“Flesh is magic, dancing on a clock.” – Leonard Cohen, “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot”. /
So four days previous I had turned sixty two. I was set to retire at the end of the month and now I had tested positive for HIV. I'd been struggling already to understand what retirement might mean to me and in truth I hadn't got much beyond some rosy vision of lawn bowling, cucumber sandwiches and cranky letters to the editor. Frankly, I didn't think it was for me. But what in hell was the diagnosis going to mean to me? None of the above, I suspected.
So I spent some time weighing things, looking the threat in the face. Then I went home, had a great conversation, some even better sex and woke up feeling pretty damn good, considering. And that's how my rite of passage began.
And that's what HIV has been for me: a rite of passage.
When I was diagnosed I remember thinking that the most important thing aside from getting on treatment was to not let the fact of my diagnosis change who I was in any fundamental way. I'd known people who had professionally, socially and sexually given up on their lives because they'd been diagnosed - shambling through life, hunched over their secret hurt because I guess the alternatives came to be too much trouble. I think that was the sort of thing I meant and definitely not the way I wanted to dodder off into senescence.
I had come down this rabbit hole with no sense of guilt whatsoever and I would not allow the virus or any stigma around the virus to redefine me.
Having said that, it wasn't long before I found myself spending most of my time trying to gain knowledge. Knowledge of the virus, its treatment, what resources were available, what politics pertained and so on. It's an ongoing process. And when you spend that much of your time in the pursuit of one thing, well that seems pretty darn defining to me.
So I've embraced HIV as my teacher. And it has redefined me in spite of myself, but in the best of ways.
It has given me a good struggle and a sense of good purpose, both of which I sorely needed. It has helped me to shift the balance of my life's priorities much more in favor of kindness and love than was ever previously the case and it has made me part of a community which welcomes, supports and inspires me.
It may be hard for some to understand, but far from feeling like a victim, I feel blessed. Sure, I would rather there was no such thing as HIV but there is and one day I contracted it. That's mine. It's a part of my life and it informs my life in ways that I love. From adversity, opportunity.
So I never wish I hadn't contracted the virus.
I never wish I were negative.
I never wish I were someone else.
On the contrary, I want to celebrate who I am and the fact that I am. I love me.
So there's lots to celebrate and that's what I'm doing. One year on from my date of diagnosis I'm feeling pretty good overall about the progress I've made. I've met the sundry nuts n' bolts challenges of finding the funding for treatment, getting on treatment and so on.
The symptoms I'd been having have all fallen away by this time and my viral load is undetectable, making me the safest sexual prospect in most rooms. Just sayin'.
And my knowledge of the field continues to grow as does my involvement with the community.
So that's the story of my HIV diagnosis and why I celebrate it every year on October 14, which is also the date when I decided to be completely out about my HIV status.
Far from being God's Way of telling me to fuck off, it may be the best thing that could have happened to me.
Robert W. Olver is a former education worker with an alternative life in experimental music. Currently retired and living in Peterborough, Ontario, he is a gentleman of leisure and the friend of all cats everywhere.
On October 14 2015 Robert celebrated the first anniversary of his HIV diagnosis. Yes, that’s right. Celebrated.
“It was given to me just after my birthday and just a few days before I was to retire. I felt a bit overwhelmed initially but there’s nothing like a crisis to help you sort out what’s important to you. Let’s just say I found myself needing to revise some of my plans.
A year on, I find much to celebrate and I’ll be blogging to explain just what I mean by that and lots of other things as I navigate this journey".