"I thought I was pretty clued up on HIV before, but in reality I knew very little."
Four months ago: I received a phone call whilst I was on holiday. When I answered it a woman asked if I could attend the GUM clinic immediately, I told her I was abroad, slightly alarmed she asked me to come in as soon as I got back. So I agreed the day after I got home I’d swing by in the morning.
That was a difficult few days away, my friends all said I seemed pre-occupied but I couldn’t tell them why. Over the passing 4 days I went from worried sick that I’d somehow contracted HIV to convincing myself it was probably something minor—25 year olds don’t get HIV, right?
A few days later when I got to the clinic I was met by a lovely nurse who took me into a room marked ‘Counselling’ (my first clue), where I was introduced to another nurse. They told me together, that my tests had come back positive for HIV. I felt completely numb, I was in shock but I didn’t know it. The nurses remarked that I was behaving like I’d just been told the train had been cancelled. They made an appointment with the local HIV specialist centre and I headed home, as if nothing was wrong.
It wasn’t until later that night, when I was back at home in bed that I suddenly burst into tears. I cried for hours and hours. That’s the only time I’ve ever cried over having HIV, I think it was something that I needed to get it out of my system.
I saw the specialists the next week, all the nurses and doctors were so friendly and knowledgeable, and they really put my mind at ease. I thought I was pretty clued up on HIV before, but in reality I knew very little.
Four months later: I’m 26 now, and I’m just starting treatment, I could have waited longer but my doctor and I were both of the belief that the earlier the treatment the better the prognosis (long term outcome). It’s just one pill a day to be taken at bed time, I was surprised, I thought the treatment would be much harder to stomach.
Sadly, in reality, it’s not the disease nor the treatment that does me the most damage these days, it’s the negative opinions many uninformed or small-minded people hold. I disclosed my status to one guy I was dating and it wouldn’t have been much more of an over-reaction if he’d actually left the country, he actually went as far as pretending to be someone else when I phoned him. It hasn’t put me off dating, but it has made me more wary.
But that’s not to say everyone is like that, I’ve told 9 good friends so far and their reactions have been universally supportive, in fact it has even brought me closer to a couple of them. Oddly, I’m feeling more positive about my life right now than I have in ages, and that’s due in no small part to the enormous amount of support out there for people living with HIV.
I think it’s important that the truth about HIV is put out there for all to see. We’re not shady characters, we’ve done nothing wrong, we just happen to have a disease, and no you can’t catch it from shaking my hand. Anyone can get HIV, even a 25 year old, it turns out.