I was lost. I still am; to some degree I always will be. But things are better now. It doesn’t feel so cold or so dark; I’m not so alone anymore.

Nobody knew that all I needed was for them to know, but letting them know was the hardest part. Now they do. For all my worry nothing has changed, least not in the way I had imagined. If anything the bonds are stronger and the feelings deeper; I know I’m not being a burden to anyone anymore, or feeling like I would be. I know I can talk to them and turn to them for help and comfort – an ear to bend, a shoulder to cry on – whenever I need it. I remember what it was like before I had this. When I was at the mercy of my fears. The apprehension I had about opening up. The stories I’ve heard and read of rejection from others who found themselves in the same situation I now find myself in, and how the fear of rejection prevents others from ever opening up.

I want to show the other side to this. To provide a balance to all those stories of rejection and to show that disclosure is not always bad; good can and does often come from it. For this I turned to my friends once again. All only too happy and willing to add their voice to that of my own.

 

James –

I’ve known Anthony for about six months. He Facebooked me through a mutual friend. He’d seen me speak at an HIV vigil. He thought I was rather handsome. I’ll admit to thinking much the same when I saw his profile pic pop up. I asked him if he was HIV early on during one of our initial long messaging sessions and he disclosed immediately. I imagine my being HIV too must have been a relief, making disclosure easier. I’ve never known Ant as anything other than HIV+. However I don’t see him as a status. Our relationship, in the short period of time it has existed, has given me more than just another HIV+ person to discuss the ‘ins and outs’ of HIV. Far from it. Ant and I spend most of our time competing to see who can come up with the perfect soundtrack on any given day. He’s become a part of my daily life, even though we don’t live in the same city. Most days one of us will pop up somewhere to say hello. Or to post a music video. Or to be smart. Either way, he’s become a part of the fabric of my life easily and quickly. I have no idea if Anthony was in any way different before his diagnosis to the Anthony I know now. It’s not a question that ever crosses my mind. I’m pleased to have him around – despite the miles of motorway that lie in between us. If anything HIV has enabled a friendship to bloom between us. It gave us an immediate connection. It is no longer our only connection. HIV hasn’t been divisive – it has brought us together. Disclosure created something good. As it so often can. Anthony is a great human being. Shame he’s got such chronically bad taste in urban music!

 

Lisa –

I’ve known Anthony for just over a year, after meeting him at a mutual friends’ flat warming party. In the relatively short time since then we’ve become close friends.

Ant opened up to me about his HIV positive status the first evening we met. The conversation was unexpected; my resulting emotions complex. As soon as he told me I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of compassion for what a contentious situation he was dealing with. I totally understood why he found it easier to open up to me – a relative stranger – about his status, when he admitted he was struggling to tell some of his closest friends. He didn’t have to try to second-guess how his disclosure would affect my perception of him. I had no deep or long-running preconceptions of him to relate the status to. Had no connections to family members he might not have got around to opening up to yet.

I was suddenly aware of my own ignorance about HIV and AIDS. Every time I asked questions or tried to contribute to the conversation I felt uninformed and more than a little bit thick and embarrassed that I didn’t know more. Although I do feel as if I know more now, I sometimes think I may either come across as being patronizing or rude if I ask “the wrong” questions or say “the wrong” thing. I also think some times: “Is now the right time. Will Ant want to talk about it when I have something on my mind?”. Ant’s openness made me feel as if our connection on meeting had quickly deepened. I felt it was a compliment for him to trust me so quickly.

 

Joanne –

I have known Anthony for around 3 and a half years and met him when I started working at the same firm of Solicitors as him. He kind of took me under his wing and we have pretty much stayed friends ever since.

