By: Robert Bartram
Julien Chiwunda is 59 years old, a widow, and the mother of four grown-up children and four grandchildren. Her husband passed away from HIV 20 years ago, and she herself tested positive for HIV in 2003.
As with so many sufferers of HIV, it was not the condition itself that made her so unwell, but the self-stigma that came with it. For instance, when her husband was ill, he was transformed in size and seemed to waste away in front of her. When driving him to the doctor, as she did every week, Julien would see other people looking at her. Because she herself was so healthy, she believed that they assumed that her husband had caught the virus from her. "Every time I would get prepared to take my husband to the doctor," she says, "a thought would flash in my mind and I would feel miserable."
The stigma even poisoned her personal relationships. When her husband's relatives visited home, she convinced herself that they were talking about her as the source of the problem. As a result, she would withdraw and become miserable without anything ever being said to her.
Julien is well aware of the damage self-stigmatizing can have, as it "limits me from doing what I know I am able to do. Because I just judge myself and say I can't do this because I am HIV Positive." This condition was so marked that at one time she could not see the point of continuing her education, as she assumed that she would die soon. It's also the reason why she didn't build a new house for herself. What's more, she often wished that she were dead.
But Julien turned her life around with the Work. She is now so passionate about the Work that she is happy to label it "a tool that unlocks one's freedom...The Work will give you an open mind." Today, she questions every thought that comes to her and simply asks herself whether it is true or not. "And then the moment I ask myself that question, I find that it's not true, it's just my thinking." Now she is free and simply doesn't care what people think about her.
She encourages other people to adopt the Work too. It gives anyone, she says, the "freedom to sit down, go through your own life, go through all those stressful thoughts, question the thoughts step-by-step...it's a road that leads to you attaining your freedom." Above all, she insists, the Work "equips them with the ability to forget what happened yesterday and look forward to what is going to happen, because that is the reality."
The positive results have had a practical effect, too. Julien is convinced that the Work shows each individual the innate strength we all have in running our own lives, managing our affairs, even running businesses. The Work allows us all to live completely and productively and to enjoy our lives as they unfold.
By: Robert Bartram
Imagine if you had an illness that made it almost impossible to go out each day. Imagine if that illness meant you couldn't eat properly and lost dangerous amounts of weight. Imagine that it made your work more difficult and you could never make any progress.
Now imagine that illness made you so frightened that you could barely speak to anyone about it, not even your family. Imagine you felt so ashamed that you couldn't discuss it with your friends, whom you begin to ignore but only because you are convinced that they are ignoring you. Imagine that it also made you so angry you could only shout at your children when they did something wrong. Or shout at your colleagues because you truly believe that they are criticising you and laughing at you behind your back.
There's a name for this illness: HIV. But it's not the HIV itself that causes all these terrible problems, but the stigma that accompanies it. The stigma that makes you believe you are no longer a worthy human being.
But here's the thing: you can choose to ignore that stigma. You can choose to ignore all the destructive beliefs that can come with HIV and you can live your life to the full once again. Not only that, but you can help others to overcome their stigma too, because believe us, you're not the only one suffering from it. In fact, you can learn to love yourself so much that it may sometimes even feel that the HIV itself has disappeared too.
And yes: I'm talking about you.