Recently I was at a house party where I met a bunch of new people for the first time. I realized I hadn’t taken my meds that evening yet, so proceeded to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t stand on a chair in the middle of the room and make a point of what I was doing but at the same time I didn’t go hide in a room alone to take them either.
During the course of taking them I had a guy stop me and ask if I had any more and could he buy some off me. I then realised he thought I was taking ecstasy or something similar. I went on to explain what they were, ‘outing myself’ (again) regarding my status.
Being positive for nearly seven years, you start to forget about some of the reactions people give you, which I won’t bore you with as you have probably read/heard them a million times. In the process of giving the usual spiel of "yes I am fine", meds, bloods, hospital appointments, etc. I began to realise how HIV has actually been good to me – yeah, you read that right, it has been good to me, here’s how…
1. I will probably live longer than you.
Yes. Going to have bloods done and get an examination every 4-6 months means doctors will pick up on anything out of the ordinary pretty quickly in comparison to someone who never visits a consultant or G.P. The sooner it is picked up, the sooner it can be treated. Health warriors unite!
2. I am stronger than ever before.
Okay, so I am not the Hulk or Thor (I wish). However I am a lot stronger. I know my status and I know how to manage it. I am monitored frequently enough to be able to not let anything bad happen (see above) where possible. So physically, yeah it kicks my immune system's ass, but mentally it has made me so much stronger as a person. You take a lot of shit from a lot of people and it is not fair, right or acceptable but what that does for you is make you mentally stronger overall. Thanks assholes. I am better than I was before *insert nail polish emoji*
3. My outlook on people and the world is a lot better.
Okay, so I was never prejudiced, racist or anything like that, but the younger me was a lot more judgemental than the current me. The social stigma that comes with living with HIV has definitely taught me a few life lessons. Again, I didn’t deserve the stigma, nobody does, but when it comes along, it is a massive light-bulb moment where you realise that you may need to re-evaluate yourself and your opinions. Suddenly I realised not to be so quick to judge others, and overall you become a lot more open-minded and accepting of people and things.
4. I have become more grateful.
“Do you know who gave it to you? What would you say or do to them if you had the chance?” The number of times I’ve heard this and people are itching for the response. Just to put it out there, I am 99% sure I know where I got it from. It is one of two people. If I could get 100% confirmation would I want to? No. You ask why? Because what difference is it going to make now? Absolutely none at all. There is no resentment towards the guy who gave it to me either way, however what I am grateful for the most is the ability to be undetectable. It isn’t a cure but it gives me a healthy life. I am grateful for those who campaigned, died and fought to get drugs administered; otherwise I probably would have been dead about six and a half years ago.
5. I became an educator to others.
This is by far my favourite of the five reasons HIV has been good to me. Now for those who don’t know me, I pretty much didn’t have a fucking clue about HIV until I needed to know when I was diagnosed in my GP’s room in August 2009. As a gay man, that is pretty shit, I should have educated myself better – lesson learnt! So one thing I made sure I did was go around educating all my friends and family – gay or straight.
The best thing out of a bad situation was that so many of my mates went and got tested for HIV following my diagnosis. They wanted to know their status. When something like HIV hits close to home it becomes a wake-up call for everyone else. Now don’t get me wrong - I am no expert on all things HIV but what I have managed to achieve over the last seven years is to break down the stigma surrounding the disease within my own social and family circle.
Going further than that, I have done radio interviews, magazine interviews and even got naked to help fight the taboos and stigma. This is something that I continue to do and will do as long as I am living. If it stops one person from taking their life because of a positive diagnosis or it prevents someone from actually contracting HIV, then this is all worth it.
Right, so back to this house party….
I am pretty sure the guy I was speaking to left well informed, which probably wasn't what he expected to happen whilst at a house party. What did he leave thinking beyond that? I am not 100% sure of the answer.
What did I leave thinking? Well, I thought, "You know what, HIV? You have tried and tested me beyond my limitations, but at the same time you’ve been pretty damn good to me."