“My way of dealing with things is through humour – it always has been.” Russell Hayward on living with HIV

Russell Hayward on living with HIV

Over the summer, Russell Hayward found out he was living with HIV. This is his story. 

I’ve always been known amongst my friends as quite a sociable, fun-loving guy. Despite the circumstances I’ve faced, no matter how tragic or testing, I have tried to make the best out of the situation at hand. That’s just who I am.

This summer, as always, I attended Manchester Pride. That weekend, an HIV activist friend had brought some “U=U” t-shirts for our group to wear. I felt proud to share such a groundbreaking message.

A few days after Pride, another friend joked about having had his “full MOT” at the sexual health clinic after a weekend of debauchery. It made me think about how I had not been tested in some time.


That Friday, I made my way to the sexual health clinic after work. I had the necessary tests and was asked if I would like the instant prick test. He took me into a room where two nurses made me feel at ease. They asked if I was worried about any results. To be honest, I wasn’t at all. I’d had a few drinks beforehand because we have fizz Fridays at work and I felt relaxed. I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost a year, but I know there are some sexually transmitted diseases you can get and have no symptoms. So I guess I was going to have a ‘clean slate’.

One of the nurses took my blood on my middle left finger while the other asked me random questions to just take my mind off it, I assume.

She then asked if they could take another test on my other had as the left finger had dried up. I didn’t think anything of it.  One nurse showed the other the results and they both nodded, and one of them said, “Okay, this has come back reactive – do you know what that means?” I was pretty sure what it meant but I said “no” just in case. They said it looked like I was HIV positive. One grabbed my hand and asked if I was okay. My whole body felt numb and my face felt like it had pins and needles. I said I was fine. I made arrangements with them to go back and to head to the hospital the following morning for a second opinion. I was told not to get my hopes up in thinking it would be a false positive as the nurses said that’s almost unheard of.

I walked out of the clinic and almost on auto-pilot I went straight to M&S and purchased two bottles of Prosecco. I had plans that evening, and friends were arriving at mine any minute. I jumped into a cab and called my boyfriend, who said he was already at my place. I asked if he was by himself. He went into my bedroom and I told him, over the phone. I just wanted to tell somebody. I blurted it out and said that if he wanted to walk away, he could. Which I now know was an irrational knee-jerk response to make. I just wanted to protect myself by giving him that option. He asked me to come straight home so he could talk it out and give me a hug. 

I arrived home and two of my best friends were already there. I told them too, because I didn’t want to potentially be in a strange mood that night and for them to wonder why. Of course they were completely supportive and just wanted to know I was okay. They’d said that we didn’t have to go out that night, however, staying in wasn’t an option for me as we had a ticketed event to a meet and greet with Tracy Beaker and I wasn’t going to miss that for the world! It was good to take my mind off things just for a few hours.

It may seem like I am taking this really well, a little too well perhaps. I did hesitate in writing this article because the last thing I wanted was to come across all jokey and offend anyone who is going through it themselves. My way of dealing with things is through humour, it always has been. Life can be such an awful and dark place at times, you have to laugh. Even at times that seem impossible. I decided to go for and it and write about this because it’s important to know you can get this diagnosis and it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. It’s life changing, not threatening. 

Anyway – I went to the hospital the following morning and they confirmed my diagnosis. They couldn’t have been nicer. Thankfully, I am aware of U=U; “Undetectable = Untransmittable.” It means that if an HIV-positive person is on effective medication, the virus cannot be transmitted to a sexual partner. 

Since my diagnosis just under two months ago, I’ve started my treatment and I’m already undetectable which is such great news. Most of my close friends and family know. I had concerns about telling my mum because she’s a worrier. She has lived through the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s, and since then there has almost been a bit of a silence. I assured her that my life expectancy is going to be the same, I explained about U=U and once she knew a bit more, she was fully supportive. 

A regular question I get asked when I tell people is “Who do you think you contracted it from?” And honestly, I really don’t even wish to go down that road. What’s the point? It won’t solve anything. 

My goal now is to help others, to raise awareness and to encourage people have regular checks. To get tested at least once a year, even if you use condoms or are in a monogamous relationship. If I could give those reading this one piece of advice, it would be to know your status. That way, if faced with a diagnosis, we can look after ourselves and our sexual partners, and go on to live healthy and happy lives just like everyone else.

My story isn’t any better than anyone else’s but it’s my story to tell. If I can help reduce the stigma in any way then I’ll be happier. We have come such a long way but the fight isn’t over yet. 

To find your nearest clinic, head to the NHS service page. You can follow Russell on Twitter @RussellHayward

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