It took me a while to pluck up the courage to attend a[STARTx] – a weekend workshop for gay men who are dealing with their HIV diagnosis. To be honest, I had reservations about attending, but now I wish I had done it sooner as it has made such a change in my life.
Run by other gay men that are also living with HIV, they made the experience enjoyable and made me realize that I was not alone in feeling ashamed, isolated and very lonely. Run as a workshop and not like a clinical support group as we know from movies – I had the opportunity to meet other guys living with HIV in a safe, confidential and supportive environment.
I recall there being a mix of people at the workshop. From those recently diagnosed, like me, through to people that are still coming to terms with their diagnosis years later. But the common factor was that we all had similar experiences and there are peer-tested ways to manage those feelings.
a[STARTx] provided me with practical help and knowledge to self-manage living with HIV, be more confident about my status, build resiliency strategies and make me more informed about the choices I make as I navigate a full and normal life with HIV. The a[STARTx] workshop helped me understand that HIV is a really small virus with a giant social stigma on its back – but nothing I can’t conquer.
The a[STARTx] workshop gave me and the other participants:
- An understanding of how treatment, our immune system and the virus interplay.
- How to best manage our HIV.
- An overview of latest treatment and best adherence practice.
- An understanding how best to navigate the ins and outs of hook-ups and dating.
- Tools to overcome stigma and building resilience to live comfortably with our HIV.
- A chance to develop strong disclosure strategies so we are confident and ready to share with certain people.
I would not be the person I am today, without a[STARTx] workshop. It provided such a safe, inclusive environment and it was truly the first time I had felt happy since being diagnosed.
Not only did I walk away with a wealth of knowledge, but I walked away feeling this sense of empowerment and with a support network of new friends. Most importantly, I walked away no longer feeling alone.