At the end of last month, I met with Sara Girvin, a reporter with The Sunday Life — Sunday newspaper of the year — to talk to her about living with HIV. Sara had contacted me earlier in the month via Twitter suggesting an interview in the future. As before, with the Belfast Telegraph, and Ulster Television, and anyone else really, I am happy to talk about living with HIV. Sara suggested it being ‘at some stage before Christmas’ and I suggested that we have it leading up to 1 December, which is World AIDS Day.
The Sunday Life unlike its sister daily paper, the Belfast Telegraph, does not have a website. This can only be for the reason that they want us to go out and spend the £1.40 on buying the paper. I do have some sympathy for them, but on occasion it is awkward when trying to get people to read the article. So, that afternoon, Andrew went out and got a copy. Below is a photo of the spread — I did not expect to be across two pages!
Positive about HIV
Living with Virus — Ballymena Man is Raising Awareness
Law student refuses to let deadly disease control his life
by Sara Girvin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Following a life changing diagnosis, brave Ballymena man Michael Carchrie Campbell made the decision to be “positive about being HIV positive”.
He has been living with the incurable virus since 2009, when he received a shattering shock diagnosis following a sexual health check up.
Just a week later, 35-year-old law student Michael began writing a now award-winning blog about his condition which [has] been read by thousands around the world.
Speaking to Sunday Life about living with HIV ahead of World AIDS Day next Sunday, Michael said more needs to be done to raise awareness in Northern Ireland where last year, 95 new people were diagnosed with HIV, a 17 per cent increase on 2011.
“I’ve been very open, and I’ve been very lucky that most people have been great,” Michael said.
“I wanted to be positive about being HIV positive — I didn’t want to fall apart, I wanted to live my life. At the end of the day, I was still here.”
But Michael has had some nasty experiences too.
“Just a few days after being diagnosed I put a red ribbon for AIDS awareness on.
“I walked into a church and I was asked what it was for — I told them it was for HIV awareness and they told me I shouldn’t wear it because people might think I had HIV.
“I’ve been on a train before and people have seen my red ribbon, they know what it stands for and very quickly, they move away and don’t want to touch you.
“Things like that make me feel very angry, but also sorry for the person who thinks like that.
“Others have told me that we don’t have HIV in Northern Ireland, that it’s only a problem in Africa — but I know better.
“Some don’t want to talk about it because for them, it is a gay disease but that’s just not the case.
“Around half of those diagnosed now are heterosexual.”
Michael’s health is good at the minute, and with a new drugs regime, he takes just one table a day.
But he’s had his fair share of scares, and even a brush with death after contracting MRSA in 2010.
“My immune system was shot to bits,” he said.
“I discovered two large abscesses and when I called the hospital they told me to get there right away.
“After I was treated, they told me if I hadn’t gone to them I could have died.
“It was a massive wake up call for me to live well, eat healthy and to really look after myself.
“I don’t want HIV to rule my life, although I guess it does every night when I’m taking my medication,” he said.
“There are times when I can’t get out of bed because I just can’t move — it sneaks up on you without warning.
“But if I can be open and talk about it then maybe we can start educating our young people, and indeed our older people, on how to be sensible and avoid getting it.
“Because even though I can live with it, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”
Michael’s HIV hasn’t stopped him from leading an active life.
He has a keen interest in local politics, volunteers with the Scout movement and has been happily married for the past two-and-a-half years.
Michael says he remembers having the difficult conversation with his future husband about his HIV, but said that since then, he has been a tower of strength.
“My husband asked me the other day if he remembered the first time he hugged me,” Michael said.
“He said I cried because so many people wouldn’t touch me.
“They wouldn’t hug me or shake my hand — I’m not a touchy feely person but there are people that would find it difficult to brush past me on the stairs, it’s just a lack of education.̦”
Michael said more people in Northern Ireland must undergo HIV tests.
“Too many people are scared to deal with it but there could be that one time you didn’t use a condom, that one time you injected drugs with a shared needle. Unless you have been tested you simply do not know,” he said.
“You could be living without any symptoms but it will come up and bite you.
“The tests are so easy and so quick, and if you find out you are HIV positive there is help out there for you, both practically and emotionally.”
Through speaking out publicly and continuing his blog, Michael hopes to break down the taboo surrounding HIV in Northern Ireland.
“I’m a Scout and they teach us to be helpful to others, so if my blog helps just one person then that’s good enough for me.
You can read Michael’s blog at http://www.hivblogger.me.uk. To find out more about event leading up to World AIDS Day next Sunday or for help with issues around HIV, visit http://www.positivelifeni.com or call their confidential helpline on 0800 137 437.
Article from Sunday Life, 24 November 2013, pp. 18–19.