Four inspirational British men and women have spoken out about living with HIV for a new film to challenge common misconceptions surrounding HIV. The documentary My HIV My Rules, released to coincide with World AIDS Day, follows people in the HIV community all leading active and fulfilling lives.
Since being diagnosed, Angelina Namiba, 48, from London has become a mother, Becky Mitchell, 41, from Bristol has retrained as an exercise instructor, Bisi Alimi, 40, also from London has been to meet Barack Obama at the White House and Sean Hourigan, 30, from Bristol, has inspired others with the illness.
Angelina, who is in her late 40s, was diagnosed as HIV Positive 23 years ago. As a child she was left devastated when her young brother passed away from AIDS, but Angelina was determined not to give in to her own diagnosis and went onto become a mother.
Her daughter, now 16, whom Angelina describes as her ‘biggest achievement’, is HIV negative.
‘One of my biggest achievements was being able to have my daughter after an HIV diagnosis,’ said Angelina on the documentary. ‘I thought that it was never going to be possible for me to have a child because of what I’d seen of HIV was just many people dying. ‘But you can live a long time with HIV. It’s just a matter of taking up the interventions that are available to us.’
She added: ‘Having my daughter has been very key because it’s given me another purpose in life.’
Looking to the future, Angelina plans to set up an old age home for people with HIV in Brighton and also aspires to continue to give her daughter a good upbringing. ‘I just want to be happy,’ she added. ‘I don’t let HIV define me. It’s a very tiny virus that has decided to invade my body so it’s going to live by my rules.’
Also inspired to help others with the virus since his diagnosis two and a half years ago is Sean, who works for homeless charity Shelter and volunteers with HIV charity the Brigstowe Project.
‘I want to make sure that I’m healthy enough that I can go off visiting other places – showing people what it’s like to be a healthy person living with HIV and inspire other people to do the same,’ he explained. He also aspires to travel and live life to the full despite his diagnosis.
‘Now that my condition is stable, I’m on medication, I’m undetectable I can now think about maybe going off to South America, to Africa, and experiencing countries I haven’t been to yet,’ he said. ‘Diagnosis has made me more driven. It’s made me think, “If you want to go out and do something you have to go out and do it now”.
Becky, was diagnosed three years ago but has since upped her fitness levels and is now an exercise instructor alongside her day job at the environment agency. Despite always loving exercise, Becky admits that prior to her diagnosis she never imagined she would end up leading the class.
Describing her condition, she said: ‘HIV is life changing, but it’s not life limiting. I’m the same woman I was before my diagnosis, maybe stronger and wiser. I love life I always have so, I wasn’t going to let this get in the way. It’s a personal choice at the end of the day, you can either let it stop you or you can let it drive you forward. ‘Exercise was and still is my salvation. I like to run and I like to cycle. I like to find a positive way to deal with it, which will not only help me physically be strong but will help my mental strength as well.’
She also says she is more aware of her health than ever before: ‘It makes you think of long-term health. I eat well and I don’t drink,’ she explained.
But despite wanting to inspire others with HIV, Becky also feels it’s important that people understand the reality of managing the virus.
‘I think there’s a lot of complacency about living with HIV. People think if I take one pill a day it’s a bit more complicated. ‘If I look after myself as well as I can. I do whatever I can, to prevent anything else happening.’
Next year Becky plans to tackle the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and will soon start training for the expedition. ‘I love life – I always have – so I wasn’t going to let this get in the way,’ she said. ‘I’ve decided that HIV lives with me because I was here first. It’s a personal choice at the end of the day. You can let it stop you or it can drive you forward.’
Social justice activist, academic and public speaker, Bisi, has achieved great things in the area of HIV awareness in the 11 years since his diagnosis. So much so that last year he was picked by the White House as one of the game changers in the field and was invited to meet Barack Obama.
‘Having that boy from the slum being invited to the White House…it was just so surreal,’ said Bisi, who grew up in Nigeria.
Bisi, who plans to get married next year, is full of hope for his future. ‘I’d like to have a wonderful family and finish my doctorate,’ he said. He also hopes for his charitable foundation to affect change in Nigeria. ‘At the back of my head is also my dream to be the first black gay MP in the UK.’
He adds: ‘I feel very confident that I can live for a very long time with the virus. ‘I am living proof – honestly – you can live a fabulous life positively and living with HIV. ‘All you have to do is stay positive, think positive, act positive, take your medication, take care of yourself. Discover what makes you happy and go for it. Don’t let HIV reduce you.’
Bisi says he is also much more conscious of his health and regularly checks his cholesterol, liver, heart rate. ‘I look at all my other friends who are negative who haven’t been to a doctor for five, years. I go every six momths. ‘As we get older there will be challenges, but preparing our bodies for old age now whilst we have control of it will help us live to a very healthy old age.’
Also on the documentary was Dr Alan Winston, consultant physician in HIV and genitourinary medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital, London, who explained that looking at care beyond the virus itself can help prolong healthy life.
He said: ‘Having a treatable problem like HIV should not stop you from achieving all your goals in life.’ View the film online and join in the conversation on Twitter under the hashtag #myhivmyrules
Take a look at the trailer (Above) or to see the full 13 minute feature, visit Liquid Productions for more.
for well-being news and info or