Prioritising my health

In April, almost two years ago, I started experiencing stabbing pains. They were intense but intermittent and I was very busy at the time so I tried to ignore them. I had a live broadcast that I was scheduled to do for aidsmap and I didn’t want to miss that.

The day after the broadcast I was persuaded to call the NHS Helpline (111) who sternly instructed me to go directly to Accident and Emergency. They ran some tests and, when the results came through, put me on a trolley and a drip and nil by mouth because they thought I may require surgery. Four days later I was discharged and instructed to take a week off. The next day I logged in to my work email, just to make sure everything was fine. And the day after, and the day after that.

Over the next few months I was hit by a series of overlapping health conditions. I was in and out of hospital for tests. I found out I had COVID because I was tested while being admitted for more tests. My ‘recent medical history’, which I was regularly asked for, became a 30 minute TED talk, with slides and graphs.

It took a toll. I went from being someone who was unusually fit for my age to having little to no energy at all. I stopped drinking and, to a large extent, stopped going out. Running, which had been my joy, became almost impossible. Everything was tiring, even the prospect of meeting a friend for a coffee was too daunting.

As someone who lives not just openly but publicly with HIV, I felt a pressure not to show signs of weakness. HIV treatment saved my life; I want to share the good news that people with HIV can live long and fulfilling lives. The weakness and failures of my body made that a challenge, even though my illness was not HIV-related. I’m happy to be completely open and shameless about my HIV status – it feels an important part of tackling stigma – but any other health conditions remain personal. And perhaps, also, I felt ashamed that my body had let me down.

Just before Christmas last year, after 20 months of pushing myself for ‘just another couple of months’, I came to terms with the fact that I was not likely to get better unless I prioritised getting better.

Thankfully, I had the support of aidsmap’s outstanding Board of Trustees, who have generously granted me a sabbatical, from now until the summer.

I leave aidsmap under the excellent stewardship of Helen Moulinos, who will be the interim Executive Director in my absence. Helen brings with her a wealth of experience and expertise in health inequalities, human rights and social justice. She even cut her activist teeth with ACT UP in New York, so I know that she will work with my brilliant aidsmap colleagues to ensure continuous delivery and development of aidsmap’s life-changing HIV information resources.

Despite the time I spend urging people to take care of their own health, I’ve never been very good at taking care of my own. I want to do better at that now.

Thank you for your support.

Matthew Hodson, Executive Director, aidsmap.