of the boost my immune system is getting from the drugs.
The hardest parts of being HIV+ have been the emotional issues, like those involved in ‘coming out’ to family, friends, colleagues and potential partners. Secrecy and stigma have been big issues. The hardest part was at the very beginning, dealing with fear about the future and coming to terms with changes to my own sense of identity.
I joined the Positive Speaker’s Bureau in 2004 because I wanted to do what I could to help dispel the stigma around HIV and people living with HIV. I was inspired by the preparedness of some political and religious leaders to speak out, at considerable personal cost, about the ways in which HIV has touched them and their families. I am so privileged to be Australian, with access to a health system that offers excellent care to HIV+ people – if I can help others by being public about my status and telling my story, then it’s something I’m glad to be able to do.