Alice: HIV couldn’t put me down, I needed to be there for my son
Alice (not real name) and her eleven-year old son came to the UK from Burundi in 2000. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with HIV. She now lives in Glasgow, and says the only time she
Alice (not real name) and her eleven-year old son came to the UK from Burundi in 2000. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with HIV. She now lives in Glasgow, and says the only time she thinks about her disease is for two minutes a day, when taking her medication.
“This is not my blood, maybe somebody else’s blood”.
That was my very first reaction after being told I was HIV positive. “There must be a mistake; could you please do the test again?” I kept asking the doctor. My mind refused to accept it. It was a tremendous shock. I first thought about suicide, but those ideas did not remain with me too long, I knew I had to be there for my son.
You are never prepared for life’s setbacks and difficulties, but in my case it was even more unexpected since I had no symptoms at all. In fact, I just passed my medical examinations after applying for a UK visa and everything seemed to be okay so I could not identify any signs. Actually, if you look at me now you will not identify any signs either.
Immediately after those feelings of denial, the question arises: where does it come from? That question had been resonating in my mind for a while. Was it from my husband that passed away? Was it from an appendicitis operation back in Burundi?
Being frank, I don’t know exactly how I caught it. But what is the point of even asking the question? There is no reason why you need to know.
Looking back, I admit that those first days after the diagnosis were tough, especially because I was alone and I did not have a shoulder to cry on. I had suicidal thoughts, but those ideas did not last. They were automatically eclipsed by the image of my son. He was 11 at the time and we had just come all the way to the United Kingdom, all by ourselves. I asked myself, “who is going to look after him?” and the answer was pretty clear: it had to be me. I knew I had to be there for my son as my family have always been there for me. I knew I had to be strong. You must be when you have children on your own.
Staying positive, for my son and for myself
At that time, I was an asylum seeker. Right after I got my papers, I started working. I eventually quit the job, as unfortunately I was also diagnosed with meningitis. But I could not stay at home; I am a very active person. So I managed to keep myself busy and started volunteering. That is my truly passion, helping other people.
I spent most of my time volunteering everywhere. Actually, when someone is looking for me, they can find me either in my local church or in any other charity giving advice to people in my same situation. I would be out there showing them that HIV is not the end of life. I would be saying, “Sit down. Relax. Find the strength you need to overcome this”. It’s not easy, but I encourage people to look at the bright side, there is treatment, there is medication, there is, in essence, a solution.
Speaking openly about your disease is very important. The turning point for me took place after being actively part of an HIV support group. We talked. We share our concerns. But also, I could notice that people there were doing quite well. Then, I started thinking “maybe this is going to be alright”. I started seeing the disease form another point, kept doing my life; I even went back to the college and studied hotel management.
I have found support from my family as well. My son, my siblings and most of the people I am surrounded with know that I am HIV positive. Just like any illness, if somebody has something, their family would rather know. It is true that I personally decided not to tell my mother, not due to the stigma but simply because I don’t want her to suffer. I don’t think she can handle that; she would be scared and I don’t blame her, because she does not really know the reality of this disease. She might think she will lose me. But probably if she could understand that my condition is not such a problem to me she would not be that worried.
The truth is that I don’t think about my disease at all. I am living happily. It does not bother me. Yet, other illnesses that people would have found more harmless are way more annoying to me. For instance, I have got sciatica, I’ve got osteoporosis, and the painkillers are causing me some troubles… but with HIV? I’m totally fine. I take my medication every morning and that’s it. Life goes on.
Get tested and treated for HIV in Glasgow
The Brownlee Centre is based in Glasgow and offers free HIV testing and treatment. For more information, call the Brownlee reception on 0141 211 1074 or write to Brownleehiv@ggc.scot.nhs.uk. To visit their website, click here.