I have never been one to shy away from talking about my HIV status. I’m a Virgo and like most we enjoy facts and knowledge. I’m not the type to come to tears unless there is good reason, and the information I researched and was informed of from friends who were HIV positive, doctors and other people in the know helped to temper my doomsday emotions allowing me to remain myself ( yes I got a few deep cries in that first month ). So here I am, living as a HIV positive man. I’m dating, hitting the gym, zero complications and I really don’t have to think of my status aside from my morning Complera. With how managed and un-phased my life is, am I sending out the wrong message?
I found out I was HIV positive October 5th, 2010 during my annual physical. I kind of had a feeling, not because I was sick but I knew I hadn’t been protecting myself sexually and was engaged in more casual sex than usual. It was a year of transition and I had to transition into being yet another gay man living with HIV. It didn’t take me to a dark place like it can for some. I was lucky to be the type to take a pause and as I mentioned before do my research. I had mild freak outs in the beginning of taking medication, as my body was trying to get use to operating differently with the aid of these chemicals that were trying to save my life. I remember crying once at the bank I was working at because I took one of the pills I usually waited until after work to take because it made me vomit. All I saw was a lifetime of daily vomit and I couldn’t handle it emotionally. That side effect was the only one I encountered and that pill was just temporary. Since then I have had no issues and only switched from taking Truvada and Isentress to now just Complera. I have an undetectable viral load, which only took a little over six months to attain and my numbers continue to improve despite a few missed doses and my struggles with keeping sober.
So I am the picture of health and always comment how I’m probably healthier than most. Being HIV positive I see my doctor three times a year. Most people see their doctor only when they are very sick and often times when it is well into something that is serious. Because of the frequency of my visits I was able to get a handle on my sugar to avoid being a diabetic ( I was borderline ), and get my blood pressure in check ( I used meditation and of course healthier eating). So I’m healthy and happy and my young friends are seeing this. They see me soldiering on like nothing has changed, and even in my head I don’t see much that has. Sure I have to disclose my status on dates which is just frightening to say the least. I already have this no mans land of interests because I am black in the gay community ( inclusion is a joke) and now I have yet another strike against me by those uninformed or simply too scared to take a risk ( sweetie it’s a safer bet than the other guy you went home with who has never been tested). As much as I hate internet dating, still a hopeless romantic and envisioning my prince charming reaching for the same organic apples as I do, the internet give me a chance to just put on my profile my status and accept what is available, which surprisingly is plenty.
I’m not trying to paint this picture of being HIV positive as this normal thing without complications and stress. I have many friends who do have daily side effects from night sweats, migraines, and trouble using the bathroom to vomiting, nightmares, and dizziness. It is by no means a happy illness to have but I can’t speak on experiences that aren’t mine and I fear the intrusive nature of the virus on my life is sending the wrong message. The evidence to this is clear as I recently was informed of a close friend who is now HIV positive due to similar actions that lead me to my status. I was more than angry as he knew my whole history and we had many conversations on the subject. Over time I had heard him speak on his lack of fear getting the virus, in part because of my life. I was the face of managed HIV that still dated, still had sex, laughed and did it all again the next day.
I have been over my message in my head for a while now, but really what can I do? I’m not a liar, and I don’t requisition someone else’s trials and tribulations. As a Buddhist it is not a practice to speak without direct experience and knowledge; nothing second hand. But I just can’t help but think if I had spun my story with more darkness, put in a dragon or some axe murderer, maybe I could have saved my friend and many others.
I’m not going to dwell but so much. I’m an empathetic person so when I see my friend, hear of new cases, or just allow myself to emotional feel my own situation, I won’t be able to avoid thinking of how things could be different and what I could have done. There really isn’t a woe is me that needs to happen here. I can still use my story to stop fear mongering and stigma. I can also use this model of myself and my friend to show the dangers of thinking you are invincible. So yes HIV is manageable and your life is still ahead of you. But really is it what you want?