This is the first public forum in which I have 'announced' my emotions or stance on my own HIV status, and so it's certainly an abyss of unknowns for me. I was first diagnosed on April 20, 2008 (one year after graduating University); it was a day I will never forgot. The words of the counselor at the clinic fell largely on deaf ears as I sat in observed disbelief at the news I was just given. There was no fear that I recall, or sadness or thoughts of self-destruction; only an abscence of all emotion, as if my body and mind simultaneously came to a standstill. As I walked home, alone, the colors of the tree and the sky and spring flowers starting to come up appeared more vibrant and lively than I had remembered them being before, and I studied the detail of every passer-by – their clothing, their strut, their facial expressions, all the while wondering, "Are you positive, too?" That evening, without thought, I shared my heartfelt news with my roomates, both whom were very close to me at the time. Little if any emotion rang through the room of our living quarters, as I assured them that I was (likely unfortunately!) to live well beyond the projected years. Perhaps, I joked, I would become stricken with a secondary illness that would act as a clandestine cover-up to my new diagnosis. In the end, silence was the most appropriate topic of conversation and it was in silence how I went to bed that night.
Having been diagnosed almost immediately after a post hoc known exposure, I put off beginning HAART medications until I felt comfortable with the decline in my CD4 levels to a point where consideration of long-term side-effects was no longer necessary (two years, from a starting, at diagnosis, CD4 of 990 to an immediate pre-treatment CD4 of 574). The reasoning for my waiting, and starting when I did, was based on my history working in the professional medical world (though, I am not a physician or research scientist) and studies published within the past five years suggesting that beginning HAART medicine with a CD4 between 350-500 decreases mortality rates by 80%. Whether this will turn out to be true or not remains unknown, and will so for a long time; but important to me was the concept of why I was doing what I was, and the confidence I instilled in my own decisions alongside those of my clinician. To date, I remain entirely asymptomatic. Asymptomatic of course onlly refers to physical attributions secondary to the virus … it of course does not take into account the mental weight placed upon your shoulders with a diagnosis.
I had never considered how I might handle a diagnosis of being HIV positive, though the fear instilled by my middle and high school classroom health instructors certainly persisted constantly during any type of sexual encounter I woudl have. However, I learned quickly that a large majority of people remain ignorant to the facts of HIV infection. Communities continue to believe, and heavily, that HIV infection is easily communicable between persons than is hepatitis infection, despite this being nowhere near the truth. HIV continues to be stigmatized both in the micro and macro-communities of individuals, lay people, medical professionals, researchers, and politicians. Social media has certainly helped with its blunt advertisements to increase awareness for everyone to be tested for HIV and 'know your status', but they never offer suggestions on how to treat those that test positive. Perhaps it would be inappropriate of social media and advertising groups to even do so, though I feel it to be somewhat a social injustice for our communities to push for everyone to be tested, but not push to ultimately destigmatize not just the test itself, but the result of the test, too. I had to learn, and quickly (I was performing surgical procedures at the time), that my HIV status did not define me as a whole, but instead defined only a small portion of me. Properly controlled and treated, with a few lifestyle changes in terms of smoking, food choices, exercise, etc, HIV can be viewed no differently than most other diseases. The majority of individuals on HAART medication are considered 'undetectable' (however, this does not translate to 'negative') and live everyday, normal lives. I am very much one of these people. Still, though, I find it difficult to approach an individual whom I find cute, or lean in for the kiss at the close of one of the few dates gone well when the other doesn't yet know of my HIV status. I have struggled with this for some time – when organizing a date, do you reveal your status immediately, or wait until the person gets to know you and move forward from there? Time will tell, I hope, which answer proves to uncover the better person for me.
This first entry is my introduction to the community, and partially to myself as well. I believe we all live to learn from one another, with not any one of us really being any greater than the next. I'm looking forward to learning a lot from the all of you that participate in this community, and I hope that I can teach the all of you something too.