This month boys ‘n gals I thought it was quite important to be a little personal with my article, I’ve spent the past few months going through various different histories and this month it’s mine that’s under the spot light.
I wrote this article 10 years ago as a journal entry for cathartic reasons and then decided to publish it in magazines across the UK in order to help other people that were going through the same thing! And now it’s time to dust it off and I hope you enjoy it.
Ok here goes then (deep breath) in February 2005 I was diagnosed with HIV, which was a total shock. I’ve always tried to be careful but there were the odd times where I had not taken as much care as I should. Like many gay men I respect the need to use condoms but sometimes, in the heat of the moment, I have slipped up. That said in many years of having a healthy sex life I had successfully prevented getting infected with HIV more through luck than anything else I think? However these experiences could be counted on one hand over a 15-year period
Although I have always tried to use condoms during casual sex, I hated using condoms in a relationship that I considered worth it and long-term. Stopping during foreplay to slide a condom on always felt a little bit clinical and took the art of love making out of it for me personally. I had always suggested with long-term partners that we both got tested for everything and start a fresh with no condoms. Sex with a man you love and trust without the use of condoms had always been important to me..!
I now take you back to slightly earlier that year….
I was in a 9-month relationship that was about to end due to my partner being unfaithful. This hurt me very deeply and I guess I became more disappointed than anything else. Quite a few weeks later I fell ill with what I can now only describe as the flu from hell! It turned out to be something called Primary HIV Infection (PHI). The symptoms of PHI are very much like the flu with aches and pains and vomiting and in my case quite quick weight loss due to lack of appetite, and anyone who knows me knows I must be ill not to eat!
In short the HIV virus was attacking my immune system with all it had. I know this now but at the time I thought I had picked up a really nasty flu bug. It had knocked me off my feet for nearly 3 weeks during which time I had lost over a stone. I have never been in so much muscular pain before, but after nearly 3 weeks it vanished over night. I had been left with a few spots and swollen glands but felt so much better! Despite this nasty flu like experience I did not once think my body was being attacked by HIV. (This experience varies between individuals but my symptoms were particularly intense. Why I’m not sure?)
Just before that episode I started dating a lovely lad who I am pleased to say is still a friend. We had a conversation about getting tested and sure enough we both went to the GUM clinic in my local town and had a full MOT and a same day HIV test. I had been many times before as I did treat it very much like an MOT and I wish that other lads would take this attitude! But it was his first time so I spent most of the day keeping his mind busy as he was starting to worry but before we knew it 4.30pm had arrived and time to get the results. We were the first to arrive amongst the familiar faces that were in the waiting room from that morning, so we checked in at reception and took our seats.
All the people who came in way after us were being called in one by one to get the results every 5 minutes or so and we were left sitting there watching people come and go. We looked at each other with concern but neither of us saying what we were thinking. Then it was our turn but one of the nurses took my partner and I went with the GUM health advisor, I felt sick to my stomach and this was not a feeling I had felt at a test before.
I sat down with the health adviser and she asked me “what result were you expecting?” “Negative I hope” I said. She shook her head slightly and said “I’m afraid it looks like your result has come back as positive.” Never in my life have I felt so numb from all feelings.
To this day I’m not sure whether it was shock or the information had not settled in but even now as I write this I deal with it in a very similar way as my one thing that has made me get through this is the thought that there are people worse off than me in the world. (Which I know sounds like a Miss World type comment – wanting world peace blah blah blah! But it’s true.)
All I could think of was my partner in the other room, worrying he was hearing the same piece of news! Followed by the thought “Oh fuck, I’m going to be single for the rest of my life.”
Then followed by the thought “What am I going to tell Mum and Dad?” Nothing made sense to me, you would expect the natural feeling to cry hearing such news but I felt nothing!
After a discussion with my health adviser about the future and where we go from here I knew I had to face my new partner, and I was praying he was ok.
I could see his big smile and look of watery-eyed relief as he gave me the thumbs up from the end of the corridor and I started to breathe again! He asked me in a relieved almost excited way “So you ok?” I tried to hold my words, as I knew tears of relief for him would follow them. Even though the waiting room was now empty it somehow did not feel the right place to say what I had to say.
My emotions came before anything else and I started to shake my head and his face became blurry as my eyes welled up and the next thing we were holding each other and I was now crying quite freely! All he could say was “oh im so sorry babe, im so sorry” and he started crying too.
In the months that followed that day I had told all my close friends and work colleagues as I felt the need to be quite open about it knowing this would de-stigmatize the subject mainly for my benefit!
However I could not tell my parents, due to a couple of factors (a) my mother was going through the process of having tests done on her heart due to poor health and (b) any conversation I was going to have with them had to be full of facts and I had to sound confident in what I was going to say otherwise it would all go pear shaped!
Within those first few months I had also made the decision to end the relationship with the partner I had gone to the clinic with as I felt rightly or wrongly he was too young to deal with everything my life now involved! Not mean’t in a patronising way but I felt he needed to live a bit more life before he started to deal with these aspects of mine! To this day we are good friends.
