One year on from my initial HIV infection I look back at the past twelve months, how did I get here? What have I learnt?
Yesterday April 9th – one year since I was infected with the HIV virus. It would be fair to say that I spent a lot of 2013 wondering when I caught it; who from, did they know? What were the motives around my jaded and provocative mind-set at the time? But I didn’t want to look back, I didn’t want to remember the desperate times of a crazy 18 year old with nothing but drugs, clubs and money on his mind. Just move on and deal with it Luke.
December 2013 marked the amazing news that I am now have an ‘undetectable’ viral load after starting treatment early in late August, and for some reason this encouraged me to back-track through the troubled times around my sero-conversion illness: where my body sero-converted from HIV negative to HIV positive.
April 9th 2013 is the only date where all the surrounding dates and circumstances matchup perfectly: The (only) act of risky, unprotected sex I partook in around the time took place on this date, in the evening at around 10pm (I believe). This is the first time I’ve gone into explicit detail about that day. Maybe it’s taken time for my sanity and intelligence to re-form, as well as a new sense of confidence to grow in order to face it all again.
I took the train up to Manchester to meet a kind business man I had met online. Cute, successful… he had a profound appeal to my selfish motives of the time; money, independence, friends in high places. I spent most of the evening in his ultra-modern Manchester city centre apartment with 3 of his equally affluent friends, snorting lines of “£90-per-gram” pure cocaine from the surface of his cooker-hobs and playing video games. What followed was a short visit to a bar not too far away, one of his friends picked up their jacket from the back of the sofa and a wad of £50 notes bound with a red strip of paper fell on the floor. Why on earth would I ever leave these people? They’re rich!
We returned to his place… I remember the sex being fantastic, ‘grab the bed-sheets and scratch his back’ kind of fantastic- maybe it was the coke. But looking back I know that the cocaine somewhat boosted my already hyper-driven confidence to a new and unfamiliar high, where a condom was the least important thing in the world. I left in the morning for Birmingham with a wad of cash in my pocket to “treat myself with”- I probably went clubbing with it.
I would go back to visit him on the evening of the 24th – 15 days later (perfect timing given the looming circumstances). No drugs this time, It was quite respectful and cute if you can believe it; snuggled up on his sofa watching Iron Man 2 (funny how I remember that huh?). Half way through the film he looked down at me and felt my forehead, telling me I was scalding hot and that it felt like I had a bad temperature. I told him I was fine, I did felt fine. It wasn’t until my sky-high body temperature was met with the feeling of being locked in an industrial freezer that he got up and gave me some painkillers to see if that would help, hopefully let my body decide which extreme it wanted to be.
What neither of us knew at that moment of sincerity was that the HIV virus he had infected me with 15 days earlier was now replicating in my bloodstream by the thousand – resulting in my body trying to fight it. I spent the night in his spare room: a very cold, very large, white room, but at least I could have a crafty cigarette or five-discreetly hanging out of his ceiling to floor window at the offices across the street. I’d already soaked his bed with the indescribable hot flashes I was experiencing, and the way I was shivering you would have had a better chance sleeping through an earthquake if I recall correctly. The spare room it was.
I went home early the next morning functioning on around only two hours of sleep and feeling as sick as a parrot; stopping off at Costa to get some food, only to vomit it back up again on the train I’d boarded at Piccadilly. Looking back through my old de-activated Facebook account yesterday I saw the status I wrote from the train that morning somewhere near Macclesfield: ‘I actually need to be in a hospital.’- 9.32am 25/04/13.
I was diagnosed 11th June 2013.
It’s truly amazing how things can change in a year, and after a hateful attack on my HIV status via a Facebook status a few days ago; I now feel that I need to share my story about how I became infected – at least so that way, all speculation regarding how, where and why may finally come to an end; perhaps leaving me in control again.
I also believe it’s of vital importance that people (particularly those at risk) are aware of what constitutes your classic sero-converting illness (or Acute Retroviral Syndrome or Sero Flu), just like you would be aware to feel for potential cancerous tumours within your body regularly. Of course, not every short-term sickness is going to signify HIV, but if you notice an illness similar to mine after taking a risk, just be aware: Early diagnosis saves lives…and with around 80% of those infected with HIV experiencing some form of initial illness, it’s worth paying attention to.
You’ll be happy to hear that I am still undetectable and proud to say I still haven’t missed a single dose of my medication to date. I’m still obtaining high grades from my AS level courses (yay!), and I am planning to give a lengthy speech about living with HIV for The MAC AIDS Fund on Tuesday in Birmingham City Centre! Something I’m both scared and excited about!
There is still a lot to be done to educate on HIV – but if you’re reading this… I think we’re all moving in the right direction.
Thank you for reading
Luke (@PositiveLuke on twitter)