I made arrangements with Anthony over the Christmas period to meet up and go to Manchester for a “mooch”. We started the journey into Manchester and the conversation was about the usual kind of stuff then out of the blue he turned to me and told me he had something to tell me, something he had wanted to tell me for a while but didn’t know how I was going to react. At first I went into a fit of giggles thinking it was some silly boy problems or perhaps work? oh how I was wrong. As soon as the word HIV left his lips I wanted to literally jump over to the drivers side and squeeze him to death, it took everything in me not to. I just wanted to cry as he started to explain the last 12 months and what he had been going through. I can honestly say that not for a second I felt disgusted, ashamed or wanted to reject him in any way. If anything I wanted to sit there hugging him all afternoon and in fact when we finally got out of the car I stopped him and squeezed him for dear life. I held in the tears but that’s all I wanted to do, cry, and when I got home that is exactly what I did. I just felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness and “what the hell could I do to help him?”. Also he began to tell me the other people who knew about his situation and however selfish it might seem, I was upset that I wasn’t one of the first to know. I think I was surprised that he thought there was a chance I wouldn’t want anything to do with him and more so I think because I just kept thinking how there must have been so many times when he felt alone and I could have been there for him.

Naively I really didn’t know a lot about HIV, just unfortunately the stigma that goes with it. Anthony explained the ins and outs about the virus itself and what exactly he himself is going to encounter along the way. I feel a lot more aware now and although I would never judge him or anyone I feel the whole situation has opened my eyes to it all.

When we got back to work after the Christmas period nothing really changed between us; there was no secret little HIV meetings at lunch or awkward stares in the corridor, but it has made me pick up on when he’s not looking or acting his normal self and I try my best to check up on him. I did lay there the night he told me and I did think what if? what if my friend actually dies. Now that I know a lot more about the virus I know that he has all the chances in the world of living a “normal” healthy life, but there is always that fear. Ant knows that our relationship will never change and I am so proud of him. No matter what, I am and will always be there for him through bad and good, I love him.

 

Julie –

I first met Anthony 3 years ago.  We’d both had the same bright idea of studying law!! I was sat in class feeling nervous and full of trepidation; in you walked all confident, fabulous, handsome and stylish.  I knew after that first class we’d be friends.  From that day on you teased me, made me laugh, got me in trouble for giggling in class and calmed me down around exam times – until of course my nerves rubbed off on you and you started to panic as well!!

In short, I found out quite by accident through work.  I couldn’t believe it.  I read, re-read and read those words again a thousand times.  Not you.  This couldn’t be happening to you.  On the one hand I had a professional duty not to repeat what I’d learned – even to you.  More importantly, as your friend, I didn’t want you to feel pressured into having to talk about it or tell me things you didn’t feel comfortable with me knowing just yet, if at all.  This wasn’t about me and the questions I had or the devastation I felt; this was about you.  This was happening to you and I felt sure you’d tell me when you were ready and if you didn’t – so be it.  I wouldn’t find that offensive, it wouldn’t make me mad, I just longed to let you know it made no difference to me, to us, and that you weren’t alone.

I cried.  I sat stunned for what seemed like a lifetime and cried some more.  If you had been with me you would have used the line you’ve used on me a trillion times…”God! you’re such a female”, with a shake of the head and a roll of your eyes.

How do I tell you that I know?  Indeed, do I tell you that I know? Had you told anybody?  Were you going through this alone?  Did you need me?  As your friend I wanted you to know that you had my unquestionnable support.  As your friend, I decided it was only right that you tell me when you were ready and not when I put you in a position where you had to  It took you six months.

We were enjoying a tipple after the hardest of days.  “I have something to tell you”, you said.  You looked lost and full of fear but I knew what was coming and I smiled.  I could finally hug you and tell you that I’d be here whenever you needed me.  I knew then that you trusted me and trusted our friendship.  You had no idea that I’d known for so long.  I was glad for that because I did sometimes wonder to myself whether I was unconsciously behaving any different towards you.  I didn’t mean to and I’m glad I wasn’t.  As far as I’m concerned HIV never did, never has, never will spoil the relationship we have.

It’s easy for others to try and show empathy, emotion or understanding towards you but I guess no one really knows your pain, your sadness, your moments of joy until they have walked a mile in your shoes.  I use the old cliché of knowing lots of people but only having a handful of friends.  You are in my handful of friends and I will walk every mile by your side.

