Lance 45, Gay, Wellington
I was living in Dunedin when I was diagnosed with HIV after I received a needle-stick injury while working at a dry-cleaning company. My doctor couldn't believe it was a positive result because he thought Dunedin didn't have an HIV problem.
My doctor sent me for another HIV test. When it too came back positive, I was referred to Christchurch hospital for yet more confirmatory tests.
I was eligible for an ACC bulk payment as my diagnosis was injury-related. But I didn't accept the payment because, as a gay man, I couldn't confirm whether my diagnosis was a result of the injury or engaging recently in unsafe sex.
I think I have always inflicted stigma on myself, feeling dirty because the HIV was sexually transmitted. I believe this attitude is also present in the community.
When I recently had elective surgery at a private hospital I was was labeled HIV-positive while being wheeled around the hospital. This left me feeling unclean.
There have been a couple of occasions when I've felt I'd rather life were over than having to go through the ordeal of living with HIV, being labeled and having the associated stigma.
When I came to Wellington I was introduced to Body Positive and NZAF. They've been a huge support for me and, because of that care and nurturing, I'm now on the board of Body Positive. I now have a large, positive support network.
My message to NZ is, it's time to come out of the closet about HIV. We are people living with a chronic illness, but we are normal people, worthy of love and respect. It's time to start talking about this disease.