Living with HIV in Singapore: ‘I spent weeks feeling disgusted’

YOUR LIFE: Every human being has a story to tell. In this series, Your Life features personal accounts by Singaporeans detailing their respective trials in life and their courage to face them.

When the symptoms first appeared in the form of rashes, I thought maybe I had developed an allergic reaction to seafood. During work, my vision would get blurry, and high fever and vomiting would get me sent home. I went to see a doctor, but things took a turn when I was referred to an eye specialist at a private clinic on the basis of having an allergy.

It was a day in September last year when the doctor looked at my symptoms and said, “You might have HIV.”

When the words sunk in, my head swirled and my entire world fell apart. I took a blood test and told my boyfriend, but all we could do was wait a week for the results, and all I could do during that time was let the fear eat away at the back of my mind while the symptoms persisted.

The day I got my results for the blood test, I vomited outside the private clinic at the sight of a piece of paper that read positive. The first person I called was my best friend – someone I knew would never ostracise me, but whom I had not been in close contact with because of work.

“Even though it’s not April, I’ll kill you if you meant this as an April Fool’s joke,” he said after we talked for a while, and it was a huge relief to know he still treated me the same.

It was late at night when I got home. My boyfriend, Eddie, didn’t even have to ask; I was crying so much. The entire night I waited for him to end our relationship then and there, but instead he comforted me till I slept.

To say it was hard to come to terms with my illness is an understatement. I spent weeks feeling disgusted with myself, until I was referred to Action for Aids (AFA) and got attached to a peer support group, where I learnt about everyone else’s experiences and hardships.

Slowly, I discovered that being diagnosed with HIV was far from the end of the world. It was just a different life.

For the first few months I suffered from the medication’s side effects, such as rashes and diarrhea. The medication would fail to work if I ate certain foods, so my diet was something I had to constantly analyse.

As time passed, my body became accustomed to the medicine, and choosing the right food to eat became second nature to me. I was motivated to live normally – so normally, in fact, that I never needed to tell my family about my condition in order to keep them from worrying.

Instead of tearing us apart, my illness brought Eddie and I even closer. He prompts me to take my medication every night – because that particular routine is something I still struggle with – and he has been there with me through the rough spells.

Acceptance of my illness was what finally brought me closure. It was in realising that if I kept thinking “Why me?” my life wouldn’t change. It was in persevering despite the stigma that told me I couldn’t live a normal life. It was in appreciating all the friends and coworkers I had around me, who never once saw me as someone different because of what I had.

Sure, I still experience prejudice in the form of ignorant remarks. The topic of STDs is often shied away from, and this leads to assumptions that people with HIV are “dirty”, or that a relationship with a HIV carrier is “dangerous”.

It took a long time for me to understand that we are none of these things. It may take society a lot longer to accept that.

Interview conducted by Rachel Oh.