"Dealing with issues of low self-esteem or destructive patterns? Paul Thorn’s easy, breezy HIV Happy is just the self-help pick-me-up you need. As it spells out 'Five Pillars of HIV Happy,' this small book could make a big difference in your life."
Poz Magazine, New York
Bob Leahy: Hi Paul. Thanks for talking to PositiveLite.com. I’ve read your book and I like it a lot. It strikes me too that HIV Happy is quite different to anything else out there. What do you think?
Paul Thorn: It is different, Bob. I had never come across a book that challenges the negative thinking that a lot of people with HIV hold and indeed the kind of negative thinking I carried with myself for many years.
So to some extent it reflects your personal journey and how you got though those struggles you encountered?
It does. It’s been a long journey. I’ve been HIV-positive since 1988, during the dark old days before antiretrovirals. I think a lot of people are still traumatized by the days before medication arrived in 1996. But conversely there are a lot of newly diagnosed people who have inherited a fairly old mindset about what it is to be HIV-positive and I feel there is a need to try and challenge some of this thinking so that their experience with the virus correlates to the success of treatments nowadays.
So it's a really good primer for newly diagnosed people?
Absolutely, I had one gentleman who was literally diagnosed only 100 hours before reading the book and was tweeting about it as he read it. And then he changed his twitter handle to include “positive”: so I was really glad about that.
You say in the book you yourself don’t come from a happy place.
Being happy is not my default state. I didn’t have a good start, so I was disadvantaged from the beginning, my self-esteem was very bad. I think that was one of the reasons for me becoming HIV-positive. I didn’t care enough about myself really and it’s taken time to learn to care about myself.
You talk in the book about how you made bad choices but conversely how it’s just as possible to make good choices.
Yes, and it’s not enough to say “I want to do something for myself”, it’s about working through the tasks to get there.
What about what you call “playing the victim”. You mention that we do it a lot, but particularly to get our way. Tell me about why you think that.
I can spot it a mile off because I have done it myself – to excuse my life, to excuse my behaviour, to not take responsibility, to not pay my bills, to drink too much, to take too many drugs and all kinds of things I shouldn’t have been getting up to that weren’t very healthy. In my own mind I though it you were HIV-positive, you wouldn’t expect anything different. I can see newly diagnosed people falling in to this trap but there is the potential to carry on like this through the rest of your life.
Because in some ways it pays off, and in some ways people are happy to treat us as victims too. It’s even in the language newspapers use.
Right. You believe the propaganda, which is what happened to me. I became the victim.
So your antidote to that is what? Name it? Recognize it?
Absolutely you have to recognize it and then make the choice that you are not going to be a victim any longer, even if sometimes you feel like it. You have to change that thinking and everything else will follow.
So I want to talk more about the book’s approach then. That’s a great title – “HIV Happy” – but how do you define being HIV happy?
Happy is the goal. It’s quite normal to feel quite miserable about life – but you know one of the problems about writing a book called “HIV Happy” is that I feel I need to walk around with a grin on my face (laughs). But when you think about it there was a time when people living with HIV had the goal of survival. Now our goal can be to be happy.
Right. Survive and thrive. You name five pillars of being happy – health and self, relationships, home, work and finances – which sort of define the scope of the book. Have I named them in order of importance?
One should always put health and self first. The others I suggest readers can out in order of relevance according to their own situation.
What do you have to say about relationships?
Relationships are not necessarily with one individual, but with everybody - family, friends, workmates, neighbours and yourself......
Partners? Having a partner seems so important for some people to be truly happy.
When we pin our happiness in terms of somebody else and invest in somebody else then we lose sight of ourselves, so for me my happiness can't be dependent on them and their actions. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had long term relationships with two people in my life, both HIV-negative, but I don’t feel I’m not whole because there isn’t a partner in my life anymore. And when you start thinking like that, other people start finding you more attractive. I also didn’t want to write a gay specific book. I’m writing from the perspective of a gay man because that is my experience. I wanted to make it as broad as possible so that as many people could benefit from it as possible.
OK one last question then, Paul. There are many, many tips in the book for being HIV Happy but if you could pick one that would provide quick results and tell you that you are on the way to happiness, what would it be?
Do one kind thing for yourself every day. And if you are struggling to find one kind thing that you can do to yourself, take your medication. That is the most loving thing you can do for yourself.
Good one, Paul. There are lots more tips in the book, I hope people buy it.
About Paul: Paul Thorn is a health and lifestyle writer. He wrote the HIV column in GT magazine for over a decade. In 2014 he was nominated by Stonewall as Journalist of the Year. He lives in Hove, East Sussex, UK. Find out more about Paul Thorn and his work @ www.thornwrites.co.uk