Alan Brand: Guilt about what I had, guilt because I got HIV, guilt because I didn’t think this could happen to me, guilt of what I had done to my family, my daughters – my loved ones, guilt guilt guilt.
Yolisa: Allan Brand is Group Wellness Manager at one of the leading hospitality and tourism companies. He is also a member of the South African National Aids Council [SANAC].
Alan Brand: All that just did is make it totally impossible for me to move forward, to seek help ‘ to face this thing head on.
Yolisa: Allan is one of three South Africans who share their experiences of living with HIV through the Red Ribbon Project. They write monthly diaries called ‘Dear diary’. So who is being addressed by dear diary?
Alan Brand: I’ve often thought about that ‘ who is dear diary [chuckles]? I think dear diary is myself. It’s a way of speaking to the third person because, at the end of the day, I think healing for me is about body mind and spirit. So how do we connect to that spirit side of ourselves? So when I say dear diary, it’ almost like I’m saying ‘dear spirit Alan ‘ this is what I’m feeling today’. However I am honestly conscious of the fact that people read it so I’m thinking of them as well. But when I release those words it’s as if I’m releasing them to the world.
Yolisa: And he’s well aware of the power of words.
Alan Brand: You see, you can do so much hurt with what you write, with what you say. Words can be hurtful and words can be so powerful to heal. So rather than letting words go out there that are damaging and hurtful ‘ rather put words out there that are healing and helpful.
Yolisa: Alan has been living with the virus for nine years. He says the first step towards accepting your status and living positively with it is to forgive yourself.
Alan Brand: The opposite of guilt is forgiveness. To me today, as I sit in front of you, I know and I’ve learned, HIV has taught me that forgiveness is the path to self love and self love ‘ a key to inner healing. I couldn’t begin to tell my daughters that I’m HIV positive, I couldn’t begin to tell other people that I’m HIV positive and live openly within the stigma that was still around ‘ it’s still there ‘ unless I had forgiven myself
Yolisa: Alan has two daughters. Clearly a doting father, his face lights up when he talks about them. He says having their love and acceptance makes it easier for him to deal with the virus.
Alan Brand: My ability to cope is also strengthened by the fact that I have loved ones around me. I look around and I look at people who don’t get that. I see people who’re trying to fight HIV on their own and I think to myself ‘how can you’? If you were told you have cancer and you only have a few months to live, how on earth would you live?
Yolisa: Alan is well aware though that having a great support system is only part of the process.
Alan Brand: I put forward this persona of being incredibly together. You know ‘ all together. I mean, I had a very successful business, very successful at everything that I did and I always put forward this very together, very with it, well in control person. But deep down inside I carried a whole lot of guilt.
Yolisa: Today he leads a much more fulfilled life because he doesn’t carry the burden of guilt anymore.
Alan Brand: When I found that I could forgive myself and say ‘you know what; I’m also human, this is just a virus and that’s all it is and I got it. Can I forgive myself for having unprotected sex? Can I just forgive myself?’ And when I was able to start ‘ and it’s not easy. It’s easier to forgive someone who’s erred you; you very easily forgive someone else but yourself! Not easy. I just got to a place when I thought, you know what; I can’t go through life just lying to myself.
Yolisa: Alan disclosed to everyone in his family. Fortunately they all pledged their support.
He says the diary project also helps him put things in perspective.
Alan Brand: If you’re an accountant and the balance sheet doesn’t balance, an accountant gets the balance shit to balance and never be unbalanced again. That’s not life; that’s accounting [laughs]. In life you learn a lesson and funny enough two months down the line you actually need to learn the lesson again. You’ve almost forgotten or you need to go back. And so the diary helps when you start looking back and reading past things that you’ve written, you can say to yourself ‘oh my I’ve forgotten about that. That was so important to me, why have I dropped that?’
Yolisa: Alan started taking antiretrovirals two years ago. He says now that he’s got ‘inner healing and self love’. He’s in total control of his life ‘ happy and healthy.
Alan Brand: I always say to people, when you meet me, you meet Alan, and then I might tell you that I’m HIV positive. This whole concept of ‘I’m an HIV positive person’ is absolute nonsense. It’s like HIV comes first; then Alan walks behind it ‘ bowed lowly, you know. No! I walk boldly ahead and HIV follows with his head bowed low; it’s not in control. I am.