At first glance, the question whether or not we can feel proud of our HIV status may seem provocative. HIV is often framed in language of being a deficit, a source of shame or something that requires us to be resilient in the face of something we didn’t choose.
For many of us, we may refuse to let HIV define us. We say, it’s only a small part of our life, one that we don’t want to give weight to, or dwell on. For others, HIV can still play a significant part in how we view ourselves and how we navigate in a society that has for the last 40 years been quite stigmatising and discriminatory.
Learning how to process your diagnosis, navigate things that impact our quality of life, and choosing to thrive is an ongoing journey.
At our latest Positive Conversations event, facilitated by Peer Navigation Manager Andrew Heslop and our Peer Supports Project Officer based in the Northern Rivers NSW, Tobin Saunders, we posed this question to our community attendees to get a fuller picture of self-esteem, what we have learned or how we have grown as people living with HIV. We also asked what skills or ‘superpowers’ may have manifested through connection to knowledge, support, and our peers.
Many in the session expressed a sense of pride and self-determination in how they learned to navigate and steer relationships with their HIV specialists and other healthcare practitioners. The ability to become more knowledgeable and be an equal partner in control of your health can be a really validating feeling, knowing that you are the expert in what it means to live with HIV, and how it feels for you, as a deeply personal and individual condition.
For others, a sense of pride and empowerment came through what they viewed as their heightened capacity for empathy and connection to a diverse community of peers. We can draw strength from our HIV positive community, and sometimes seeing other people also living with HIV, who have unpicked their sense of shame and are open and doing amazing things can inspire us or ‘give us permission’ to view ourselves and HIV differently.
Finding a way through stigma, to a personal sense of acceptance and maybe even the possibility of pride (for some!) is a challenging and sometimes long process. The most important ongoing relationship we have, is the one we have with ourselves. We need support, guidance, connection, and validation to grow and flourish and re-evaluate the impact of HIV on our lives.
What all of us can be proud of, are the lessons we learn along the way, our choices to live and hold space regardless of stigma we may have faced or continue to face, and our ability to seek out community and care for each other.
If you want to talk with a peer also living with HIV, Positive Life has a range of peers who live with HIV from a range of sexualities, genders, and backgrounds who can explore with you some strategies and different ways to build your ability to move forward in life as you live with HIV. Call Positive Life on 8257 8386 or email email@example.com
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