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So it is the 1st December again. For many, and for me for a while, it was just like any other ordinary day, a day that never really held much significance past the point of a fleeting acknowledgement of something that now has significance.

Usually for me it is only during the final run up to the climax of the year that I start to look at things retrospectively. Yet, here I am, just before I head over to the vigil in Manchester, I find myself not contemplating the different and various modes of raising awareness or their effectiveness on the general population or whether anyone without a connection to the day has noted its significance. No, Instead I find myself realising yet another year is almost over and with it I have another set of moments and memories that will live with me forever; another set of regrets which will haunt me for some time to come.

And yet while another twelve months has almost past me by, I feel nothing much has really changed. I still find myself in the same place I found myself this time last year. Feeling something is missing; so obvious its absence, yet what exactly it is I have yet to find. I can’t put my finger on it. What exactly is it? I don’t feel whole. I haven’t for sometime. I thought I did, for a while, but not anymore.

Maybe it is the culmination of a recent change in personal circumstance together with the realisation that a personal goal has almost come to its inevitable conclusion, and with such, reopens doors I had subconsciously closed off only a few months ago. Is change in the air? Maybe. All I know with any degree of certainty is that for me to feel whole again something has to.

I look onwards at 2012 in the same way I viewed 2011 this time last year; in the knowledge that all too soon I will be looking at it with the same retrospective eyes that I now look back at 2011 with. With it I’ll have a new appreciation for the complexities of life – the little dramas, the daily routines, the high points and the lows. The people we meet – those that remain and enrich our lives, and those that will fade-away and vanish without ever truly knowing the impact they made on us. For the most part I will acknowledge that seldom does change happen; although I appreciate life is anything but predictable at times. And I think that therein lies part of the problem.

I need to find myself again. Without realising it, I lost a part of me along the way and it took me until now to realise it was gone. I need to find that part of me again. I need to put all the parts back together. I don’t think the events of the last twelve months can be blamed for this, in truth, I think I’ve felt a part of me was missing for a very long time now. However this year, the events that occurred have help me to open my eyes, made me realise a lot about myself I had chosen to ignore or hide, made me realise things need to change and only I can make that change. To find what I lost and to go some part to putting it all back together again.

I promised myself this time last year that 2011 would be different, and to some degree it was. But the change that 2011 brought was not what I imagined. I fell in love. True love. The type I never thought was possible – the unconditional kind, the kind without question – I never expected it. It just happened. It was the type that makes you smile in the morning at nothing and the sunshine, oh how the sun shine’s so much brighter and warmer and makes you feel warm inside, alive. Makes you feel complete and whole again. I don’t think I’ve truly fallen in love with someone before. I thought I had. I thought it was love. Yet now I realise it wasn’t – it never felt like this before. But the love that is there is now being clouded, overcast by the shadows of a growing bitterness that gives spawn to resent and hate. I’m seeing new sides to me – sides I never really knew I had. How I can love someone yet hate them with the same degree of passion is not something I thought I could do. I never realised I could hate; it’s not really in my nature. I’ve disliked before and no doubt will again, but I’ve never truly hated someone; I’ve never truly been hurt before. Not by someone I loved. Not to this degree. I’m just not ready to forgive that. Not yet.

My health is as it was then – I’m still not on medication – although, like before, I suspect I soon will be. My counts this time round are much lower and I still have the same apprehensions, but I am slightly more reassured over my fate by the people around me; their experiences and strength gives me strength, and I concentrate on that rather than allow the dark echoes of what plays in my mind to take seed and grow. I’ve almost succumbed to that before, in darker moments. Allowing it to take root and bloom, to consume me, when I felt weaker than I do now.

