Living with HIV
Bakita Kasadha - HIV activist and CHIVA Associate - discusses her experience of living with HIV and the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Living with HIV is a very complex thing; sometimes it has an impact on my day, sometimes it doesn't. In the past it has impacted me unexpectedly and negatively when I've overheard someone making a derogatory statement about HIV (whether in person or online) - often the person wouldn't have even known that I was HIV positive. Now the impact is less unexpected and more in my control, because of my choice to be involved in HIV advocacy. The derogatory statements still exist, but I am less impacted by them (if at all). Now that I am living with openly, well and happy with HIV, I am conscious of not wanting to erase the experiences of others.
This is one of the things I appreciate about the Royal Chelsea Flower Show garden, because it publicises the perspective and experiences of the children and young people living with HIV who aren't able to speak publicly about them. The theme of the garden is acceptance and overcoming stigma, because those are still some of the biggest challenges we face as people living with HIV, in the UK. It was great being in the room as the young people from the Children's HIV Association (CHIVA) discussed their ideas for the garden and what they wanted it to represent. And it was an important reminder that although physically and medically we are in a much better place, emotionally and mentally things can be and are still very difficult.
Medically/physically, living with HIV has been a pretty smooth journey for me, the biggest challenges were the misconceptions of others and my own misconceptions about what HIV is. I'm not in that space anymore, but it has been an incredible long road. A road of doubting who I am, what I deserve and my own worth and ultimately unlearning and relearning who I can be as a person living with HIV. What helped me overcome my own self-stigma was being connected to people who have kept me abreast of knowledge. Whether it's being clued up on my rights (both in education and employment); knowing about U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable); or being armed with an awareness of how the medicines actually works. Most importantly, it has been seeing other HIV positive people living their best lives. Having different conversations about HIV and about the array of people living with HIV has all been a part of my emotional healing and it's emboldened me.