Everyone learns about their HIV status in different ways, I’d like to share a little of my experience and how I dealt with it. There is no right or wrong way to deal with the news and there isn’t a guide on how to react. I simply never even imagined that this was a possibility.
It was February of 2011, I was just 21 years old, it was a cold and rainy day and I was going to the doctor because I had a physical scheduled. I sat in the waiting room with my mom eagerly waiting to get the appointment over with. After I had finished the “squat and cough” the doctor asked me about my sex life; when was the last time I was tested and how many sexual partners did I have. I had just gotten out of a relationship; I had only been with one person for the last 18 months and I was sure that it would be the same result as my previous test 5 months prior. The doctor insisted that I get another test done and I complied. I remember the nurse coming in and doing the oral swab and telling me that he would come back shortly to draw my blood for the rest of the lab work. As I sat in the cold room waiting for my results, I heard a gentle knock and the door opened and in walked the doctor, followed by 4 women and 2 males, one of them my nurse. I sat there nervously and my hands began to sweat since all of them had a blank expression on their faces. The doctor introduced them as a Case Manager, Outreach Specialist, Intern, Psychologist, Program Coordinator and my nurse.
As I sat there impatiently wondering why all of these people were in the room with me. The doctor came forward and said, “Michael, I do not want for you to worry. However, I do have some bad news. Your test results came back and you are HIV positive.” I remember feeling hot and then suddenly cold. I remember gripping the side of the medical bed I was sitting on and not saying anything. I felt the blood rush out of my face and I felt numb. I sat there for what seemed like an eternity, not speaking, not crying, almost seemed that I was not breathing and then the doctor leaned forward and said “we will get through this together.” I loudly said, “that is not true! You have to retest! I was just tested 5 months ago and I have only been with one person! This cannot be true!” the doctor said, “we can do another test but what if it comes back the same?” I wasn’t hearing her and was not going to stop until I had another test done. They did another test and of course the results came back the same. I was in full denial and I insisted that there was something wrong. I blamed the tests and wanted to be 100% sure so I requested that they do a blood test. The doctor sat down and told me that there was a very high possibility that it would come back the same. I looked at her and was silent. How could I be positive? I had only been with one person and was tested 3 times during our relationship and I was always negative. I was perplexed. The doctor asked me if I had ever cheated on my ex or he had ever cheated on me? I quickly responded with, “He loves me. He would have never cheated on me. We were always together so how could he?” she told me to have a conversation with him and to simply ask him if he had ever cheated on me and that I should tell him that I tested positive.
It was very difficult to walk out of the room and act like everything was ok. With my Mom seated in the waiting room, I couldn’t have her sense that there was something wrong let alone tell her what I just found out behind that door. So, I put on my best game face and went on with my day as I felt sick and nervous underneath the smile and laughs. A few days later I reached out to my ex and he agreed to meet at a local park. I remember being super nervous as I didn’t even know how to even say, “I am positive!” We sat on the park bench and we said hello and asked the usual pleasantries of, how are you? What’s new? I remember looking at him and saying, “I went to the Doctor last week and I got some very weird news. They did an oral swab and both tests came back that I was HIV positive. I never cheated on you and I was tested 3 times while we were together and I was always negative. I am so confused.” He looked at me and said, “you gave it to me! I was hoping you had called me to confess that you had cheated on me. I get tested on a regular basis as I am military.” I was furious. I never cheated on him and how could he accuse me of such awful things? I remember that we both left there saying some not so kind things to one another and he tried to put all the responsibility on me. I knew that I had been faithful during our relationship therefore I felt no guilt. I was angry and hurt.
After it was confirmed multiple times (by every test possible), it finally sank in that this was my reality now and that I was, in fact, HIV positive. I was put on Genvoya as that was the “newest and greatest” HIV medication at that time. My numbers were so bad that initially I was considered to have AIDS. I was understandably very scared by that, but it was explained to me by my doctor that with my new meds she was hopeful that in 6 months to a year my numbers would stabilize enough that I could become HIV positive-undetectable. I was overwhelmed with all the new lingo and the things I would have to learn to live a healthy lifestyle. I began to eat different, I started exercising more regularly, drinking less alcohol and always taking my new pill that would help me live a healthy life being HIV positive. There was a lot of adjusting and adapting that was going to be needed on my part. I still had not really embraced the whole fact that this was my new status. I remember telling my best friends and crying thinking I was going to go through this alone. I couldn’t have asked for better best friends, they went with me to my first appointments and showed me love, support and when I was feeling down or scared, they soothed me and gave me the strength to continue fighting. I had still not told my family or any other friends and now months had gone by. I remember I would hide my medicine when my Mom was visiting. I acted like there was nothing bothering me, and from the outside you could never really tell there was something going on.
Fast-forward 4 months later, my Mom was visiting and she comes to me and says, “we need to talk”. We sat on the couch and I listened and I recall she started to cry and said, “I was in your bathroom and I noticed that you had a big jar of medicine and you have never been one to be on medication”, my heart sank and I remember saying to myself, “fuck! I forgot to hide my medicine!” I looked at my mom and she was looking at me and she tells me, “why didn’t you tell me Michael? You know this doesn’t change anything. I will always love you no matter what and I am sorry that you have been dealing with his alone. I had no idea!” she got down to her knees and held my hands and said, “look at me. I love you and I would give my life for you. You can always count on me and I will always be there and we will get through this together. You are a fighter and I know you will be ok. Promise me you will seek some therapy for this as I can’t even imagine what you are going through”. As I sat there looking at my mom and feeling her love surround me, I remember feeling tears running down my face and not being able to stop crying. That was the first time I had cried since I had found out that I was HIV positive. This whole time I was trying to be strong and not really allowing myself to be vulnerable and just cry. I sobbed for a good half an hour and for the first time I felt like I would be ok. My mom and my best friends were my biggest supporters through that hard time and for that I am very thankful. I will never be able to repay their kindness, love and support.
I want you to know that you are not alone and that you should not feel like you have to go down this path alone. You may think that people will not be there for you or understand. They may not understand but there will be those that will learn with you, support and love you during this process. I will talk about some wonderful resources that we have here locally in San Diego if you need a safe place to talk and ask questions to other community members living with HIV.
Until next time!