Sima, aged 48, London

Realising my worth

"A year prior to my diagnosis, I was in a one-year relationship and I had suddenly started losing weight. My hair had changed from curly to straight. I had a constant cough and always felt exhausted.

The blood test results from my GP identified unusual white blood cells, so I was referred to the haematology department. After six months of investigations, they suggested exploring stem cell research. It was only then that I had an HIV test and was diagnosed. It was a total shock. At the time I felt I could not share my diagnosis with anyone because of the stigma and shame I would feel.

My brother was the first person I told and he was very caring and understanding. My other siblings and I decided not to tell our elderly parents to protect them from the cultural stigma around HIV. They were told I had pneumonia and later I told them I had a rare blood condition for which I had to take medication.

The diagnosis had an impact on my relationship and I was not able to be intimate with my partner as I had lost my libido and self-esteem. We split up amicably after four years and we are still good friends.

In the past I held a strong belief that I would not be able to find a partner that would accept me with my diagnosis. But I was proven wrong. The next guy I dated accepted me for me and it lifted my confidence. Whilst my relationships over the years were short lived and included a few rejections along the way due to my status, I learnt about my worth and that I am more than my HIV label. Since the Undetectable=Untransmittable message has come out, I have been even more empowered because it helps me explain to my partners that I have an undetectable viral load, and therefore I cannot transmit HIV or infect them.

The biggest issue I face is shifting negative mind sets about HIV and clarifying misconceptions. I have been a peer mentor for the last five years. I strive to help change the perceptions of the powerful women I have supported, to help them build resilience, and to help them recognise that they are more than their HIV status.”

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