Gabi, age 55 / Munich, Germany


It’s still not the same. I mean, speaking for myself, I’d rather have HIV than some cancer, right? But for others it’s still, they can cope better when you say you have a cancer than this HIV thing. In the back of people’s heads there’s probably still this, it’s an icky illness, because it has to do with sexuality. And one has to live quite promiscuously to get it – you don’t have to live promiscuously! But those are the prejudices that I am still fighting.

There’s this feeling that you must have done something terrible to be HIV-positive. When you have breast cancer, it doesn’t mean you did something terrible – it just happened to you, it’s fate, right? But HIV, you acquire. That’s the weird difference, that remains to this day. And I’m saying, nothing’s my fault, I just did what everybody else is doing, and it just hit me, and that’s that. Okay?

In the beginning you got your own cliches in your head, for sure. I just didn’t know anyone with it, so where would I have gotten any other experiences? Those dying, deathly ill, skinny, skeletal people, that’s what’s in your head. Those times are gone. Sure, initially that’s what you’re struggling with, and you constantly think, help, what’s gonna happen?

So in the beginning, when you’re afraid of, maybe I do have to die, right? You’re thinking – I would say more “contemplative” sounds a bit high brow, but you are more considerate of many things: is something really crucial, or not important? Somehow you concentrate on seeing the beauty in things, at least that’s how it was for me.

Maybe not everyone has that experience. But for me, it was like that. I was thinking, now that shit hit the fan, just go and focus on something nice, and somehow I was able to enjoy the tiny little things much more than I used to be able to, when everything was just normal. Somehow, in the beginning, you do spend a lot of time processing the idea of death  – you got to, there’s still people dying from it. And you just generally contemplate many more things, I would say. It’s changed my life quite a bit.

Before, I would have probably just thought of work, work, work. I’m not trying to say that I am rarely ever thinking about work now – I got to work 8 hours a day, after all. But work is by far not the most important thing in my life any longer. And I’m a lot more cautious now. When I notice I am coming down with – even just the flu, not that that’s gonna kill me, right, but I’m telling myself I DO NOT want to get sick. I’d rather just stay home on day one and recuperate, and then that’s that, I’m not gonna drag it out for two weeks and make my life miserable. You know, and if it’s just to relax. To just sit down, not get strung out over anything, but to say, I’m gonna let that go, and I’ve got to rest, or else I’m going to lose my strength. Before, I would’ve never been able to do that.