Archives for the month of: November, 2010

I was born on the 24th May 1976 and by the time I had reached the age of 7 I knew I was different to everyone else around me. By the age of 16 I had acted on that ‘difference’ and had my first relationship; he was a year older than me and incredibly attractive, it didn’t last long. I came out to my parents soon after and by the time I was 22 I had completed University. When I turned 30 I had decided to train in law. I was 33 in May of 2009 and on the 27th of August that year, I was diagnosed with HIV. All defining moments in my life, whether I want them to be or not.

I am told that it is quite normal to blank out entire events/periods from your mind. Shock, pain, stress and despair. It is a defence mechanism of sorts, probably to save us from ourselves I would imagine.

I remember the phone call, the immediate panic that set in before I had even put the receiver down. I remember a work colleague calming me down, trying to reassure me there could be any number of reasons why the clinic had asked me to come back early, but I knew; I just knew. I think deep down we all knew at that moment. I remember being at the clinic, seeing the health advisor’s mouth move but not hearing a word, just merely staring at the space next to his head and the notice board. This couldn’t be happening. This is something you always hear happening to someone else. I suddenly felt incredibly claustrophobic and then everything started to feel like it was slowing down. I’ve heard this is quite common when dealing with moments of shock. I always thought this was a slight exaggeration on their part, but I remember when the world did slow down. For what felt like hours but was merely ten minutes of contemplation and memories of previous emotions. Everything I had ever felt, thought about, cried over, all came flooding back to me.

I remember the walk from the hospital back to my car. I don’t think I have ever walked so far in such a short distance. I got into my car and rang my work colleague. She could tell I had been crying. I cried a lot that day and the week that followed.  I was excused from work on the provision I return only when I felt able to do so. I then went to the one place I think we all go when we feel like our lives are falling apart around us; I went home to my parents. I don’t think I’ve dreaded telling my parents anything so much in my entire life. I felt sick to the stomach by the time I pulled up, and by the time I had reached the front door I was fighting to keep the tears back. The first time I was put on report at high school, telling them I smoked, telling them I’d screwed my exams up, coming out, taking my first boyfriend home to meet them – all moments of apprehension, but all paled in comparison to what I had to tell them now.  They took it well; least they never showed it in front of me. I was brought up in a non-judgemental, open-minded environment. I was raised better than to judge someone based on what he or she is, or what he or she has and thankfully, for me, my parents practise what they preach. I don’t even care to think about how I would have coped had I not had such wonderful, understanding and open-minded parents. I really did need them at that moment. I am aware some aren’t as fortunate.

I remember the following day and being by the sea with my mother. I struggled so hard to keep the tears back. Everything and anything would provoke and tug at me emotionally, from my mother simply asking me something, to receiving a text message asking if I was okay, to a stranger merely smiling at me as they passed by. I couldn’t bear the thought of being left alone. I just wanted to surround myself with as many people as possible. I didn’t care if they knew me or not, in some ways I preferred the fact they were all strangers, that way I didn’t need to speak to anyone. I just wanted an invisible crowd in the background to distract my attention. I’m sure they’d be content in the knowledge that I took some comfort from them, even if it was only in the fleeting moments as they walked on by.

It is always within these moments that we truly appreciate the little things. I don’t think my mother will ever full understand how much it meant to me for her to be there. She didn’t say anything; she didn’t need too, her presence next to me as we walked along the seafront was enough. When I was little boy I always loved the seaside. Just the vast nothingness of the ocean and the sky and wondering whether the two really did meet on the horizon… it always left me awe-struck, and, in a strange way, safe and protected. I was a child after all. But still, I was drawn back to the sea. I knew I didn’t want to stay indoors and I knew I didn’t want to be alone so I went to the one place I remember being so comfortable, free, safe and innocent. Nothing really seemed to matter much back then. But I knew what I was trying to do. I was cutting myself off from the present and trying desperately to go back to a time when I was carefree and nothing seemed able to hurt me. I wanted to disappear completely. It felt like the only thing to do.

I remember going to give yet more blood that week, before meeting my consultant for the first time; quite an eccentric character I thought. I never saw her after that; her partner was killed in a motorcycle accident soon after. My mother came with me, which was good. I remember the consultant spoke to me in depth about the virus and not worrying. How I was not going to drop dead and it’s not a death sentence anymore. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I hear that. I do wonder whether it is said more to convince me, or them of this fact? I probably won’t die, but it is still a life sentence. I went into myself again because I do not remember much more from the appointment. I do remember still being in the room and watching my mother nod in acknowledgement, but not hearing the words that were clearly being spoken to her. Instead I just sat their engulfed in my own thoughts. Over and over in my mind – why me? Why me? What had I possibly ever done to deserve this?

