The longer I live with HIV, the stranger it is to think back to my diagnosis.
It’s the one thing that everyone wants to know and talk about, to a minority of people perhaps a taboo question but by and large within the HIV community the most common discussion is when and how you found out.
As the months and years have gone by the less I remember in detail about the day I was told I was HIV positive. It’s not something I have ever felt is constructive to retain a complete or total memory of, you can’t change the past, only learn from it. I chose to fight the virus from day one rather than beat myself up about the consequences of my actions.
I imagine the process was pretty standard for many other young gay men who have also been diagnosed. Initially I had gone for a sexual health check-up as a previous test had come back negative but I had a nasty cough that had been giving me grief for almost three months. My GP didn’t seem to be able to help me with it at all, and the last time I saw them during this period they used the phrase ‘persistent virus’ and it got me thinking, could it be the virus?
I put off a visit for a about a month after this, HIV wasn’t something that happened to guys like me. I wasn’t a rent boy, I wasn’t a scene queen out in the village every night and I wasn’t ‘thick’ but educated, been to university and working a 9-5 job. HIV was something that happened to those people. But in the end common sense took over and I decided to visit the clinic, just to rule it out.
Unfortunately that didn’t go to plan. On Thursday 5th November 2009 I got a text asking me to contact the Manchester Centre for Sexual Health to make an appointment. I immediately felt nervous and worried; no news was good news, so this meant something was wrong…
It was the following morning that I went down to the clinic, taking an ex-boyfriend for support. Sat in the men’s waiting room for what felt like an eternity. A couple of nurses went into an empty room opposite where I was sitting, it wasn’t one of the treatment rooms with the medical kit or hospital bed inside, it just had a few chairs and a coffee table. A few minutes later one of them stepped outside and called my name, and I think it was at that moment that I first knew I was HIV positive.
I sat down and they confirmed my fear almost instantly. I just remember feeling numb and that’s pretty much all. I know they took me into one of the other rooms so they could take my blood for the initial Viral Load and CD4 counts. The nurses and my ex felt it best I take the rest of the day off work, but I had already booked the following week off by coincidence and didn’t want to look like I was trying to have an extra day off. I went back to work to distract myself.
The week after I had a lot of time to myself to think about what to do, I think it was the only lucky aspect of the entire experience. There were tears, blame and anger at myself but eventually I realised I had to think about it logically. I could hate myself, but what would that achieve?
For the past four years I’ve been on an incredible journey living with HIV. I’ve taken control of the situation and grown into a stronger more confident person. My HIV diagnosis was simply the start of a new and challenging direction for me to follow. I won’t allow it to interfere with my plans and ambition; I use the virus to focus and push myself to achieve everything I want in life.