So I guess some of you might be wondering who this new writer for beyondpositive is, well I’m James, I’m 23 and I live in Surrey.
I was first diagnosed as HIV-Positive when I was 18, I remember it so well, it was the day after my final A-Level exam. I had given blood a couple of weeks before and had received a call to go to see the doctor. Thinking nothing of it, I assumed I was called in because I was anaemic or something, so I went along to the blood donation centre in Nottingham with one of my best friends, Jen.
After finding out I had no real idea what it meant. Being HIV-Positive was not something I was at all educated on, so of course the first thought that went through my head was that I was going to die. The whole experience was unbearable. It was so traumatic that I cried for ages after.
In the two months that followed I decided to leave my home-town of Hucknall. I saw it as an opportunity to leave my old life behind but now I see that it was a fruitless attempt to just run away. I headed to Cornwall, I thought by moving so far away I would be able to forget all about my diagnosis and start afresh. I tried to ignore my status and get on with my new life, however in the back of my mind I kept thinking about the moment I found out. I knew I had to do something, as it wasn’t just going to go away so I took the plunge, found my nearest clinic and made an appointment.
At that point I still had no idea what to expect, and despite taking the steps to getting help, I was worried as hell, just as I had been before I left Nottingham. Making the move to go to the clinic was of course the right thing to do. I met a team of specialists who made me more aware of what being HIV-Positive actually meant and reassured me that it was not a death sentence, as I had feared they might tell me.
I was quickly started on antiretroviral treatment as my viral load was very high and my CD4 count was pretty low. The doctors and nurses reassured me that the medication would mean that I could lead a full and normal life. If I am honest, I remained totally sceptical, and at that moment in time, thoughts raced through my mind as to whether or not to take them. It wasn’t an easy time for me, I spent hours laying wide awake in my bed every night thinking ‘why me?’ Those long nights of very little sleep were not good. I kept blaming myself. I hated myself for what was going on, I felt so isolated too. I had just moved to Cornwall and was renting a room with a family and even though I loved them to bits I was worried about what would happen if they ever found out. I truly despised myself for it.
As time went on I began having weekly appointments with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dieticians and psychologists. It was a really heavy time but the people I was put in touch with really helped me to understand my status more and I soon realised how massively important it was that I took, and stuck to taking, my medication.
At first it was a bumpy ride, trying to remember to take three pills every morning and then two more in the evening. I was busy and so forgetful. Despite knowing that it was crucial to take them, sometimes I just didn’t want to rely on medication to keep me healthy.
At the same time all of this was going on I was also struggling to come terms with my sexuality.
In 2010 I decided it was time for another fresh start, so I moved to London. Moving to the capital city opened so many doors for me and helped me meet people who encouraged me to be me and the importance of just being myself (a cliché but so true).
In 2011 I met my first boyfriend, I disclosed my status to him straight away and he seemed cool with it. We had a laugh and were enjoying life, but something was missing. Sex was a rare treat. Anytime I tried to bring the topic up he would just say that he was tired or had, if you’ll excuse the phrase, ‘sorted himself out’ before I got there. As the months went on it didn’t improve and my self-confidence was dropping. When I finally managed to get him to talk about it he told me that he just couldn’t see past my HIV status and it was much more of an issue for him that he had said.
The next time I got close to a guy life was great; we went out all the time, danced, ate, drank, partied and just enjoyed spending time with each other. When I told him I was positive he just walked away from me and never contacted me again.
Being knocked back a second time by guys who I was close to was such a knock back; I fell into a deep depression. Over the next couple of months I went into a total self-destruct. I was going out four or five nights a week, hooking up with a different guy every night, trying drugs and spent my every waking moment hooked on Grindr trying to fill the gap in my life.
All of this came to a head when I was raped last year by a guy I met on Grindr. That truly was the lowest point in my life, but in the end, it turned out to be the slap in the face I needed to pull me out of the slump.
At times I resigned myself to thinking I was going to be single for the rest of my life. I only had one positive friend and I turned to him when I hit rock bottom, he understood me and what I was going though. I called him one night and he invited me over to watch a film with some friends of his, that night I met my now fiancé Jo. The thing with Jo was that I didn’t have to disclose my status to him, he knew straight away just because of the conversations we were having. Although he isn’t positive himself he knows about HIV and it was never an issue for him. We are now engaged, live together and are planning our wedding for later this year.
I would be lying if I said that I didn’t sometimes still struggle with taking my medication. Occasionally I find it tough having to take it every day, and it can feel like a daily reminder that I’m positive. I have to confess that I keep my medication hidden in the kitchen, so I don’t have to constantly think about it. I still have a way to go with my status, but I’m hoping that by me telling my story I can help others to take the steps with coming to terms with their status, and can play a small part in de-stigmatising HIV.
So that’s me, just an ordinary guy with is positive and knows what a struggle life can be, especially when people still don’t know the facts and there is such a stigma attached to HIV.
James – (@positivejamesh on twitter)