“Well I knew you weren’t going to tell me you’d got a girl pregnant” – Those were the first words uttered by my Mam when I told her I thought I was gay. It was around 2am on Monday Mayday bank holiday 1999.
We were sat watching the film Critters 4 on ITV. I was 16 years old, it wasn’t that long after the ground breaking gay drama Queer As Folk had been on TV. It was an eye opener and suddenly everything started to make sense. I used the words “I think I am gay” to my mam as if to soften the blow. There was no need, she is one of the most supportive people out there.
Looking back I think I knew something was different about me from the age of about 11 or 12. In my last year of primary school I went a trip away to some activity centre in Wolverhampton. I still have the photographs I took now. They include one of the group leaders from the centre who I would have to say now was quite likely my first crush. He was beautiful. There are also lots of photos of the boys in my class. Maybe this was the early days of becoming sexually aware and feeling attracted to men.
When I came out to my mam I started to attend a young gay mens group for support, I finished my GCSE’s and started Sixth Form. Life took a more sinister turn as someone overheard a conversation between me and head of year in her office. It was common knowledge at school. I was threatened regularly, snubbed and even death threats written on the walls of the Sixth Form common room.
Life became hell. I tried continue but it got me down. I bumped into a mate’s mam at the local shop. She could see I was upset having just been verbally abused. She touched my cheek and reminded me I am still the same person. A thought that came into my head 16 years later.
I left Sixth Form as it became impossible to continue there and, instead, started college. This was a whole new world. There was a lot of people who were gay, bisexual and lesbian. In particular in my law lectures over 50% of the class were gay, we had normally spent the night before clubbing at a local gay club. Life was fun and I made some friends for life.
As I have gotten older I realise I have nothing but thanks for the bullies and people who have made my life hell. They honestly made me the person I am now, outgoing, and strong.
Time went on and my family circumstances forced the situation where I had to move away. I started working in the finance industry which is pretty much where I have continued to work for the last 13 years. I enjoyed living away from Newcastle it helped further build the person I am today. I had my own place to live, I met a guy who was to become my partner for seven years. I moved a few times but slowly I started to miss home. It’s where my family had all gone back to except me.
In 2006 the urge to move home was strong and myself and my partner had started to look for places. On 9th August I had been working late delivering training and finished at 9pm. My partner rang me to tell me my Grandma had been ringing me.
Having not spoken to my dad or his side of the family for a few years this was not a call I had expected. I rushed home to the phone to be told my dad was in a coma in hospital after a severe motorbike accident. He was critically ill.
I got back to Newcastle the next day and saw him in hospital. It’s not the time to bear grudges. I will never forget all the tubes and things coming out of his body. The move to Newcastle sped up and by late October we were back. I was home. Dad left hospital and for one reason or another I haven’t seen him since, but he is still doing well.
In 2010 things came to an end with my partner. They hadn’t been good for a long time and I think if we were both honest perhaps things should have ended a long time before they did. We had always said we would be friends once we split up but that didn’t happen. It was a shame. seven years together is a long time. Here I was living alone in my flat, rebuilding my life.
I had started to use twitter and had made some great friends. Over time I got talking to lots of guys including a number of HIV-Positive guys, their status was never an issue for me. In fact I was blown away by how strong they were. No matter what seemed to get into their way they got over it and came out smiling. Who was to know just how much support I would need from these guys in recent times.
2013 was not a great year. Things with my eczema came to a massive head. I was suffering badly and had been for around 18 months, my legs in particular being infected over and over again. My confidence was massively affected and I was not comfortable in my own skin.
I was eventually referred to a dermatologist who admitted me to hospital. In total I spent 14 days in hospital. The stay included a possible cancer of the blood scare but thankfully it wasn’t anything of concern. I left hospital with my skin in a much better position.
One of the HIV-Positive guys I had met on twitter had previously asked me to join him on a coach trip tour of Europe for 10 days. This was much needed by June and I had an absolutely incredible experience. One I will never forget.
In August I signed up to do the Great North 5K run and my chosen charity was the Terence Higgins Trust, a charity raising awareness and providing support to those with HIV and AIDS. I chose this charity on the basis I was so close to so many guys
who were living with the virus. I wanted to give a little bit back.The irony to be revealed later.
The run was on 14th September. I did no training in preparation, in fact I hadn’t ran for 10 months. A week before the run I fell unwell, severe fever, my whole body ached. Despite an emergency GP and A&E visit the blame was placed directly on my eczema being infected again. I didn’t agree with this, this was different. Something wasn’t right. The night before the run my legs gave way and I collapsed at home. This shook me up.
The day of the run arrived and I completed the race in 33 minutes 35 seconds, which with no training was good going. I had raised £280 for the charity too. I’m so proud and thankful to my friends.
It was decided treatment for my eczema was to change and I was to start immuno-suppressant tablets. Due to the nature of the tablets the Consultant had to do some tests, but had also given me my prescription for the tablets saying he would ring me during the week confirm all was OK and I could start the tablets there and then. As the week went on there was no results, I even chased for them. I received a call on the Friday lunchtime telling me I had to go to the hospital on Monday.
I had the weekend stewing over this. In my head it was either HIV or cancer. I had pretty much settled on cancer. I spoke with close friends who reassured me it wouldn’t be either. It was all going to be OK.
Monday arrived and after work in the morning I went to the hospital. The consultant asked me had I come alone. To which I had responded that of course I had, it was only a skin appointment. He then proceeded to tell me I was HIV-Positive.
I am not going to lie, I felt my world crash around me at that point. In my eyes the world had stopped. I had no idea of what to do or where to turn. The following days and weeks were hard, very hard. I am now four months since diagnosis. I am determined that this is not going to beat me. The virus will not win. I have amazing friends and family for support. I will be eternally grateful to them for everything they do.
We need to break down stigma and this is why only nine weeks after my diagnosis I disclosed to everyone on my Facebook and Twitter. It was time to educate, make people realise the virus doesn’t discriminate and this is what I aim to continue to do in future.
I would say my life has been hard at times but there are people out there who have had a harder time. I am a believer that life is what you make of it. You are in control, you decide where to go.
“Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you” – Aldous Huxley
Thank you for reading my story. Stuart. (@newlypositive on twitter)