Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Andreas Lundstedt's Positive Life

Andreas Lundstedt

I've had the pleasure of seeing Andreas Lundstedt perform many times over the years and the guy is a star in the true sense of the word.

One thing that always struck me about Andres is that when he walks in to a room he changes the energy, burning away the cares of his audience with his radiant charisma and a smile so contageous you can't help but smile back.

Yesterday while I was reading an interview with Andreas in Svenska Dagbladet, I found out that behind his smile are unimaginable challenges and complexities.

Five years ago, Andreas went public with the fact that he is HIV Positive. This year he published his autobiography 'My Positive Life' (Mitt positiva liv) detailing his life and experiences as someone living the charmed life of a celebrity while living in secret with HIV.

It was painful to read about the day he received his diagnosis from his doctor who told Andreas over the phone (!) that he was HIV Positiv. At the time, Andreas was in his early twenties, standing in the middle of a gym with no one to inform him of what his new health status meant - let alone comfort him. Unsurprisingly, he was completely traumatized.

Wouldn't it have been far more appropriate and humane to tell a person they are HIV Postive face to face and in the presence of a psychiatrist or counselor? Instead this man was left alone in a state of panic and despair. I think this was a great failure on the part of the healthcare system - one I sincerely hope has changed.

It hurts me that Andreas was left to suffer the ensuing fear and grief that came with his diagnosis all by himself. No one should have to go through that alone. It is wrong on every level.

Overhwhelmed by terror and shame, Andreas hid his status and suffered in silence. He told Svenska Dagbladet:
"I felt such a terrible shame. I was terrified that I would lose my job. I was frightened I would be looked at differently, scared of being rejected."

"I wanted to be the same wonderful Andreas as always, happy and nice. So I became extra happy and nice. I had to be because I was terrified people would notice I was keeping a secret. At the end of the day this wasn't sustainable and that was when drugs entered."
As I read this I found myself wondering if this would have been the trajectory of Andreas' life if had he received proper counseling and support when he was diagnosed. It made me wonder whether or not we are addressing the anxiety and depression that occurs when we are facing a life-threatening illness or whether everyone is left to suffer and/or self-medicate. If the answer to that question is yes, then there is work to be done.

Mercifully, Andreas came out on the otherside. He is as forthright as he is fascinating when sharing his life's lessons. His conversation, like the theme of his book, quickly turns to discovering the grace to meet and overcome life's challenges. From Svenska Dagbladet:

He hopes that the book will encourage more people to speak openly about HIV. That people who are infected will stop feeling ashamed of their illness and that others will be more informed about HIV.

"In a perfect world it would be like an American movie where everyone would stand up and say 'I have HIV'. The shame would go away."

In the past whenever I would see or think about Andreas Lundstedt, the first thing that struck me was his contageous smile. But now, whenever I think of Andreas, I'll always be inspired by his courageous smile.

photo credit: Nouna Andersson via photo pincc

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