A BEAUTIFUL LIFE

The journey that you take, from the point when you learn about your HIV condition, to gradually accepting the diagnosis and moving on in life, is an enduring one. HIV may have come into your life at a point when you least expected it. This book seeks to help you understand what HIV means to your life and how you can still find ways to live your life in a meaningful way. Remember that HIV is only one part of you. Don’t lose sight of who you really are and rediscover the strengths within yourself to live the life that you are meant to live.

Join us in this journey to re-establish the life that you can be proud of and remember the beautiful person that you’ve always been.
You can read the real stories of people living with HIV in the pink boxes as they share with you their journeys. Try out the small exercises in the blue boxes to help you think a bit about what you can do to be a stronger you.

Learning to Be Stronger
Mark found out about his HIV diagnosis a few years ago. Some of you might identify with what Mark went through. When Mark found out that he was HIV positive, he remembered his mind going blank, as tears started welling up in his eyes. He was shocked as he had not thought that he could ever be infected with HIV. He thought that that was the end of the road for him, and because he didn’t want to think about how his life might be cut short, he denied the information that he was HIV positive. As Mark learned more about HIV, he realised that with regular medication, he can still have a long way ahead – he can continue to live a normal life span, in fact. He started to acknowledge his HIV status, but still he asked, “Why me? It’s not fair!” Mark had not always used condoms when he had sex in the past. But he was still angry that he had to be the one – why not someone else? What did he do wrong? Mark kept thinking about what he could have done to prevent this from happening. But slowly, he realised that there wasn’t any point in finding fault. Instead of looking back, he could start looking ahead and plan for his future. At times, Mark would go back to feeling sad. Even though he knew that a long road lies ahead, he still felt uncertain. One day, his friend told him, “But Mark, everything in life is uncertain, whether you have HIV or not. You are not worried because life is uncertain. You have forgotten to believe in yourself.” That shook Mark a bit. His friend was right. He started thinking about the things that he had wanted to achieve, and started to look up, and hope. Mark decided that he would further his studies. He started looking up on volunteering opportunities. Since there was at least another 40, 50 or more years to go, he had better do something! He needed to make his life worthwhile! Eventually, Mark learned to tell himself, “It’s OK.” Gradually, he learnt to accept his positive status and he also told himself that he had to think positively. He learnt that HIV is only one part of him and it doesn’t make him who he is. He started thinking about his dreams and what he wanted to achieve in his life. Gradually, he began to believe in himself once again and regained his sense of confidence. Now, he makes plans for his future and works towards them, because he knows he can and has to.

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Quick Facts about HIV!
We now know a lot more about HIV and with medical advances, HIV infection is now manageable. When you learn more about HIV, you would realise that many things that we were told about HIV might actually not be true. You would then learn how to take better care and control over your health.

Quick Facts about HIV!
• There are people who were diagnosed as HIV positive since the 1980s, when HIV was first discovered, and who are still healthy and well. So, based on current research, a person living with HIV, who go on treatment, can continue to live a normal life span. You can go on and enjoy the quality time that you spend with your family and friends because remember, HIV is not transmitted by touching, hugging or sharing food with someone else. The cost of treatment has come down tremendously over the past 2 decades. HIV medication is now more affordable and patients are able to tap on their Medisave to pay for their daily medication. Other forms of financial assistance are also available. Speak to your doctor, pharmacist, counsellor or social worker to find out more. People living with HIV do continue to develop meaningful and deep relationships with other people who might or might not have HIV. Like any other relationship, talk openly and honestly with your partner to maintain a lasting and strong relationship.

As we go along in this book, we will share with you other stories of people living with HIV and how they continue living their lives successfully.

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We Know Ourselves Best: Thinking Positively
By now, you would have read up quite a bit about HIV and would have a good enough knowledge of HIV. In our first exercise, let’s find out what your perception of HIV is.

Exercise #1

What Does HIV Mean To You?
When you think of HIV, what is it that comes to your mind? In the box below, write down as many words or phrases as you can! There is no time limit.

Now, do a count of the number of words and/or phrases that you have written. Of these, how many of these are associated with negative ideas? Did you associate HIV with the idea of it being life-threatening, that it is associated with particular groups, such as gay people or sex workers? The next question is, do you personally identify with any of these words and/or phrases that you have written down? Or are they merely negative sterotypes, which you do not actually describe who you are? Sometimes, we form our beliefs based on what others say, even when we know the facts. • • FACT #1: With medication, you can still live a long and healthy life. FACT #2: As a person living with HIV, we can continue to live our lives well and make the best of it. HIV might mean that we have to make some adjustments to our lives, to remember to take our medication regularly, and to take breaks when we need to. But our lives do go on, and we can continue to believe in our dreams and find ways to achieve them.

