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First 3 months of living with HIV in the northern part of Cyprus…

I’ve been torn between writing about this topic or not. Anxiety problems have not left me, what will people think if I do write? Would they know who I am? Would I get any bad comments? But I need to be able to express myself correctly… I need to express all that I have accumulated inside somehow. So I decided to write it down and get rid of it. This is my life and I am an individual living with HIV in the northern part of Cyprus.
Each person’s experience is different, their reaction when they get this diagnosis, the process of acceptance. I just wanted to convey my own experiences, maybe I can be understood, maybe people who are reading this and living with HIV in the northern part of Cyprus will not feel as lonely as I’ve done. Because we are neither alone nor wrong. Yet, there is such a great prejudice around living with HIV that we cannot talk about it, we cannot open up to each other and share our experiences. Maybe while reading this essay, you will find things similar to the experiences in your own life, maybe you will see how the life of a different person has evolved. But most importantly, if you are an individual who does not live with HIV, you will realize how my life is not independent or different from yours, and that you do not see my existence only because of prejudices.
I was diagnosed with HIV about a few months ago, I’m new so you see. But these few months seem like a lifetime to me. I was a conscious person about HIV, an ordinary person who knows and pays attention to how to protect myself, knows how easy HIV treatment is, and therefore thinks that they have no prejudices. I went to the hospital for a routine test, yes you can be tested anonymously at the Dr. Burhan Nalbantoglu Hospital. My blood was taken and sent for analysis and the usual anxious waiting began. I started to think what if I was diagnosed with HIV, and as always, I put it aside and focused on my work. I was having a very busy but good day actually, joking with my co-workers and stuff, until my phone rang in the afternoon. An infection specialist working at the hospital called me and said that they wanted to see me the next day. At that moment, I realized that it was probably because I was going to be diagnosed with HIV. Because it is necessary to give this diagnosis face to face. Many people experience massive denial because of societal prejudices and misunderstood ‘facts’. I hung up the phone and took a deep breath. I had no idea what to do or what to feel. I started to tremble; my eyes filled with tears. I was aware that being diagnosed with HIV would not affect my physical health, given how ordinary living with HIV might actually be. But facing the fact that I will get this diagnosis started to be a lot at that moment. I am very lucky that there are people around me who are conscious and do not have prejudices, I have colleagues. I immediately told a friend whom I trusted and felt close to. Not knowing what I’m feeling, I am in an unknown, am I really HIV positive or do they want to meet me because of another situation? I couldn’t be sure. A few hours later, with the support of my friend, I called the infection specialist back and asked them to tell me if I was HIV positive, I told them that I would not hurt myself and that I would accept this situation as normal. Then they said, ‘Yes, the test result came back positive’. Maybe you will be surprised and say how so, but I was relieved. The feeling of being in the middle of that unknown was very heavy for me. Yes, I am someone living with HIV now. I have to accept this. Denial wouldn’t do me any good, I knew, I could keep the virus under control by taking just one pill a day. As long as I use my medicines regularly, the virus will reach an undetectable level in my body, which means that it will not be transmitted to other people.
But I didn’t see much benefit from knowing these. Because although HIV has been only a chronic, non-lethal infection for years, societal prejudices are very corrosive. The way people view living with HIV and the effects that will have on my life has started to scare me. Who can I open up to? Do I need to open up? I didn’t have the slightest idea. I wanted to cry, to cry for hours. But I could not. Not a single tear fell from my eyes. It’s not something to cry about anyway. Have you ever seen someone who has diabetes and cries because they have to take one pill a day? I started to question myself. Why do I feel this way, I have said for years that I was conscious about this issue, I was indeed more conscious than most of the society. So why did I want to cry then? Later, I realized that what made me want to cry was not the fact that I lived with HIV anymore, but the prejudices that society built for me and a life that smelled of ignorance. So, no matter how conscious you were, I couldn’t escape social prejudices. In this process, I started to question my whole life, my life, my interaction with people, my future. When flirting with someone, the first thing that comes to my mind is that I have HIV, can I say it to that person? Will they be sympathetic? It’s okay if they don’t, you can’t expect everyone to be understanding, but what if they go around and tell others? I cannot know if they would be understanding without asking, but if I do, there’s a fear of being exposed. If I get sick, do I have to tell the doctors when I go to the hospital? We live on a small island. What if they tell someone? What if I want to get a tattoo? Hundreds of questions like these began to appear in my mind all of a sudden. But over time, I learned the answers to these questions by researching and asking my own doctor. As long as I use my medication regularly, none of these are questions that require me to worry, because the virus is not contagious when it reaches an uncertain level. Medicine has progressed so far. Nothing changed in my life, I can get my tattoo done too, oh well. All I have to do is continue my treatment on a regular basis.
While it’s actually that simple, if you live in the northern part of Cyprus, HIV is seen as a threat to public health, which means that you cannot work in certain business sectors. If you are not a citizen, you are deported. How disgusting is this practice, what’s the difference between me and a person living with diabetes? Let me tell you right away, prejudices around HIV, policies of intimidation and moralistic approaches are the difference because it is sexually transmitted. In general, I am not allowed to work in some sectors, such as the beauty and care, restaurant and cafes, as if I will continue to be transmittable even if I continue my treatment. I definitely won’t. Yes, you are right, I am against public health, because the legal texts that you call ‘morality’ and that you have enacted while sitting in those comfortable chairs are closing my existence into a dark box and preventing my access to health services and social security. My most basic human rights are being taken away from me and the only reason they do this is an abstract concept consisting of 8 letters we call ‘morality’. What morals? Whose morals? When will your domination over my body end? Whatever you say, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere and I will not be going anywhere. I live with HIV, I am part of this society, and I will resist the usurpation of my rights. I’m not sick and I don’t have the life you think I do. I’m just someone who has an ordinary life, living with HIV. That’s it!

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