I’ve spent the year since often wondering just that. The answer is, as unsatisfying as it may be that I was simply unlucky. I wasn’t ignorant to the risks, I knew they were there, but for a period of time I just lost myself – caught up in the moment of something built on mutual love and trust that you just don’t think to question anything, not even common sense. I’d like to say I had been reckless and had unprotected sex with numerous partners. I didn’t. I even know when and by whom I contracted it. I was just very much unlucky and far too trusting – I knew it would be the death of me one day, so to speak. I do still trust people, just as I still managed to get myself out of bed everyday. I remember the first week after diagnosis was a very hard period mentally with nothing making much sense, if there was any sense to be made. I also remember that I reached a point where I knew I couldn’t carry on the way I was going, I probably wouldn’t be here now if I had. I remember back when I was on that beach as a child I often thought about the future, my future. I remember for the longest time I wanted to be an astronaut, hardly original I know, but Space then, as well as now, completely fascinates and inspires me. Just the sheer wonder of it all – everything seems so small and insignificant in comparison. Even me. Even a virus. I still think about the future, but have replaced the beach for my bedroom window. When it rains I like to sit by the window looking out into the grey skies and lose myself in my thoughts, daydreams. Sometimes I’d like to stay there.

Today I collected my next set of counts, with my CD4 now at 462 with a viral load of 3690. I’m not on medication, but one day I will be. I know I probably won’t die from this. I’m told I can expect to live as long as anybody else. But at what cost? Spending the rest of my life stuck to a timescale of tablet taking and the impact that this, as well as the medication will have on me. They say I won’t lose weight, lose my hair or look emaciated and that besides some minor side-effects, I should be fine. Should! Suddenly that one word doesn’t sound so reassuring anymore. What I do know is that much like the virus the method of control varies from person to person – some people adapt quicker than others, much like in some the virus spreads much quicker.

At the beginning it plagued my every thought, the consequences both impending and immediate. Over the year that followed on it played on my mind most of the time – like an invisible distraction yet always apparent. I don’t dwell on it so much now; it’s not in my every thought. The days do soon turn into weeks, into months and now a year. But every time I shut my eyes it’s always the same. I know I’ll never get away from this – it never goes away. It’s just me and you now.

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I’ve often said when it comes to dating men they inevitably fall into one of three groups:

Group One: guys who are always the right guys in every way possible. The connection is there, the chemistry is right, you get goose bumps at the mere thought or mention of him. It just always seems to happen at the wrong time for whatever reason; and there are always lots and lots of reasons.

Group Two: guys who are always, without a shadow of a doubt, the wrong guys. Period. But we always tend to fall for guys from this group. It is almost like we know they’re going to mess us about, leave us hanging on for days, not reply to text or phone calls… yet somehow this attracts us to them more. Why this happens, because it defies all known logic and reason, is beyond me. This is the type of guy we always advise friends about – telling them to ditch them – and how we wouldn’t tolerate being messed about like that, but then, when it happens to us we forget all this.

Then finally we have guys from Group Three. These are always the nice guys; sweet lovely my-mother-will-love-you type guys – just not ‘my’ type of guy. Yep, the ones who fall head over heels for you, yet you never feel anything stronger for them than you would a dear friend. The ones you spend days thinking why couldn’t the guys who fall under category two be more like.

Now having said all of that and neatly identified men into groups comes that other problem – I’ve never much liked dating. Dating for me just seems, for the most part, to be a series of silly pointless mind games perpetrated by individuals, who seem unable to be honest with themselves, let alone anyone else. Either that, or you’re second-guessing what the other person is thinking whilst trying to maintain some degree of balance of not appearing too keen, whilst trying to not appear so aloof to it all that they take it as a sign of disinterest. Why is it so hard to just be able to say, ‘you know what, I actually really like you’? We don’t, because often when we find ourselves in this situation where we want to say just that, we do actually like them and don’t want to scare them off. But what is there to be scared about when you’re at either side of this situation?

I openly admit that I’ve succumbed to cynicism. In truth, I think I just use it as a shield to guard myself from rejection. No one likes rejection, but when it happens time after time after time you do start to wonder – should I really be taking the hint?

