Ben, aged 65, North Yorkshire

Overcoming isolation with a little help from my peers

"When I was first diagnosed in 2000, I was pretty ill and quickly ended up in intensive care for a few days, then in an isolation ward. I was divorced, with no partner, and my parents were both dead. I had young teenage children but I decided not to tell them about my diagnosis and burden them with fears of HIV.

In those first days and weeks I felt very alone. I was so ashamed and angry with myself... how could I have let this happen? Contracting HIV made me feel stupid and dirty and ashamed. It was not something I wanted to tell other people about. But on the other hand, I really wanted to get a sense of what this all meant and what the future might hold. Although the doctors and nurses were great, they were busy and more concerned with my physical wellbeing, not my emotional state.

I was very pleased when someone from North Yorkshire AIDS Action (NYAA) came to visit. Caroline was very down-to-earth, and although not HIV positive herself, she had worked in the sector long enough to know the sort of things that were troubling me. It helped knowing there were others like me in North Yorkshire and that a safe space existed where we could meet and talk with one another. I was put in touch with a ‘buddy’ of a similar age who was also positive.

The peer support through NYAA sounded good to me at first, but the safe space was a 45 minute drive away and my buddy was even further away – a two-hour drive! Although it was helpful, nothing about it could be spontaneous; everything had to be planned in advance. Still, it was better than nothing, and in those early days, very comforting and helpful until I got some of my confidence back.”

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