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Sometimes, we continue to worry about how others might look at us if they know that we are HIV positive. We think that they might judge us as being “promiscuous” or that we did something that they think is “morally wrong”. But why do we allow us to form our beliefs of ourselves based on what they say?

Exercise #2

Your Talents and Abilities
Let’s do a quick activity. In the box below, write down the talents and abilities that you have. Are you able to draw or sing well? Or are you able to bring a group of people together and make them laugh? Take some time to remember the amazing talents and abilities that you have and write them down.

Can you remember how proud you were when you were able to do something well with your talents and abilities? You know who you are. You know how good a person you can be. You know the talents and abilities that you have and the skills that you’ve gained. Others don’t.

With or without HIV, you are still the person that you are.
This is your life and you can make the best of it. So, remember that you are a valuable person, so believe in it and live your life to the fullest, because it’s yours to make it happen!

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss

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Julie was married with 5 children when she first found out about her HIV diagnosis. After telling her husband about her HIV diagnosis, he remained supportive towards her. Julie’s family has always known Julie as a kind person who thinks for others before herself. She is a very caring and responsible mother, who focuses her time on taking care of her 5 children. She would spend her mornings preparing them for school, and her afternoons going through their homework with them. During weekends, she would also spend time playing with the children and bringing them for recreational classes. Initially, Julie had not taken her medication regularly, as she wasn’t able to accept her diagnosis fully. With the support of her husband and family, as well as the healthcare professionals at the hospital, Julie realised that there is life beyond HIV. They helped her to remember the importance and goodness of her role as a mother, a wife, a daughter to her own parents. With their support, she managed to find the strength within herself. She decided to take better care of herself so that she can continue to care for her children and watch them grow up. She now takes her medication regularly. She has also learnt to believe in herself and to stay strong as a person.

You Are a Valuable Person
Let’s talk a bit about your values. Your values guide you in how you lead your life. What are the values that you hold? For example, do you believe in treating other people kindly? Or do you believe in having a relaxed approach towards life?

Exercise #3

Remembering Your Values: Who You Are
In the box below, write down the values that you hold for yourself. Write down as many as you can think of. Again, there isn’t any time limit!

After you have written down your values, circle the values which you think are positive. What are some of the positive values that you hold?
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Take a look at the list again and for each of the positive values written, think about why you wrote that. Was it because you helped someone in need, or stood up for someone who was unfairly treated? Recall what you can and remember them. For example, if you had written that you are a kind person, remember some recent kind actions that you have done. Did you help an elderly auntie cross the road, or did you perhaps give up your seat on the train to someone who needed it more than you? Every one of us has different strengths and abilities. Some of us may be excellent leaders at school or work, while some of us are contended helping others in their lives. No matter who we are, we play important roles in our own way and contribute to our family, work and society and do make a difference in someone else’s life.

Each of us is unique and has the power within us. We just need to know where to look for them.

When Jacob found out about his diagnosis, initially he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to pursue his dreams. But he stayed focused and started reading up on HIV. He learnt that he could live a long life with medication. Gradually, he regained his self belief and confidence and started planning for his future. He also told his family about his diagnosis and educated them on HIV. Now, Jacob has gone on to pursue his dreams to be a lawyer. He thinks that as long as you stay focused and believe in yourself, you will be able to achieve what you want, whether you are HIV positive or not.

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Just Be Yourself!
Now that we are on the journey to learn more about ourselves, we know that we are a person of the values we hold, and the strengths and abilities that we have. In the next section, it would be helpful if we can understand why people continue to make judgments about people living with HIV. • Some people still do not know the facts about HIV. So they might continue to hold false beliefs. Do you remember the time when you had held on to these false beliefs? As they do not have the full knowledge, they may think that HIV can be transmitted through casual physical contact. They may not know that persons living with HIV can continue to live a healthy and long life, with medication. • Some people might associate HIV with some groups of people that society discriminates against, such as gay people and sex workers. As they do not know anyone who belong to these groups, they would imagine negative images of these groups and perceive them negatively (usually only what they see in the media). But when they actually get to know someone, they realise that this person is also just like them, with lives like theirs. • Sometimes, when a person is not familiar with some people they know, they might group these people together based on characteristics that they think are similar. They might perceive this group of people negatively because they do not know enough about them, and choose to fear them. We do that too, don’t we? But when we start get to learn more about someone, we will start looking at them differently. • Sometimes, people just don’t have the chance to know us. They might only get to see one side of us and judge us based on that. But if they get to know the complete person that we are, with our values, talents, abilities and skills, they will learn to respect and value us. But not everyone will have the chance to know us. And that means we have to continue to respect ourselves for who we are and believe in ourselves.

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You can see that in all these scenarios, it is not us that they are judging. They judge because they do not know enough or they are unfamiliar with us. If we know that people form judgments about people living with HIV, not because of who we are or something that we did, but because of their own lack of knowledge, then we should know that we shouldn’t blame ourselves.

