July 15th 2014 was a day like no other. Close your eyes and imagine a hot day in July (not a hard feat this year) It’s coming up to 2pm in the afternoon. There’s no breeze in the air… it’s hot.
I’m walking down a road in South London, if we want to be precise the road is Lansdowne Way – a relatively long road bridging Stockwell and Nine Elms. I’m about a third of the way down the road and laughing with a friend my phone rings.
A few steps on and the colour starts to slide from my face.
The hot day suddenly turns cold.
It turns empty.
My friend notices the my change in mood and asks whether I am okay, not yet knowing what the phone call was about.
His voice next to me seems to come from somewhere very far away, somewhere very distant.
This is July 15th 2014.
This is the day I am diagnosed with HIV.
Flash forward to today and the colour draining fear, panic, sense of loss, sense of being lost, the seemingly endless nightmare I pushed myself into in the three weeks that followed that day feel a whole world away.
Today, Saturday July 15th 2017, marks three years since my diagnosis. It marks three years since an epiphany, since a rebirth, since a re-evaluation of what was important to me, and since I chose to start enjoying and living life, than emulating what I thought life should be – and feeling like I was failing at it.
But I won’t lie to you, at times it’s been an uphill struggle. However, today, 1,096 days on, I could not be happier.
I’m employed in a job that values me and the work I do, and that I enjoy doing.
I’m helping others to realise that a diagnosis is not the end, that a diagnosis can also be a beginning, and after a little help many come to realise that in time.
1,578,240 minutes on from hanging up from that call, my world really does feel more honest and more open.
So why am I sharing this with you?
Because I’m here today due to the time and patience that others, diagnosed far longer than me, gave up to help me pick my life up and get me to wanting to help others. These are my Heroes.
We all too often hear the bad experiences of life with HIV, and the fears we and others have surrounding a diagnosis, but as I reflect today on my journey, I don’t feel down, but rather grateful for the help I received.
I’m happy I’ve pulled through, I’m happy that I cant pass it on, and more importantly to me, I’m happy that I can use what I’ve learned to do some good and turn the self stigma this virus can cause, on its head.
In the last 94,694,400 Seconds (at 14:00 today) I have helped people across the country and beyond.
Whether it’s been through one-to-one peer mentoring which was once a lifeline to me, and which I can now repay the help through organisations like Positively UK’s Project 100 which continues to be immensely powerful to mentee and mentor alike, or whether it’s the outreach education in schools, universities thanks to ‘Positive Voices’, a project by The Terrence Higgins Trust.
I’ve even had the opportunity to have conversations with Lords and Politicians thanks to Youth Stop AIDS, hopefully changing the hearts and minds of those making decisions on our behalf.
My story has recently been shared internationally as part of the recent press coverage on the story that people living with HIV can now expect a normal life expectancy. Many people from around the world have gotten in touch following those articles – wanting to start conversations in their own country, some of which will prove more challenging than others.
There is however still much more to do, there’s much more stigma to be challenge and many more to educated and hopefully inspired.
However 1,096 days on and I’m…
…Still Living …Still Laughing …Still Loving Still Jimmy.