Feature story

What does living with HIV mean to me?

01 December 2009

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There are an estimated 33.4 million people around the world living with HIV. As we gather around the globe today World AIDS Day to collectively commemorate, celebrate and speak out against obstacles, it is important to not lose sight of the individuals behind the numbers and to remember the very real impact HIV has on people’s lives.

This is Raffaele’s story.

Since being diagnosed with HIV almost ten years ago, there is a question that people often ask me when hear that I am living with HIV. “How did you feel when you found out?”

Blur.

That is the only word that instantly comes to my mind. Walking like an automaton for days, until my first adult tears were shed outside a shop window display. What triggered it, I could not say, but this is my early, and only, recollection of my diagnosis. Standing still for hours, crying in the middle of the street.

I cannot deny it has been a difficult journey; one comes to terms with some hard-hitting realities, and I found them harder when they were closer to home.

I saw these as experiences I had to learn by….

Raffaele

Beforehand, stigma and discrimination were just abstract concepts for me, till the day I started experiencing them in my own skin.

Life-long friends started disappearing, withdrawing the very thing I needed most, support. The vacuum they created was difficult to understand, and the whole process distressing, affecting my already debilitating health. Nonetheless, I saw these as experiences I had to learn by.

There were so many challenges I had to face, and so many decisions to take. HIV medication and its difficult side effects were just some of them. If I think back to that time, to those sleepless nights, the constant nausea, and countless other ailments my body had to endure, it could have been easy to give up. Then again, if I think back to that time, I see all those positive elements that gave me strength and renewed energy to continue.

I consider myself lucky. Having access to ARV treatment has given me the possibility to lead a normal life, backed up by the support and love of my wonderful partner. My career as graphic designer has always been important to me, and in my early years of my diagnosis I was fortunate to work in an environment where I and other HIV positive colleagues were able to be truthful about our status. We could talk freely about the ups and downs of everyday life living with HIV without the necessity to constantly hide these facts.

These last ten years have been for me like a rollercoaster ride, with joyful long bouts and scary, dreadful moments.

I could see that I am, yet again, at the end of another cycle, but that energetic child in me is more than ready to get on the next ride.

For me World AIDS Day is not only a day to remember those who no longer are with us, but also to remind others of our daily fight against the virus, against stigma and discrimination, and hope that one day these will be just feeble memories of the past.

Raffaele lives in London.

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