This article is a personal diary entry submitted to Proudly anonymously for World AIDS Day. We are so grateful for this person sharing their experiences to help others going through something similar.
I’m an openly gay man in my thirties. I’m a law-abiding citizen. I have a good career and I have always worked hard for a living.
My family and friends mean the world to me. I’m an outgoing people-person with an irresistible passion and zest for life and adventure. Some might say I’m an open book to literally every person I know. I share a huge passion for all sports whether it’s playing or watching including football, much like many of my friends and family.
But there’s this one thing that many of my friends, colleagues, acquaintances and nearly all of my family don’t know about me. In fact, only a very small circle of the closest and most trusted people in my life do know – I’ve been living with HIV for over a decade.
When I was diagnosed, HIV was something I knew very little of; even as a gay man. I knew the risks of contracting the virus but knew little of the impacts it could have on my life. I didn’t even know much about the symptoms or signs of infection.
It was something I ever gave my consideration, after all, I was never expecting to expose myself to the virus.
What is HIV?
‘HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease.‘– Source: NHS
Early signs and symptoms of HIV
“Most people infected with HIV experience a short, flu-like illness that occurs 2-6 weeks after infection. After this, HIV may not cause any symptoms for several years.
It’s estimated up to 80% of people who are infected with HIV experience this flu-like illness.”– Source: NHS
The most common symptoms are:
- raised temperature (fever)
- sore throat
- body rash
Other symptoms can include:
- joint pain
- muscle pain
- swollen glands
Becoming HIV positive
My diagnosis came at a point in my life when I was searching for myself. I was constantly searching for acceptance. But not just acceptance of the people around me but acceptance of myself.
I was also in a period of exploring my sexual orientation. I had experienced a few on-off short term relationships with guys. When I then met this guy; I suppose you could say he was the wrong guy. He came into my life for a few short months and when that ended it ultimately became a huge turning point in my life.
Unbeknownst to me (and to him) he had contracted HIV before we had our first date.
The relationship didn’t last for more than a couple of months. But during this time we had become intimate on multiple occasions. The stupidity in myself and my own decisions had led us to having unprotected sex on one occasion during this time. Unfortunately for me, that was the only occasion HIV needed.
I began to feel ill around 6-8 weeks after we had called it a day and even then the concept that I had contracted HIV could not have been further from my mind. This is most probably due to the fact that I had always played safe (except for this one mad rush of a night). So the probability of me contracting HIV, in my own head, was very low; if not virtually impossible.
After a month of being really ill, I was reluctantly convinced by someone close to go and have a test.
When it came to receiving the results, to my absolute shock, the result came back positive. The prospect hadn’t even entered my head that the test could come back positive. So to say I was underprepared for the news couldn’t be further from the truth.
The next steps
I spent the next couple of hours speaking with a very close friend about what I could or should do next. I remember the day and night quite well; for the wrong reasons of course. It was a cold wet miserable winter day and that was before I got the news.
I actually recall sitting in my car in the car park for over an hour with the heavy rain hitting the car as I contemplated what to do.
I then travelled home alone to face the music as I shared my result with my parents during an emotional night. I even had to reach out to the ‘guy’ and let him know that I’d tested positive and that he should go and get checked because I hadn’t slept with anyone else. That was an awkward conversation, to say the least.
Again my lack of knowledge couldn’t have been conveyed any more when I went to bed that first night after my diagnosis. I led myself to believe that I was at risk of getting ill if I got too cold during the night. So I wrapped up in as many layers as possible, including thick winter socks and slept with a hot water bottle to keep myself warm.
I woke up in the early hours of the morning literally sweating buckets and began to remove the vast layers of clothing. I laid in my bed thinking to myself “I can not do this every night for the rest of my life”.
I look back on that first night now and actually find it all rather amusing at how daft I must have seemed. But I had it in my head that I needed to protect myself at every opportunity.
The following days then turned into weeks and then months with various minor illnesses and many hospital checks along the way; all part of my now routine life.
I actually started to become good friends with a lot of the female nurse. I’m such a flirt and love a good gossip and chat. I mean I was seeing them on a monthly basis for a while so got to know a lot on a first-name basis. That also helped me in the long run when I needed advice from them because I was able to just pick up the phone.
In both my work and social life I was trying hard to keep this big secret whistle nursing my health and attending many hospital appointments.
The last thing I wanted was people finding out who wouldn’t be able to deal with it when I was still trying to come to terms with it myself. I was also concerned with being ‘outed’. At times I felt as if I was screaming out loud in a packed room at the top of my voice and not one single person in the room could hear me.
When I approached the first year anniversary of my diagnosis I began antiretroviral treatment. The initial prospect of taking mediation daily for the rest of my life with one purpose; to keep me alive, was in itself rather daunting. But I guess once you get your head around all of that you realise the bigger picture; to keep yourself alive.
It wasn’t long before I achieved ‘undetectable’ status and shortly after I began to feel pre-diagnosis levels of health. It’s from this moment that I simply never looked back.
To say it was a turning point in my life is the biggest understatement ever. It certainly made it easier to live with. I am genuinely thankful that I contracted HIV when I did and that it wasn’t in the height of the epidemic in the 1980s. With the quality of treatment on offer, I guess I was one of the lucky ones.
In the years since my diagnosis and becoming undetectable, I have built my life around being a positive individual, living life to the full, travelling the world, and being a ‘can do’ man rather than a ‘this might stop me’ man.
I have a vast pool of friends all around the World, I have a fantastic family, a loving boyfriend, and an amazing job that I feel a great sense of achievement daily. What more could a boy ask for.
I’m a very active individual and take up a lot of fitness and sports. I am a healthier fitter man than I ever was before my diagnosis. I am hungrier for success than ever before. And I’ve achieved so much as an individual since my diagnosis – I never let it hold me back.
How you can manage your condition with HIV
“If you manage your condition properly by taking your medicine correctly and avoiding illness, you should be able to live a near-normal life.
As well as taking HIV treatment, there are many things you can do to improve your general health and reduce your risk of falling ill.”– Source: NHS
Why I’m sharing my story
The purpose of this blog is to shed some light on HIV and to normalise it. I can’t deny that there have been some difficult days along the way and some uncomfortable moments where I wished it hadn’t happened to me. But It’s 2020 after all and life isn’t about having regrets.
I simply refuse to let HIV hold me back. HIV has become such a minor part of who I am and since I have been undetectable, which, if you’re not aware, now means you are unable to pass on the virus, which means no one can or will contract the virus from me; it’s left me feeling assured and more self-confident.
Yes, I’ve faced stigma from certain people down the years. When I hear people make jokes around HIV and AIDS it makes me want to crawl up and hide. I can feel myself trying not to look so obvious. It’s as if people can look at me and tell. I know they can’t but I have that kind of face that cannot hide a thing. People just don’t understand how their words can make you feel.
In the end, I have this condition and always will do. However, HIV is a minor part of me because I chose to make it so inconsequential to my life. Apart from taking a pill once a day it bears little significance to who I am. Thanks HIV but I’ll deal with what you throw at me and I’ll raise you my life.
You cannot beat me, I’m stronger than you and you will not stop me from being who I want to be and from achieving everything I set my sights on.
HIV wasn’t the end of me; my life goes on.