Nearly 8 months after finding out my life changing news I finally decided to tell my parents, so I called that morning and spoke with my mother on the phone advising her I needed to tell both of them some news! She asked straight away “is it bad news? Is everything alright?” after some reassurance I went round that evening feeling very confident and very open about things! I came right out with it! They didn’t seem overly surprised but to be honest with the amount of shocks and surprises my parents have had from me over my 31 years I’m not quite sure what reaction I was expecting?
But the most pleasing thing about that day was the amount of questions they both had about the subject and I have had nothing but support from both of them! However, I know this may have been more difficult had I not had all the facts and figures I needed to answer the questions and in this respect im very glad I waited all those months before we had the discussion.
We are now well and truly into 2006 and I have been living with HIV for just over a year now. I go to the clinic every month or so dependant on how well I am doing, to monitor my different levels and make sure I am remaining healthy and in the main part I am! However, I have not been blessed with a cast iron immune system like some you hear about where they can stay off the medication for years and years and never need treatment!
HIV affects your body’s immune system to fight off infections like colds flu’s STI’s etc… If the HIV is left untreated, it will destroy a type of white blood cell called CD4 T-cells, which play an important part in your immune system.
The number of CD4 blood cells that you have is called your CD4 count. The lower your CD4 count is, the more likely you are to become ill. Some people remain well when their CD4 counts get lower, at least for a bit. And every month or so I have to go and get my levels checked! The higher your count the longer you should remain healthy before I was infected my counts would have been somewhere between 700 and 900 but now I am floating around the 300 mark!
My counts have slowly started getting worse and I feel constantly tired and it looks like I may be on medication at some point this year unless there is a dramatic turn around, which is quite frustrating as I don’t drink, smoke or take drugs and never have! I work out or swim every day and really take care of myself but this all seems in vain right now. So we will see what the future holds?(I am an optimist so watch this space)
One thing this whole experience has taught me! “Life is too short to worry about things.” The one thing I did fear was the stigma from the lads I fancied out and about, however
I have met some lovely lads and on the whole I have had such a surprising reaction to my news. One fear I had was to be alone, no one would want me now that im infected? But with a few exceptions this has been totally untrue. I have had a few short relationships since last year and I feel it is always best to be open and upfront with lads even if it’s just for sex!
So I take this opportunity to let the lads who I have either dated or had a relationship with know that you are truly wonderful people and im now glad to say fantastic friends!
The reason I say this with such sincerity is simple.
Before I was diagnosed if I had been asked the question “would you sleep with or date etc… anyone who was HIV+?” the answer would have been “I am not sure?” and being totally honest looking back the answer would have been a straight “no”
Because I was obviously not capable of dealing with that at that time and we are only talking a year ago. Now the shoe is on the other foot, which makes me feel fairly shitty!
To think I could have judged someone like that before hand but now I can see it from both sides and I understand both points of view. So therefore I understand if people have any kind of issue with it regardless of size or nature of their problem as I felt the same only months ago myself!
I felt I had to write this article to help people out there understand that HIV is still very much out there and it really can happen to anyone even if you feel you are taking precautions and in my case caught while in a relationship, Another reason for writing this is to expose my own lack of understanding and my closed attitude to the subject before I became positive myself, I mean lets face it at the age of 31 and being a very sexually active guy you would have thought I would know all there was to know about this subject right? Well this was not the case and as I have discovered not the case for many other men out there! I guess my other reason is to try and humanise the whole thing as well?
I have been very fortunate that my friends and family have been so wonderful and not forgetting my work colleagues! But I am also aware that is a minority reaction and I am surrounded by very down to earth well-educated people, and I mean educated by life rather than qualifications!
HIV affects not only the people who have it but all the people around them, I have told around 60 to 70 people so far that I know either on the scene, family and friends or at my places of work and if my story has made 70 people stop and think ”shit it really can happen and its happened to Scott” then it may have been a very necessary lesson we all needed to learn, Should anyone need advise on how to deal with this subject, whether it’s because you have recently become infected or you know someone that has been infected and you want to learn as much as you can, please contact the Terrence Higgins trust via there website http://www.tht.org.uk/home/ if by reading this story it makes you stop and think before you have sex then for now I have done my job!.
“There are always people worse off than yourself, even if you cannot see or hear them” imagine someone somewhere living your life with a few extra problems on top of what you’re already dealing with? Because somewhere they’re probably is!
And my favourite quote of all time, and how true it is!
“Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get?”
As you have read, this article was last touched in 2006 and your probably wondering where I am with things now? Well the answer is very short put hopefully a powerful message. I’m on medication and I have been since 2007. I’m on two tablets a day and my cd4 count is at 700ish. My HIV viral load has been totally undetectable for 7 years which means I’m the healthiest I’m ever going to be! I have been lucky to meet a man who I am engaged to and we have been together for 3 years. He is HIV negative and doesn’t give a shit about this virus of mine. I told him before our first date and the only thing this virus has done is make me worry about stuff I shouldn’t even be worrying about. I’m always here to talk to anyone in this village about my experience and I am confidential about any conversations we have!
I hope this article has helped at least one person.
By Scott Houston
Aka Miss Thunderpussy xxx