 

Craig –

Anthony and myself crossed paths on the search for love. We went on one date and I think it’s safe to say we both wanted only to be friends from that moment on. I now class him as one of my closest friends and part of my immediate group. We have danced, laughed, been drunkenly propositioned by female prostitutes and narrowly escaped the wrath of their pimp together. but when a male gay friend sends you an alcohol fuelled text completely out of the blue saying he needs to talk to you there is one of two things that goes through my head. One, he is in love with me or two he has HIV. On this occasion it was the latter and after a few texts back or forward I had had pretty much guessed what he was going to tell me.

He wanted to discuss this face to face so we arranged for him to come to mine. We both knew I had guessed what the content of the discussion would be so when he arrived his words were, “well you have guessed it anyway haven’t you”. I felt it was important for him to say it out loud so asked him to tell me, which he did – a good friend of my Mum’s had recently been through exactly the same thing so I was pretty clued up with what happens. I was shocked when Ant told me that he had been diagnosed just after we had met (nearly a year before now) simply because I hadn’t really noticed any change in him. I guess I would have expected some anger, bitterness or a lack of contact, Ant being someone who is happiest when texting on that Blackberry. I instantly wanted to say “why didn’t you tell me? Why did you go through this on your own? I could have helped!” I knew this wasn’t a death sentence, as it had been in the early days, and that people would not die of AIDS, more likely some other disease. I wanted to get across to Ant that nothing would change due to what he had told me. He was still the same, I was still the same, and our friendship was still the same. We chatted for a while about it and I got up to speed with what has happened the day he was told, how brilliant his Mum had been and his trip to the beach. I still wished I had of known so I could have helped. The thought of him going through that on own his was horrible, I wanted to help.

Since then I feel Ant’s confidence in disclosing his status has grown. He is telling more people and seems comfortable doing that. My simple advice has been everyone will be fine and if they’re not then they are not worth it. Yes this is a simple view but also very true.

So the journey continues and we are nearing a very important point, the possibility of meds. When Ant gets to this point I will be right behind him and ready to tackle it head on.

 

Ann-Marie –

I’ve known Ant for 15 years. We met when we studied art A level together, and we’ve been friends ever since. Although we’ve spent a lot of that time living separate live; myself moving around the country and eventually settling in Australia and Ant’s done his thing, every time we are in the same place it’s like we never left.

I’ve currently returned to the UK and on my latest visit back home I was really disappointed after trying to arrange a night out to catch and Ant failed to show up, giving a poor excuse, and I didn’t hear from him afterwards. I was upset by his absence and didn’t know what to make of it. Just before I got around to contacting Anthony to explain my annoyance he texted me to say that he had to tell me something that would explain his weird behavior, but that he didn’t want to do it via text message. While I was waiting for the call all kinds of things were going through my head as to what it could be that was so serious.

For as long as I’ve known Ant I’ve never felt such trepidation over a telephone call from him, but when he told me what it was I couldn’t believe it. I was left speechless with only one thought running through my head – how could it happen to Ant? I certainly didn’t know what to say, as I felt anything I could say would be absolutely useless. I kept going over in my head what he’d told me. It was obvious from the way he was talking about his situation that he’d had a long time to think about it himself and try to come to terms with the position he now found himself in. He told me about a blog, how in a way it had helped him and helped deal with his issues of opening up to those close to him. Reading his blog made me realise just what he was going through emotionally. I saw a side to Ant that I’d never really seen before, that I suspect he guards well. I was happy to discover that he has the full support of his family behind him – after he told me I kept looking at my little boy’s; still only babies at the moment, and trying to imagine how I’d feel if something like this ever happened to them in the future. If it does, I’d want them to stay as strong and positive as Ant has been, and I’d hope they would know they could come to me much like Ant was able to do with his mother and as much as Ant knows he can turn to me.  I’m sure it’s the only way to get through something like this. I’m glad he finally told me what he was going through, I can only image how very difficult a thing it is to do, no matter how long you’ve known a person.

I’ll be heading back to Oz soon and my only hope is that Ant knows I’m only a phone call away if ever he needs me, but I’m so glad to know that I’m leaving him with such great friends and family around to support him when he needs them. Love you Pants