To bring attention to the range of challenges faced by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, earlier this year we chatted with Rob, a young Aboriginal man living with HIV. He is originally from South Australia and now lives in Melbourne, Victoria.
He has been living with HIV since 2000 and wanted to share his story in the hope that other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who see it will know that they are not alone.
Why I Want To Share My Story
I recently listened to an HIV positive speaker tell their story and I thought: where are all of the black fellas doing this? It really opened my eyes to the different ways that greater visibility can help with the problems that Aboriginal people face. When you see another Aboriginal person living openly with HIV it shows you that there is less to fear. They have come out and shown everyone that they don’t care about what other people say. They’ve broken through that stigma.
There are so few people providing that visibility in the Aboriginal community. It’s hard to be the first. And I think that’s why a lot of people don’t get tested. Because they think they’ll be alone. When one person shares their story, it makes it a lot easier for the next person to ask for help. It might be hard but it helps the next person.
Facing My Diagnosis
When the results first came back it felt like a dirty kind of shade came over me. Once I got that kind of feeling I started to keep away from most people. I didn’t want anyone to find out that I have HIV. I kept to myself. I stopped bushwalking and doing everything I loved doing. I stopped dating and seeing people because I didn’t want to put anyone at risk. And I kept on thinking: who would date me? I thought that it would be easier to deal with on my own, but it was really hard.
When you don’t have anyone to speak to about it bad thoughts can creep into your mind and you go into a really dark place. I felt alone and thought that if anyone found out that everyone would hate me. I felt that people were always looking and talking about me. It was terrible. I lost a lot of good friends that way. I’m really happy that I’m at that stage now where I am out of that dark spot. I’m glad that there’s people out there if you need them that you can speak to and talk about these things when you’re diagnosed with HIV.
What Helped Me
What really helped me was concentrating on taking my treatments and looking after my health. At one point it got so bad that I didn’t care about taking my medications. That was when my health really suffered. I became close with some of my doctors and nurses and they helped me to see that I was lucky to have treatments. It was so encouraging when my doctors would tell me that my results were good and that they were happy with how I was doing. When they’d congratulate me and I’d see the smile on their faces I’d know that they really supported me.
Sometimes it just comes down to having someone to talk to who will listen. But when you’ve got someone who’s been diagnosed with HIV you can also hear what they’ve got to say. It’s always good to hear because you want to see how they dealt with it and what they had to do. It’s easier to interact with them because it’s easier to trust them. You’re not wondering what they’re thinking because you know everyone is there to help each other.
Living with HIV today
Once you’re out of that dark place you embrace life more than most people. Now I’ve met more friends living with HIV and I’ve felt much closer to them than a lot of other people in my life. They’ve had the same stigma thrown at them so they understand what you’re going through and know how it feels.
I’m also dating again. I’m seeing this guy at the moment. It’s going up and down but we just came back from a two week holiday in Alice Springs to get to know each other and that went really well.
Life’s brighter for me now. I’m not down anymore. I always used to want to hide from people and there were very few people in my circle. But now I’m out there. Dealing with HIV and looking after my health has made me a much more open and happy person.
It’s Hard, But You’re Not Alone
It can be hard to get tested or find support when you’re part of a small community. Accessing HIV services can lead to unwanted disclosure or feeling like people will assume that you are HIV positive. My main message is that we need to be there and look out for each other. If you are diagnosed with HIV you can ask for help. I dealt with it in my own time but I left it too long. Go on your gut feeling about who you think you can trust and ask them for help. If we’re not there for each other who else will be?
This article was written in collaboration with Poslink editors through a series of interviews. If the topics discussed have raised any issues for you call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for immediate support. Living Positive Victoria also offers peer support and counselling for people living with HIV.
Read our Winter 2019 edition of Poslink newsletter Voice, Truth and Trust: Aboriginal perspectives on HIV