Another problem I seem to have is compliments, and merely accepting them. I’m always touched when a compliment is passed my way. I just really never know what to say past a mere ‘thanks’, and when I say this fear I’m coming over as insincere. I wouldn’t say I’m insecure, although I’m always left feeling rather perplexed when I’m informed by a friend that the hot guy in the corner, who I have noticed yet pretend I’m oblivious too, hasn’t been able to keep his eyes off me. Yet I’m frozen with fear at the mere prospect of walking over and saying hello, or of them doing the same. Honestly, I never understand what they see, even if I do spend a considerable amount of time in front of the mirror before I go out. But for all the bravado I engulf myself in for those few minutes in front of the mirror, it all soon fades when I’m no longer stood in front of it. I’m not vain, however may appear so to others…Maybe I am slightly insecure?

Yes, I do watch sappy Hollywood movies and think to myself, I wouldn’t mind some of that. Who doesn’t? God I know I have a few hundred times, but I hide it, god-only-knows why? Again, I suppose I use cynicism as a shield mechanism to avoid being upset when I inevitably get let down just as much as I use it to hide the fact I’m hopelessly romantic. Maybe my expectations are always too high? I have worked on the basis that if you expect very little in life then you’ll never be disappointed. This mindset stuck with me well before I was diagnosed with HIV, yet even more so since diagnosis I’ve found it all too often sums dating, if not life, up.

Even before I was diagnosed I never really took to the dating game; now to some degree it terrifies me. We all have hurdles to overcome in life. Some we place there ourselves, others we unfortunately have to overcome for reasons we are powerless to do anything about and this is where stigma comes into play. Stigma is a funny little concept. No matter how hard we try we can’t escape it or the consequences of it and I’m already growing bored of feeling like I have to justify the fact I am HIV, or point out the fact that just because I am doesn’t mean I spent my 20’s hoping from one bed to another in a mass orgy of unprotected sex. The truth of it is that I’ve had unprotected sex twice and on one of those occasion I was just bloody unlucky. See, I’ve done it again. Felt the need to explain myself when really I shouldn’t have to.

It’s not so much the ‘going on the dates’ that fills me with apprehension, rather the inevitable conversation that will come. But when do you have that conversation? From the word go? Bit heavy for a first date, but I can see the merits in being upfront from and straightforward. Or, after a few dates at which point feelings have developed and then it suddenly becomes so much harder because the fear of rejection is much more present due to the use of those three words after I say, ‘by the way, there is something I need you to know, I’m’……

To tell someone you’re HIV in any situation is like tossing a coin – whilst you may feel you are fairly sure how the other person may react, there is always that uncertainty until about a second or two after you have uttered those three little words. So the safe, if not easier and stress-free route is to date other positive guys. Cant say that’s been a fruitful pursuit thus far, rather more a feeling of settling for second best because it’s easer, or being quizzed as to whether I do bareback and even more disturbing, bug-chasing – which is a blog rant of its own.

I guess the onset of ‘social networks’ has made this prospect even worse. Thanks to the onset of Facebook and Twitter I now know the thoughts of hundreds of people on a weekly, daily, hourly basis. Knowledge is power, apparently. I’ve heard that a lot lately when it comes to disclosure. But what happens when this knowledge falls into the hands of someone who doesn’t fully understand or care about the consequences of that knowledge. At times I struggle to tell close friends I am HIV, but take strength from the fact that with each day I feel more able to open up and speak to those around me. However, what I do not want is to lose the ability to do that and to lose control over who knows and who doesn’t. Choice is the real power. Being able to choose who I want to inform and choose when I want to do so. Not losing it because someone I told on a date a few weeks back decided he felt it was something he needed to put in a status update.

Being a person who over thinks situations and basically worries doesn’t help with the above, and I know anyone reading this who knows me will agree with what I’ve just said – I worry way too much. I need to stop caring so much about what others I don’t really know think and stick to those who I’m close to and are important to me. But we all want to be liked.

I guess the real problem is something I know only too well. Years ago I dated a guy for a while who was HIV. I thought I could handle it as I felt I was fairly clued up on the subject and considered myself to be open minded and non-judgemental. I felt awful when I ended it because I couldn’t cope with it and I felt even worse when I saw the look on his face. I could tell this wasn’t the first time he’d had this conversation. I knew he’d been here before and that he already knew that nothing he could say would change the outcome, so he didn’t even try. I could read it off his face and now I know exactly how he felt at that moment. Out of all the guys I’ve ever dated that one moment has stuck with me to this day. It’s such a bizzare feeling to now be in his position and the most annoying part is I really liked him, and still do I guess, but at the time I let my own stupid fear get the better of me. So the question really must be, if I was like that, then how can I realistically expect anyone else to react any differently than I did?