"I have made friends with my HIV"

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For a long time, Andreas Lundstedt was unwilling to accept that he had contracted HIV. He did not say anything to the people around him and did not bother to take his medication. Today he has made peace with his virus, is writing a book and wants to spread knowledge of HIV and AIDS.

Andreas Lundstedt was a hard-working freelance singer and dancer and not yet 30 years old when he received a phone call from hospital staff and was asked to come in and be tested for HIV. A person he had previously had a sexual relationship with had tested positive and now a routine infection screening was performed.

"It was completely surrealistic, because I didn´t feel ill. I had always thought that you would have fever and swollen lymph glands if you had HIV or AIDS," says Andreas.

He does not remember what year it was or at what hospital he was tested, because the experience was so difficult for him that he has repressed it, but the memory of being told on the phone that he had HIV is crystal-clear.

"That´s not the way it should happen, you should sit down and talk in the same room when you give such terrible news to someone. What saved me was that I was just about to teach an aerobics session. I just carried on as if in a fog, the reaction came later at home with my boyfriend," says Andreas.

When his HIV infection was confirmed, Andreas had to start taking a cocktail of drugs several times a day and go for frequent checks that became more spaced out as time went on.

For ten years he did not say anything to anyone in his circle about his HIV infection, because he was scared and did not know anyone in the same situation. He was afraid of being branded "the AIDS guy". The only people who knew were his doctors and nurses at the HIV clinic and his then boyfriends. For a period Andreas was depressed.

"There was a great contrast between my profession, which is quite shallow, and my other difficult private life. There was nothing in between. I couldn´t cope with it and just sat around at home on my own and didn´t give a damn about anything. I challenged my life and my HIV and didn´t take the tablets I was supposed to."

Andreas´ doctor was bewildered when the virus levels started to rise in Andreas´ blood and HIV virus started to become resistant to one of the drugs.

"When it was noticed that I was not bothering it made me realise how fragile life is".

Since that day he has been taking his five drugs in the morning and in the evening without exception. He does not appear chronically ill, because he does not feel ill, but says that he is carrying a chronic infection. Andreas has now been living with HIV for more than 13 years and attends for checks every three to six months. There are almost no measurable HIV particles in his blood.

Andreas remembers how as a 17-year-old he went to a gay bar for the first time and saw a man who looked like living death standing with a beer in his hand. A friend said to Andreas 'see him there, he has AIDS'.

"That was my image of HIV/AIDS. I also saw Sighsten Herrgårds emaciated body before me and thought that HIV equalled AIDS equalled death. But since the mid-1990s there have been better drugs that have meant that people have stopped dying from AIDS. And I have been lucky, because the HIV virus I am carrying is of the less aggressive kind. The treatment works very well and has no side-effects at all. "Im as healthy as I can be," he says.

Wishes he had talked about it earlier

I had imagined my nearest and dearest turning their backs on me, but they took it so well. And for every friend I told, the better it felt. Now they finally got to know the whole me.

In December 2007 Andreas chose to be interviewed by the gay magazine QX and talk about being infected with HIV. But just before the magazine was published he went out on what he calls a confession tour and told his closest friends and family about the disease. Armed with the results of that tour, he regrets not having talked about it earlier.

"I had imagined my nearest and dearest turning their backs on me, but they took it so well. And for every friend I told, the better it felt. Now they finally got to know the whole me. For the first time I felt whole and strong and that I am completely OK. That was when everything changed".

Andreas feels happy and proud of having contributed towards society having started to pay more attention to the issue of HIV since he 'came out of the closet for the first time'. Among other things, he has taken part in fund-raising galas, spoken about HIV on the radio programme Sommar i P1 and is an ambassador for the charity SOS Children´s Villages.

"To date I have felt that simply by coming out I have done my bit, and I´m in the vanguard waving the flag, but so far I´ve been on my own. I like doing it, but it would be great if others would step forward," says Andreas, continuing:

Bild på Andreas Lundstedt."I hope that there will be a vaccine before I die. Until then I see it as a calling, a responsibility I have to carry on talking about HIV, so that it becomes less stigmatised and odd".

Andreas is writing a book about his life and his HIV and is going to ask for his medical records to that he can remember the years after the HIV test more easily. And when he has finished he would like to lecture in schools about HIV and AIDS and how to protect oneself.

"There´s so much ignorance about HIV, especially among young people. It´s also important to protect yourself against sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy. And in general people are not aware that it´s not just homosexuals, intravenous drug users and Africans who get AIDS, but heterosexuals in Sweden as well. There are cases of heterosexuals infected with HIV who have died of AIDS because they were diagnosed too late".

Since Andreas made his HIV infection public he feels that he has landed. He can live as normal, as long as he practises safe sex with his partner, and he is happy to take his tablets, because without them he would be dead.

"I have made friends with my HIV. I used to hate my situation and at times didnt want to live, it was like an internal fight, now Im calmer in myself and feel really well."

Text: Helena Mayer. Published in Medicinsk Vetenskap issue no 4/2011