So, what can you do?
• Give others the time and space to learn more about HIV at their own pace. If it is their first time knowing about HIV, they would need time to develop their understanding towards it, just as we had initially. • You can learn to be strong and confident of yourself, and believe in yourself, and the skills and abilities that you have. • Be yourself and live your life as you had always planned to. You can continue to live your life and pursue your dreams. • When we are ready, as some of us have, we can let people whom we are comfortable with know about our HIV status, so that they have a chance to understand, and accept us for who we are. And sometimes, if they are not ready to understand, we have to give them the time and space to come to their own terms with it. You can speak to your counsellor or social worker if you wish to explore letting someone know about your HIV status.

“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” Stephen Hawking

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Your Achievements and Successes
In the next activity, we would like you to think about the achievements and successes that you have accomplished in your life.

Exercise #4

My Achievements
In the box below, write down 3 things that you had done which you are proud of. They can be anything, as long as they are important to you. These achievements can be anything such as getting a job promotion, being top in class or receiving an award. Or they can be simple and nice achievements, such as giving up your seat on the MRT, or helping a friend regain confidence in him or herself. 1. 2. 3.

“I don’t believe you have to be better than everybody else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.” Ken Venturi
Look at your achievements and smile as you think about them. Sometimes, we take baby steps and other times, we take big steps, to achieve our success. But no matter, all our achievements are very meaningful and special to us, and make us who we are. Now, ask yourself this question, will you still be able to achieve these accomplishments of yours, even if you are HIV positive? The truth is that if you put your heart to something, you can try your best to achieve it. It shouldn’t matter whether you have HIV or not. What matters is that you believe in yourself.

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When Marcus found out that he was HIV positive, he was worried about telling his partner about it. His partner broke down and cried upon finding out. But since then, the both of them have decided to work on their relationship and their love has grown stronger since. Marcus was thankful of the support that his partner had given him. Spurred by the support that his partner had given, he decided to volunteer to help other people living with HIV. He started running support groups for other people living with HIV. Now, Marcus would always say to others – HIV is only a small part of your life. It doesn’t stop you. Always believe in yourself and pursue your dreams. And you will continue to do greater things.”

Believe in Yourself
There are times when we wonder if we are good enough. When someone tells us that we are not good at something, we start doubting ourselves and we start believing what they say. But look back at the activities that you have done in this booklet! You know how good you are! At this point, you would remember how amazing you are as a person, and the talents, abilities and skills that you have. You would remember that you hold some very strong values which make you the person that you are – someone whom you can be very proud of. At the same time, you know that sometimes people might judge other people, but it’s only because they do not have the full knowledge. So you learn that you can give them the time and space to learn and grow. And now, all you need to do is to believe in yourself and remember the amazing person that you are.

When other people see how beautiful your life is, they cannot judge. What more of a beautiful life within your beautiful person do they want to remark about? Then, they will learn to respect you as you respect yourself.

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Exercise #5 Exercise #6

You Are Beautiful!
Every morning, when you wake up, go to the mirror and repeat the following to yourself. Smile at the mirror and say:

• I am beautiful. • I am good. • I am a talented person with amazing abilities and skills. • I love myself for who I am.
And keep smiling to yourself. Do this everyday. This will help you remember the amazing person that you are everyday and start you on a happier and brighter day!

You are So Amazing!
We have taken you through a journey of understanding yourself, remembering who you are and to believe in the amazing person that you are. You now know that sometimes, people judge because they have their reasons. And we can respect that and give them the time and space to learn and grow, and hopefully understand us one day. But even if they don’t, we know that we have to be confident of ourselves and continue to be comfortable with who we are.

Your Story: A Beautiful Life
In the final activity for this booklet, we would like you to think about your journey since you found out about your HIV diagnosis. Along the way, you’ve learnt new things about yourself. As you had moved along this journey, you’ve discovered new strengths about yourself. Think about the activities that you had done in this booklet which reminded you of the many strengths, talents and values that you have, and the achievements that you have accomplished. So always believe in yourself and remember how good and amazing the person that you are.

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Join us as we take a pledge with you to live the beautiful life that is you.

The Power to Change is Within you to Live A Beautiful Life
I, (Name), will believe in my strength and my ability to live a happy, fulfilling and meaningful life! I will accept myself for who I am and commit myself to living a life that I can be proud of. I will always remember the amazing talents, abilities and skills that I have, which make me who I am. I will continue to live my life by my values of (values) and to continue to care for myself and others around me. I will continue to be strong and believe in myself, and continue to live the happy and beautiful life.

“Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs

To read more, you can go to the campaign website at www.ttsh.com.sg/powertochange

If you would like to send us your feedback, or to participate or volunteer to be part of our future campaigns and programmes, you can drop us an email at: roy_yl_ngerng@ttsh.com.sg

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We Will Do Our Best To Care For You

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