Finding a better place

I am in a much better place now than I was before HIV.

To explain, I need to take you back to those days before the diagnosis. I’d moved to start a new life in Spain. Arriving in a new city in the middle of summer, I felt like I was on holiday and wanted to experience it all – and that included all the saunas and sex clubs the city had to offer. I knew about HIV but I was really ignorant. I was enjoying being promiscuous and, apart from the very rare drunken occasion, I thought I was being careful.

The truth is I still don’t know how I came to be infected. But, owing to what occurred afterwards, I now attribute it to an incident one night in a sex club when a stranger forced himself roughly on to me. I would have found it horny, if it wasn’t so painful and I made him stop almost immediately. I would say it lasted only about 10 seconds and the guy didn't cum inside me so I thought nothing of it at the time. However, about two months later, I started to get flu symptoms and I went for a HIV test. It came back negative, ironically on World AIDS Day.

My lack of understanding about how tests work caused problems later. Between being infected and testing, there was a period of only eight weeks and so, I guess, the antibodies didn’t show up. But I had a negative test so everything was fine!

Fast forward ten months. I’d had a cold on and off for six months, I felt incredibly tired and weak and couldn’t stop coughing. I returned to England and the GP told me three times that I just had a virus and it would go away. He was right and wrong.

It was only when I was returning to Spain that I decided to test again so I could talk about HIV in my own language with the nurse. I thought that I hadn’t taken any risks since the last result so completely expected it to come back negative. I was completely hit for six when it didn’t. In my ignorance, I asked how long I had got to live. Although the nurse reassured me that the prognosis was good, he kept saying how sorry he was which seemed a bit incongruous.

It also turned out that partying hard, working hard and exercising hard while not eating properly over the preceding months had taken its toll on my body. Not only did I have HIV but it seems that I went straight from seroconversion to having an AIDS-defining illness and my CD4 count had dropped to 46. All new terminology to me.

The month that I spent in hospital was the turning point for me. Family and friends were told and they showed incredible support, visiting me in hospital and reassuring me, then helping me recuperate after being discharged.

I rapidly learned about HIV, about CD4, CD8, viral loads, testing, medications, adherence, superinfection, etc.

I realised that I could live with HIV infection and do all the things that I wanted. But I also realised what it was that I wanted. I wanted to be close to family and friends and not living some party lifestyle, constantly seeking out the next quick thrill. And then while spending time with family recovering, I found my partner and we are still happy together. I don’t mean that life is perfect now, or that I would say ‘no’ to a cure to the illness so that I can stop taking my meds. And there are still plenty of things that I want to do. But I am happy and, like I said at the start, I think I’m in a much better place in my life now.

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