Positively Women is a self-help group for women with HIV infection. Its origins go back to the beginning of 1987. At that time I had recently been diagnosed HIV positive and was feeling completely isolated. After eight years or so of heavy drug use, I had been ‘clean’ for about three and felt like I’d really got my act together. All the court cases, probation orders, etc. were out of the way, I’d made new friends, found a job, and was doing evening classes, planning to go on to university: a whole new life—a new start—and I felt really proud of myself. I had come a long way.
At that time there was more and more talk of AIDS on the TV and in the papers and, although I thought I was probably OK, I realised that I might well have been at risk in the past through my ‘using’ and, I suppose, though I didn’t think about it then, through unprotected sex which I was still having. When I came down with shingles I was aware that it could be a sign of HIV infection and since I was feeling pretty run down anyway, I decided to be tested. I never really believed that I would be positive; I think I just wanted confirmation that I was in the clear. So when the result came back positive I was stunned and completely unprepared. That is not to say that you can ever be totally prepared for a positive result but you can definitely be more prepared and informed than I was at that time. I was basically not counselled either before or after my test.
I felt utterly alone, not knowing anyone else who had been diagnosed, and I wanted to talk about how I was feeling. But I didn’t really think that my friends would be able to understand, not having been through the same experience themselves. My relationships and friendships really suffered because of this distance that I felt had come between us. I was soon sick of hearing social workers, health advisors and doctors saying they understood—I didn’t really see how they could if they had not had a positive diagnosis themselves.
I met some gay men who were positive and that was great—a real relief to be able to talk about my fears around dying, and other such things. Yet it