When I was diagnosed with HIV on Memorial Day in 2012, the rush of emotions that went through my body was something that I have never experienced before. I got very sick for about three weeks prior to my diagnosis, and was led to believe by my doctor that I had a version of strep throat called “Coxsackie”. Even after the pain spread to other parts of my body, the thought of having HIV didn’t really cross my mind until I was on my way to the hospital, and I texted my friend about the variety of pains I was experiencing and they simply replied “Those are HIV symptoms”. After getting some tests done, and a 24 hour wait, I found out that I was, in fact, HIV positive. At that moment I felt it was a death sentence. Three years later, I can say that it is one of the best things that have ever happened to me.
That might seem shocking for some, but hear me out. Before my diagnosis, I was a naïve and judgmental guy in his early 20’s who would shun at the fact of sleeping with, let alone date someone who is HIV positive. I guess it comes with the territory of all the images that stuck in my mind of the men and women who died of it in the 80’s and 90’s, and the mixture of fear that I could be one of them should something go wrong. Yes, that was my mindset and it is one today that I deeply regret as I was blinded by my own ignorance.
When I got my diagnosis, there were so many things going through my head. How am I going to live going forward? Who should I tell? How am I going to date anyone now, I’m going to have to tell them I have this at some point, right? It was at that point that I realized that I was part of the stigma that people with HIV deal with on a daily basis- that hypocritical, uninformed person who would turn a blind eye to the prospect of a relationship with someone who is HIV positive became the person who feared essentially… me. It’s incredible that you can have that shift so quickly, but also very important because it became one of the biggest “aha” moments I have ever dealt with.
I started medication quickly and became undetectable within a year. Getting a text that simply read “Undetectable” from my doctor is probably the best text message I have ever received. During this time, I told certain friends and family members about my condition, and although I was met with concern and sadness from some, what each one of them did was embrace me and let me know they were there for me no matter what. To have that kind of support is something that I consider myself very lucky to have, and it allows me to go through life seeing that the glass is always half full and not empty.
I also developed close relationships with other men and women who are HIV positive, as well as educating myself on sex, dating and living day to day with this condition. Last month I came out about being HIV positive on my Facebook page, something that took two hours of editing and three years of thinking to do. My initial fear of backlash was instantly washed away, due to the endless comments of my bravery, as well as support and love from each person on that post. It got me thinking about that word brave. What is bravery in this situation? It is to share my experience as openly as one can, so that the former me’s of this world can start evaporating and the stigma that this disease brings can be washed away. Stop living in fear and start living in your truth. We are all equal.