Anton Kutorgin is a volunteer of the Assistance Foundation (Angarsk, Russia), grantor of the Emergency Fund for Key Populations in EECA countries. He told AFEW International about how HIV divided his life into BEFORE and AFTER, and how he came to accept his positive status.
Openly about HIV status
I talk openly about my status because I got tired of being afraid, of feeling inferior or like there was something wrong with me. When I talked to people who didn’t know my status, I felt that I was deceiving them and I thought that they should know. After I discovered my status, it became much easier for me to live. I realized that when you start accepting yourself for who you are, then others begin to accept you in the same way. I call this ‘the law of the mirror’. My openness doesn’t bother anyone and it doesn’t cause any harm; on the contrary, it benefits people with similar diseases. Many people respect me because of this and thank me for it. I hope that in this way I will contribute towards societies being more accepting of this disease, and that the time will come when people talk about HIV as easily as the flu. My work as a volunteer in the “Assistance” foundation contributes to this. We have organized a support group for PLHIV and hold meetings on a regular basis, providing advice on sensitive topics. A support group makes it possible for people who have just received their diagnosis to accept it more easily. At that difficult time it’s very important that a person is in an environment where they can be understood and supported.
From the moment of the diagnosis, my life has been divided into BEFORE and AFTER. Before, my life was completely different. As psychologists say, all problems come from childhood. I am no exception. I am a typical example of someone who came from a dysfunctional family. My father drank, my mother divorced him when I was two years old. She raised me and my sister alone, and naturally she had to work a lot, while we took care of ourselves. When I was 14, I started hanging out with friends in the street. We formed a gang, drank, smoked, mugged people, stole cars, traded drugs, and generally found ourselves in a terrible environment, being influenced by manipulative people who used us to do their illegal deeds. I got infected through sexual contact, since I had never used intravenous drugs. If you ask, do I know who infected me? My answer is no, I don’t know. Over time, I realized that this isn´t so important, because the past can´t be changed.
At the beginning it was very difficult. HIV has affected all areas of my social life. I didn´t know how to have a family or where to get a job. Everything I did or wanted to do I looked at through the prism of “I am sick, I have HIV”. But I am very grateful to my illness for the fact that I completely changed my outlook! I was walking a bad path through life, and if it were not for HIV, I would have continued to lead that destructive lifestyle that would eventually have led me either to prison or to the grave. HIV has become a springboard for my spiritual growth! Nobody is the same after such a psychological blow. But there were also many benefits that I found in illness. For example, thanks to HIV, I went to St. Petersburg and met one of my best friends there. Thanks to HIV, I was afraid to get a job and therefore became an entrepreneur. Thanks to HIV, I met my wife, and we got a wonderful girl.
And again, thanks to HIV, I plunged into the world of spiritual and moral growth and realized that I am responsible for everything that happens in my life. My attitude towards life has changed dramatically! I love life in all its forms, for me there are no bad or good people, there are happy and unhappy people, and when you understand this, you stop condemning people, instead there is sympathy and compassion. I call this the Total Acceptance of such a priceless gift as Life. Today I am 100% convinced that it is not the number of years lived that are important, but their quality.
Fear of talks with family
Of course, it was scary for me to open my status to my family and friends! About a year after the diagnosis, I went to live in St. Petersburg with the aim of never returning to my hometown, as I was very afraid that someone I knew would find out. I was afraid of being rejected, but after living in St. Petersburg for half a year, I began to understand that you can´t run away from your problems, or from yourself. On returning to Angarsk, I began to tell first my relatives, then friends, and everyone accepted and supported me! As a result, I realized one wonderful thing: “the fear that everyone will turn away from you” is only in your head! Don’t try to guess what other people will do! And one more important conclusion I made: don´t worry about people who turn their backs on you because of that. They are simply not your people.
There are some things that helped me to accept my status. First, an ordinary and natural desire to live! After all, life is beautiful, no one is in a hurry to leave it ahead of schedule. Although, as an HIV denialist for several years, I could have died. Yes, and thoughts of suicide came to me many times, but I didn´t give up. Secondly, God has always helped, is helping and will continue to, God has always sent me the good people I need. And thirdly, my Mom helped me a lot and continues to help.
From the very beginning of my diagnosis, I became an ardent representative of the denialist movement. I was fanatic to the point that I even ran a YouTube channel in support of denialism. I didn’t go to the AIDS centre, I didn’t get tested, didn’t take treatment for almost ten years. I watched a bunch of videos on the Internet on this topic and decided that HIV doesn´t exist.
But one day I started having serious health problems. In 2017 I was officially diagnosed with bone and pulmonary tuberculosis due to AIDS (I had about 100 cells). My life from 2016 to 2019 was, without exaggeration, a waking nightmare. As a result, I was so tired of “fighting the system” that in September 2018 I started taking therapy. My condition improved, my cells began to grow, my viral load fell, and the hope for a long and happy life returned. Today I am taking therapy, and personally, it´s helped me a lot. However, I still try to avoid discussions about HIV denialism, since adults must make their own decisions and bear responsibility for their consequences.