Alexander, aged 49, London

Focusing on my future

"I grew up in the 80s with the emergence of HIV as an issue; but I had no idea it would have a direct impact on me. Back then I had a laissez faire attitude towards relationships and the women I was with. I wasn’t cautious because I thought HIV only affected gay men, drug users or people that came in contact with those people. It was a very African belief.

Sometime in the early 2000s, I felt weak, breathless and generally pretty incapacitated. I couldn’t understand why, but I lost a lot of weight and was lethargic. One day I was rushed into hospital and found to be close to death. It was then that I was diagnosed.

My initial reaction was that I was in good hands. There were no tears and no time for regret. The diagnosis actually had a positive effect on my life. It gave me direction. I felt empowered to take control of myself both physically and mentally.

But one issue I had was around telling people. I had become a Muslim 15 years before my diagnosis. In this community, HIV is a taboo subject. It’s not so much actively stigmatised, but it’s stigmatised by silence.

I was also concerned about telling my family. It was several years before I disclosed to a family member. They then disclosed to other people in my family without my consent. The reaction I got was really fantastic though. They assured me that I was still their son, their brother, just now I had a ‘minor medical condition’. Their love for me has not and will not diminish because of HIV. I was alive.

Before I accepted Islam, I drank and socialised with women. I was reckless, and I enjoyed it. When I became a Muslim, I stopped living that life. Elements of that life crept back in over time. However, when I was diagnosed I changed again. In relationships with women, I was both physically and emotionally detached. I sought help and through therapy I’ve rediscovered myself. I feel human again where I had felt dehumanised by HIV.

The diagnosis gave me focus. Islam is a disciplined faith, and the things I need to do to keep myself healthy in respect of my HIV also need discipline. The two things work well together in my life. That focus is now on the future. I’m now married. Making a decision to commit was hard, but one that I am proud of. It is a positive decision for many reasons, and I consider it my highest achievement. My HIV is part of that, not a barrier to it.”

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