I was diagnosed on March 13, 2016—my world fell apart on that day.
I was unprepared. I thought I had been relatively safe, but I realized I had never really taken the time—as a 38-year-old gay man—to really truly understand what being HIV-positive meant.
I had stigmatized HIV and looked down on people who were poz. Regretfully, I used to think they were ‘dirty.’ At 20, I dated someone for a few years who failed to tell me that he was poz. That was really scary for a 20-year-old in the 90s—perhaps my outlook on HIV was scarred as a result!
Unfortunately, when I was diagnosed, I took all of that ignorance, shame and anger and directed it at myself. Depression set in and I attempted suicide August 10, 2016, five months after my diagnosis. Thankfully I’m still here.
I had a really rough journey with my medication, also. I was put on Triumeq; however, I suffered badly with side effects. Diarrhea, nausea, hot flashes and trouble sleeping were problems for me every day for almost one year and unfortunately, my doctors were reluctant to change my meds. Nobody told me about the side effects!
I went off sick from work for about 13 months to deal with my mental health and the debilitating side effects of the meds. During this time, I was protected by law from having to disclose my diagnosis, but I was harassed by my employer and was told that I was not being truthful about my medical situation. I had told them everything that was going on except that the diagnosis was HIV. I was in a senior position and was worried about being stigmatized. I was ultimately fired from my employer; however, I raised a case against them for discrimination and WON!
What they did was wrong, and it made my already fragile mental state much more difficult. I had no idea depression could take you to such low levels. I am thankful I survived that!
Altogether, it’s been a really tough journey for me, but I am stronger, healthier and more informed than I ever was before. My advice for anyone (poz or not, gay or straight) is to become informed about what it means to be HIV+, what “undetectable” means and to stop the stigma.
I let my ignorance isolate me and take away my self-worth for many years. It took me until recently, in 2020, to begin making strides back to good mental health. Looking back, I wish I would have sought out help and tried to connect with HIV support groups to help inform me. I really needed it! I stigmatized myself and took myself through an extremely tough journey that almost killed me. I now call myself a survivor and I’m much kinder to myself.
I’ve realized it’s OK to be HIV+. Take your meds. Be kind to yourself. And seek out support if you need it.