My testing experience was not planned nor was my result expected. In 1988 I was unwell for a long period of time, I lost about three stone in weight, had night sweats and cold fevers. I’d also developed some blisters on my back, warts on my face and in my mouth. After going from Dr to Dr and having every test they could suggest, no one could trace it to anything specific. Back in the late 80s, I had limited sexual experience and practised safe sex so there was some mystery around what might be causing my ill health.
Throughout this whole time, I’d kept up my high pressured job in advertising, as well as studying law at night. You can imagine my shock, when I received a call at work to advise I was HIV positive. Back in the day, they gave results over the phone, a practice which thankfully is no longer in place. Understandably at 23 years old, I was completely thrown by this information. I remember immediately stepping away from my desk and going outside to process the news on my own. After an hour, I went back inside to work the rest of the day. The thought occurred to me, everything happens for a reason and that has stayed with me ever since.
It was a challenging time for me. I was not in a relationship and did not have the support of a partner or family. At the time I also unfortunately felt I had few friends I could call on for support and understanding through this time. Shortly after diagnosis, I saw a specialist at St Vincent’s who told me I should go on AZT, the only known therapy back then. I was told AZT would extend my life by 12 to 18 months. Being the personality I am and unconvinced AZT was my answer, I opted not to start.
Instead, I took six weeks leave from work to go to Byron Bay to meditate and heal. This has been my primary focus since 1988 tapping into metaphysical healing modalities. These were and are traditional Chinese healing as well as a whole host of complementary therapies. I stayed focused on these as my answer for a further ten years, as I watched the devastating effects AZT had on so many others with HIV from those days.
It wasn’t until 1995 with the introduction of HIV combination therapy or combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) or as we knew it as the ‘AIDS cocktail’, that I started to see a change in the horrendous side effects and a feeling that HIV wasn’t so much of a death sentence. By 1998, I started to think about taking the first steps towards conventional medical care for my HIV and I started on 3 pills a day. I am very sure that my decision to remain employed throughout my time living with HIV, has benefited me even though at times I have felt fatigued sometimes.
Today with the benefit of triple therapy in the one pill, I am a firm believer in the role of the current medication regimes. I also advocate for the benefits of many complementary therapies alongside the medication, to maintain the health of people living with HIV. Given what we know today about HIV and the evidence from the START study, immediate commencement of anti-retroviral treatment after HIV diagnosis can set you up the best over the long term, for your health into the future. Complementary therapies and the range of healing modalities can add to the quality of the journey and boost the sense of your own contribution to your health.
Testing for any sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV every three months remains a crucial piece of the solution to ending HIV. It serves to both monitor your health – both in the physical sense and providing you peace of mind.
Published for Talkabout Online #186 – August 2016