I often get asked what its like to be living as a heterosexual male with HIV. And of course there are the inevitable questions. Have you been with a man? Was the woman from Africa? Have you injected drugs? In short no, no, and no. I had sex without a condom, got unlucky, and caught HIV.
After a chat with a good friend, I thought I would share some of my journey with HIV with beyondpositive.
My first few months after diagnosis all went by in a bit of a blur, so I don’t have too much detail of the early days. I do, however, remember being told that I was HIV Positive and that I needed to go to the HIV clinic for more tests.
I spent those first few weeks in denial, trying to desperately convince myself that I couldn’t possibly have HIV, and that they must have mixed my blood with someone else’s. This couldn’t happen to me, I was straight, yes I had unprotected sex, but only a couple of times. I guess there is no real education about HIV in the straight world and I thought I was invincible; I refused to accept that I could catch HIV.
I cancelled my first clinic appointment, as I just wasn’t ready to face up to it, and spent a few weeks trying to google how to cure HIV. I tried all kinds of crazy stuff, that deep down I knew wasn’t going to help, drinking Aloe Vera, making bizarre concoctions with lemon juice, honey, vinegar and garlic (yes it really was as disgusting as it sounds). Looking back now, I know it was foolish.
When I eventually turned up for my very first appointment; I was pale and shaking. The five minute walk from the train station had taken me close to an hour, as I kept stopping, wanting to turn around and run. Up until then I had bottled it all up, everyone at work knew something was up, I just told them I was feeling a bit off. How I held it all in, I still have no idea. I remember sitting in the waiting room, then it happened, the dreaded moment the nurse called my name.
The nurse and I went into a room, and I lost it, I blubbed like a little baby. I didn’t want HIV, I didn’t want to die, I felt like my whole life was over. The nurse was amazing. They reassured me that even with HIV, I was still going to live a long and healthy life, but at the time, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Part of me still thought I was going to give blood and go back a week later to be told it was all a huge misunderstanding. So I gave bloods, and had what was the longest week of my life.
I don’t think I have ever prayed so hard or so often for anything. I avoided my family, because they wanted to know what was wrong. I made excuses about working late, wandered around town in a daze, before going home, saying I was tired and locking myself in my room to cry. Finally, the day came to go get my results, I can’t even remember the excuse I used at work, but I finished early and made my way to the clinic.
Well, it wasn’t the news I wanted to hear. Over the previous week I had thought back and worked out when my serconversion probably took place – at the time I thought I had flu. There were what felt like a million questions about sexual partners, unprotected sex etc. I can trace it back from seroconversion, to a couple of one night stands, exactly who I contracted from, and if she knew, I guess I will never find out.
Disclosure was a massive issue for me, was my family going to reject me, would I be an outcast in society, and of course the big question would I ever live a normal life again?
Being from an Indian family I had a lot of different fears. I didn’t know my family would react when I told them, and I knew that the community couldn’t find out about my HIV status. If it got out in the community, it wouldn’t be me facing their backlash and having fingers pointed at me, it would be my parents. That’s the mentality within my community sadly. I was already feeling ashamed for contracting HIV, there was absolutely no way that I was going to let my family be shunned or side-lined by the community because of me.
The first few months were tough, I was just going through life day to day, not sure how I was going to cope in the long run and didn’t know where to go for support. That was until one day I was told by THT to check out MyHIV. The support and knowledge I gained were incredible. I saw others leading full, happy lives, but the shame and guilt of catching HIV still stopped me from seeing the same for myself.
When I finally took the decision to tell my mum, it was a massive deal for me, and I was ready to be disowned that day. I sat down, with information, and just ended up bursting into tears and telling her I had HIV. My mum was amazing, she is so supportive. It took me even longer to tell my brother and his wife, again, through fear of rejection more than anything else. What surprised me most was that my Brother wasn’t angry with me for getting HIV, he was angry that I hadn’t shared with him earlier and had gone through so many months without any support. My family are my rock now, and pick me up when I am feeling sorry for myself and help me to go on.
I decided to go on meds early about 12 months after diagnosis, as that was my way of having some control over the virus. Taking that first pill was a massive deal, but now I don’t even think about it. Within a month I was kicking the virus into check, with my CD4 going up and an undetectable viral load.
I have only told a handful of friends, but on the whole they have been incredibly understanding and supportive, the complete opposite to what I expected.
Fast forward a few months, and I finally thought it was time to see beyond my shame and go and meet other positive people. I attended a couple of support groups, which made me feel part of a community, and then had coffee with someone who is now a great friend. I guess being part of a community where straight people are the minority was weird at first, but there has been so much love and acceptance I don’t even see that as an issue any more.
I finally decided that I needed to tell my line manager at work. Up until then I had lied about why I needed to finish work early on days that I had appointments but thought that someone at work should know. I avoided my line manager for two days while I worked up the courage to talk to him and figure out what to say, and finally asked him for a private chat. I came out with my story with no idea how it would affect our relationship or my job, but he didn’t even flinch. My manager has been so supportive and understanding he is an incredible guy, he even thanked me for sharing with him. He encourages me to push myself and achieve my potential, and doesn’t see the HIV as something that should hold me back.
A big turning point for me was the newly diagnosed weekend at Shallowford House run by the National Long Term Survivors Group. Two and a half years after diagnosis I finally found the courage to attend, and I never ever would have imagined that one weekend could change my life so much. The weekend was intense, with lots of tears, lots of emotions, and plenty of laughs. I was accepted by everyone there and felt like the old me could come out of his shell.
I made amazing friends that weekend, and more importantly found my self-confidence. I went to Shallowford a quiet, depressed and miserable person, who was still full of shame and self-resentment. I came back like the old me, naughty, cheeky, with self-confidence.
Since then I have I have started volunteering, so I can help others with their diagnosis to show them that life can still go on. It’s my way of giving something back and helping others. I have attended the beyondpositive pub-crawls, which was an empowering experience, going out with my red shirt, declaring my HIV status, and not feeling ashamed.
The shame is now gone, but is replaced with a frustration. A frustration that I have to protect my family from the community, so still can’t be fully open about my HIV status even though I know that the education is needed, but hopefully that day will come too.
Back in 2012 I thought that my world had ended, but now I see a future again where I can achieve all of my dreams and there is nothing that can hold me back.
Yes I have this little virus living inside of me but it lives on my terms and conditions, and does not control me anymore. I haven’t done anything that my friends don’t do, I just got unlucky.
HIV is my beautiful beast that in some ways has made my life richer and has made me a better person. I live for me, fight for my dreams, I feel healthier than I have been in years, and have amazing friends that I can’t imagine not being in my life.
I have recently set up a twitter account, if you want to follow me I am @poz_str8.