I usually had an HIV test every three months, but this time I’d skipped a month. When I went for my usual check-up, I wasn’t feeling too well, but I knew there was a ‘flu going round the office.
A week or so later I went back to get my results and …c’est la vie. 4.20pm 4th December 2006. That’s terrible. I can remember the exact time that I was told. It is funny how things like that stick in your head.
It was a huge blow, confronting your own mortality. It also didn’t help, being the youngest, and the only boy, in my family. Fortunately I also live with two nurses, who were, and have been, very supportive. I’ve always been able to ask them for advice. My best friend practically flew over from Revesby to my place, and we sat on my bed and cried and cried and cried. That actually helped a lot.
Doing something about it
When I woke up the next day, I decided that I could do one of two things. I could either crawl into a deep depression (but I’m not that kind of person anyway), or I could say: “This is it, it is part of me and where do I go to from here?” I went to the Albion Street Centre to start with, and did some counselling to sort out how to move on. Since then I’ve been going to Royal Prince Alfred (RPA), and that’s where I get most of my information.
What I knew before
I didn’t know much about HIV. The typical ‘80s AIDS campaigns, you get it and you die, were running through my head the day I was diagnosed. I was feeling like: “Oh shit. It’s over. I’m going to walk out of this office and keel over.”
I knew the obvious things, how you catch it – unprotected sex. But being a typical late twenty something year old, I thought I was invincible, that there’s no way in heck I’ll get that. Or it’s a disease someone gets in Africa.
I had never met anyone who had told me they were HIV positive, whether gay or straight or whatever. None of my close friends had it, or friends of friends had it. That I know of anyway.
It just never came up in conversation with anyone.
Talking about it
If you’ve been diagnosed with HIV, I think you need to tell someone. You need at least three or four people who know, just in case two of the three people aren’t there on the day you have a meltdown. And we all have those days.
By the way, if you have a dog, they are the best people to cry with. I didn’t have one, but my flatmate does. A pet can’t tell you you’re an idiot. They look at you and just give you a lot of love and attention when you’re home alone.
Telling the family was difficult. To quote the first words that came out of my mother’s mouth: “I knew this was going to happen.” It wasn’t the most supportive thing she could have said, but I think that it was just her initial shock, as I had been out to my family for quite a while. My eldest sister was very supportive, while my older sister didn’t really know what to do or what to say.
As hard as it was to tell them, it was good to get my family behind me. And my friends have been the backbone of my support. It’s not everyone’s thing to disclose to everyone, but I pretty much did. I’ve never regretted telling anyone. If I meet someone and there’s an attraction, I am upfront and tell them my status. Some people say they are not interested but let’s be friends, and that’s fine. If I am on the chatline, I always have my HIV up there and never hide it. I know it’s not as easy as that for everyone, but I am as comfortable with it as you can be.
The person who gave it to me did not tell me that he had it, but I always tell people before I get into that situation. I also hope by talking about it, people will be more aware.
I left my previous workplace in March 2007, and that was a great move. I have better opportunities opening up where I am now. I’m on really good terms with my work colleagues and my bosses, and found it easy telling them about my HIV. They’ve been very understanding, and this may not be the case in every workplace, but each person will know when it is right.
I’ve joined a gym, which definitely helped me move on. Getting fitter made me feel better, and gave me more confidence. It also helped to make HIV less of an issue. I run for an hour on the treadmill and I’m considering doing the marathon. While I really watch what I eat, I still can’t get completely away from my party boy ways though, but that’s a balance.
Relationships? At the time I was diagnosed, I was dating a guy, and he dropped me like a sack of potatoes even though we were having protected sex. I think at that stage I had so much else to deal with, that the relationship was the last thing on my mind anyway. I used to wear my heart on my sleeve, but now I’m a bit more cautious. I have definitely been more cautious about relationships, and probably sway more to positive people.
Although I know someone who is in a positive/negative relationship, I think I would worry about it too much. I am not going to let it beat me. I am actually comfortable in my own skin for the first time ever, and that has been since I have been diagnosed.
I have a lot more to live for now. I used to live recklessly, but I don’t now. It has grounded me and has made me appreciate life a whole lot more.
From the archives Talkabout #157 June-July 2008, p8-9