64 # H E d i v h e r o e s i t n i o "Who are you?" HIV—three letters that turned my life upside down. Many people think I must be unhappy and despair over my life! Well, yes, I am indeed HIV positive, but primarily I am a mother, friend and partner. For many years I had been leading a double life in a marriage conditioned by violence, but when I was diagnosed 20 years ago, I realized something had to change. The diagnosis was a wakeup call because it made me see how wonderful, but also how terribly short, (my) life can be. In spite of my fears, I decided to openly share my HIV status because I don’t want to hide and have to lie about who I am, and so I founded PULSHIV in Vienna. It’s a special interest group organised by and for people with HIV/AIDS and their families. We provide information, counsel and guidance on HIV and often live with it ourselves. We’re people with and without HIV/AIDS who have taken their lives and futures into their own hands. "Why are you doing this?" Today, I’m living a “normal” life. I work, meet friends, have hobbies and spend as much time as I can with my family. My social circle is very important to me; they’re my friends through good and bad times. Over the years, I’ve come to realise how important it is to share your problems with others. Many people with HIV think that they’re alone with it, but that’s not true. Communication is essential to my quality of life. I’ve been in a partnership with an HIVnegative man for many years. At the beginning, things were difficult because many people didn’t accept our relationship. We faced a lot of prejudices which, as far as I’m concerned, were completely unfounded because, against all odds, we’re still together today. My son was six when he learned about my status—an age when he wasn’t yet able to really grasp what HIV meant— but with professional help he has learned to live with it. There were times when he talked about it a lot, but today I feel that HIV is as normal a part of life to him as is eating or taking a shower is. It was my conscious choice to become an advocate for the interests and concerns of people with HIV. In today’s society, this illness continues to be a taboo and, way too often, something people whisper about behind closed doors while the real problems are not discussed. The majority of HIV-positive people are scared to openly deal with their illness because, even in 2015, too many of us still harbour prejudices against HIV and fear coming in contact with it. We finally have to get rid of the myths of the 80s and draw attention to all the positive changes instead. We have to put HIV on the agenda, raise awareness for this issue and strongly encourage communication on a sociopolitical level. That’s what drives me. Through donating my blood to be part of the #HIVHEROES Edition, I want to make people understand that in dayto-day dealings with it, HIV poses no risk to anyone. Living with HIV isn’t only taxing for those of us who have it. My true heroes are my son, my partner and my parents, who have always stood by me despite the struggles and supported me through some hard times. If we all managed to look beyond our own borders once in a while, we could all be heroes.