Submitted on Feb 16, 2016 by  MelPainter2014

So #Love Positive Women is over and I wanted to share the love and write here because my 'romance' with myself began not 'at home', but with The Well Project. I want to share how far I have come and express my gratitude. Since I started to write as Melpainter2014 I have become so much stronger and wiser. Initially I just wanted to create, to connect, to belong, and I found a safe space in A Girl Like Me. With their encouragement I shared my stories and healed, my new sisters supported and held me. Writing was cathartic, I opened up and was received without judgement. I realised it was my own self stigma that was the most destructive force in my life, and became brave enough to step into who I really am. I am now Mel Rattue, a proud positive crone, I sing, I dance, I love, I live mindfully. I have found my vocation, as a mindfulness teacher and fearless warrior! It feels so good to reclaim my identity, not just to return to my maiden name, but to be true to myself and others without shame.

Who cares, fuck em, time wasters! That's what my girls say, so much for their grammar education! Swearing aside, I love the passion there and what it means. So what you have HIV, it's no big deal and if people think it is then they are just not worth the effort. That is what I have really gained, a sense of self-worth, if people can't see my value, that does not mean I am not priceless. I know I can offer a good connection, where I am authentic, honest, accepting and compassionate. That's what I want to receive and can reciprocate, loving positive women starts with loving yourself.

Since last writing, the HIV choir, Joyful noise, has done another show, and I had my full bloods tested (I have written about that - my blogs are like buses…nothing for ages and then they all arrive at once). I have disclosed to my brother and his family, and many others by sharing my photo on #PAD2015. I have celebrated my 49th birthday and started a company to teach mindfulness in my local community, something I have done for years but now embraced as a profession. I took the plunge and it has paid off. It's a great way to earn a living, doing what you love. I mean gardening is great, and so is climbing mountains. However my body is older and digging and being on my feet for hours isn't loving my body, meditation is!

The real joy I have now though is that rather than being two different people, I have become myself. I was Mel Painter the wlwhiv, mentor, painter, meditator and also Meriel Rattue, the mother, teacher, gardener, mindful practitioner, waitress, silent about my status… I am now one person. Mel Painter has been absorbed and accepted, I am me. No fanfare, bomb dropping or great declarations, my status is just part of what has made me who I am. It's one of my 'skills' on LinkedIn and I am able to talk about it freely without fear. And I mean really talk about it, genital warts and all!
I was offered a job to talk about my status to future healthcare workers, by a fellow teacher and MBSR trainee. We had met on a course that really strengthened my confidence and skills, but my first reaction was still, 'Oh no I can't do that'. He reassured 'just be you' and as it was a great opportunity be supported and educate, I agreed.

This was the girl who was uncomfortable with talking about my 'bits and bobs'. The young woman that struggled to buy tampons at the corner shop (because I couldn't face the man at the counter). The older woman ashamed of menopause. I mean even reading Brittney's blog about sex made me blush. When I finished it I thought 'she's brave' and then I was filled with gratitude, because when a woman speaks out and shares her story it supports us all. So I was inspired, I went for it, faced my fear and flew! Now I am the warrior standing in front of a class of London teenagers, discussing PrEP, Nikah and Chill, Up the bum and all sorts, without even a stutter!

I recognise I am more grounded, and that shines through. I've got nothing to lose by being open, and everything to gain. I understand there is no protection in hiding, only perpetuation of shame. I am still painting, still learning, as we all are. Yet I am free, I embrace my HIV, and am not afraid of the judgements of others or myself. I have found acceptance as a key, and I am grateful for the virus and all that it has taught me. With it I have become happy and whole, heartfelt and here.

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