Image: Abby Landy
Abby Landy was diagnosed with HIV when she was 23.
Like many young people, she had no idea what life with the chronic illness would be like – nor did she realise it was a possibility for her.
“It felt like game over, that was the end. I was thinking, ‘When am I going to get sick, when am I going to die?’,” Abby, now 26, says. “As a woman I didn’t even realise I was at risk.”
Despite these initial fears, Abby’s daily life has scarcely changed three years on. Now, she wants other young people in her position to realise that being HIV positive doesn’t have to stop them living a normal life.
Abby, a Sydney-based legal assistant and part-time law student, was diagnosed with HIV in the wake of an abrupt breakup. “I was seeing a guy – it was a short relationship and he was the one who ended up infecting me,” she recalls. “I wasn’t comfortable with some of his [sexual] behaviour, so I ended things.”
Within a few weeks of the relationship ending, symptoms began to present. At first, Abby experienced an outbreak of cold sores - the first ones she'd ever had - which were followed by flu-like symptoms including nausea, aches and pains, rashes and a run-down feeling.
"I didn’t know you could feel that unwell without dying; it was the sickest I’ve ever been," she says.
Abby visited her GP for a sexual health screening, and decided to contact her ex to ask if he was aware of having any STIs. "Everything else had come back clear but I’d been doing some Googling and had those worst case scenario thoughts. He said he’d been tested and didn’t have any sexually transmitted infections or anything; I did actually bring up HIV and ask if that could be a possibility and he said ‘No way’."
However, her suspicions were raised when after several attempts to contact her and 'catch up', the man sent Abby a text containing a somewhat ominous message: 'I hope you at least remember me forever.' That's when she realised HIV could be a possibility.
"I went back to the doctor and asked for the test," Abby says. "I was already feeling really unwell so it all just felt like that was a possibility in that moment, which it obviously was."
When Abby approached her GP, she was told an HIV test "probably wasn't necessary" - it's not usually offered or even suggested as part of a general sexual health screening. If Abby hadn’t insisted on it, she wouldn't have been diagnosed.
Eventually, Abby's test results came in - and they were positive. She was devastated.
"I had the same preconceptions of HIV that everyone else did. It felt like a failure and I was ashamed ... I said to [my doctor], 'I don't want to live with this'," she recalls. "I had all of those [scared] thoughts going through my head, and saying, ‘well nobody’s going to want to touch me again when I’ve got this’ - those thoughts you would expect."
However, Abby's been surprised by how little her life, health and relationships have been changed by her positive status.
Abby's health regimen involves taking two pills every day, which don't cause any side effects; and physically she doesn't feel any noticeable difference. She says once treatment has started, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives - it's when the illness goes undiagnosed that it can impact on a person's health.