I’ve been HIV+ since 1995. I was 22 and clueless. The first time I told someone outside my immediate family she went and told absolutely everybody we knew (and even a bunch of people we didn’t know). So, without even trying, the issue of disclosure was ripped from my hands and it felt like the whole world knew. I worked in a pretty high profile bar and I became the talk of the town. I copped my fair share of abuse. People who used to hug me would cross the road to get away from me when they saw me coming. Strangers would hurl abuse at me. I even had a plate of food thrown at me when I walked past a restaurant one day. My only thought was “Wow that was a $27 plate of food. I must be really important!”
I also learned who my true friends were. For every one person throwing stuff at me, there were three coming out of the woodwork in my defence. Whenever I was at work I had a large group of burly islander boys hovering around the bar, waiting to pounce on anyone who even looked at me sideways. I had to ask them to stop picking people up and throwing them down the back stairs. But it certainly was effective. Eventually people started leaving me alone and life settled down.
In 1999 I fell pregnant with my first child. I was terrified. But with the support of some amazing positive women I was able to find out all the information I needed to ensure a safe, happy pregnancy. When my son was born in March of 2000, the local Mothercraft nurse suggested I join a mother’s group. The thought made me very nervous but she was extremely persistent so I thought I’d give it a go. I met the most delightful group of women and instantly fell in love. We all became very close and spent a lot of time together.
The one thing marring this relationship in my mind was that I felt I was lying to them by omission. Every time I had a hospital appointment one of them would look after my boy. They were very respectful, never asked me too many questions and seemed satisfied with the vague answers I would give them when they did. It put a lot of strain on me. I loved and respected these women. Lying to them made me hate myself. So, after talking it over with my partner, I decided to bite the bullet and tell them my secret. I pulled each of them aside at our next playgroup meeting and asked them to meet me at the park the next day as there was something I needed to talk to them about. I saw them gathering together in little clusters and whispering whilst looking at me with intense curiosity. I wanted to curl up into a little ball and die.
The next day found us all at our favourite park. I was so nervous! It took me two hours to work up the courage to say anything. Finally I thought to myself that I couldn’t put it off any longer and I gathered them all together. I couldn’t look any of them in the eye. I was shaking like a leaf. But, I took a deep breath and said, “You’re probably all wondering why I asked you to meet me here. There is something I haven’t told you about myself. I’m HIV positive”. There was complete silence for about thirty seconds then one of the ladies burst out laughing and said, “Is that all? Thank God for that. We thought you were into network marketing!” At that everyone started laughing hysterically and I burst into tears of relief. I sat there sobbing uncontrollably while they all piled on top of me and hugged me. I learned that day that network marketing is worse than HIV.
To this day we are all still friends. I have since moved away but they are always a part of my life. I am so glad I had the courage to open up and take a chance. I often live in secrecy but sometimes the burden is too much to carry and I find myself taking a leap of faith. It doesn’t always pay off, but when it does it is absolute magic!