So as the year has played out I’ve confided in more – opened myself up to some in ways that still surprises me. I’m still cautious about who I tell; when and why, but overall I find it almost empowering. To tell people I’m HIV and I’m still me – I’ve not changed – only their perceptions of me based on a virus. But HIV has changed things. The way I look at life now is different. I find I grow weary of things quicker; I now see the futility in the empty words and actions of others clearer than before. I cannot act so much on impulse as I used too; although in some respects that is probably a blessing in disguise. But my friends, I always return to my friends and how I love you. Some are much stronger and some of the faces I now see, I know I will see forever. They may not be constant; they may not be with me all the time, but they will always be there when I need them the most and knowing this, deep down inside, I can start to feel the warmth of the sunshine again, and it helps me, it helps me to start feeling whole again.


I thought I was strong. I thought I was dealing, coping, coming to terms with it. Maybe I was; maybe I wasn’t. I feel like I’ve lived the last two years in a waiting room. Waiting for my name to be called, secretly dreading it whilst maintaining a façade of bravado – courage almost, in the face of adversity.

I’ve known it was coming, from the very first day I knew I’d soon reach this point. I must sound so silly to those who have gone before me. To those who have no idea, a sense of empathy for a situation they cannot fully comprehend. For a while I had forgotten about it. I’ve learnt to live with it. I can go for days without the need to remember it, but then, every once in a while, something will happen and it brings it all home. You really don’t get away from it; no matter how hard you try.

I have known all year it was coming. No matter how hard I’ve tried to forget, it has always been there, at the back of my mind waiting for me to let my guard down. Like a hunter stalks its prey – silently waiting with patience – for a time when it can consume my thoughts. Like a dark spot on a bright horizon. With each day it grows, consuming the light. You can hide, try to run, but there is no escape.

I think my greatest fear was facing it alone. I’m not as strong as I like people to believe I am. The unknown scares me – the uncertainty of a situation I find myself powerless within. There are so many tales, both good and bad. I’m forever presented with statistics. My mind feels like it’s going to explode. This waiting room in my mind is a personal hell. I hate uncertainty. I prefer the normality of a world that is black and white; anything that falls into grey leaves me weary and frustrates me, but that is exactly where I have been living these past two years, in a shade of perpetual grey.

I know my friends will support me, as best they can. I know I am not totally alone. But my friends aren’t there at the end of the day when I can’t sleep, or in the morning when I’m too weak to function and move. They will be at the other end of a phone call whenever I need them and the comfort that will bring me is unimaginable, but I know when I put the phone down it is just me again.

Over the last few months as I prepared myself in the knowledge my counts have been on a steady decline, I have had someone special with me. Suddenly the prospect of the onset of medication and various outcomes didn’t seem so bad. He’d been there already. He’s stronger than me with things like this. Least he never showed his fears, not all of the time. I don’t doubt he has them, we all do. But being with him gave me the strength to deal with this. I took comfort in knowing when the good was good I would have him there and if the bad went bad he’d be next to me supporting me. It helped me build walls on the foundations of my own uncertainty. I guess losing that person and then so soon after receiving this news just brought those walls crashing down around me.

Much like the day I was diagnosed, I knew the minute I took the phone call. I was asked to come into the clinic. Again, no reason for the request was given and I was too scared to ask, but I knew. The same work colleague who tried to comfort me with a number of possible explanations previously could only offer the same explanations again. But I could tell she knew, as I knew. My counts had now dropped below the threshold and medication was now more inevitable than ever before. Given recent events it was agreed I would undergo another set of blood work before deciding on what course of action to take next.

It was like being diagnosed all over again. I felt numb, alone and very scared. Weird given how I’ve known my status for just over two years. I felt like I was reliving that day all over again. The memories of a day that now feels like years ago were as clear in my mind as if it took place only yesterday. I left the clinic and just drove around for an hour. I eventually returned to work and parked up. I just sat there and cried for a time. I wanted to call him and tell him but something stopped me. He was the only person I wanted, but he isn’t mine anymore, no matter how much I may want him. I just wanted him to tell me it was going to be ok, to be held, comforted. My own fault really. For so long before him I had pretended to be strong, that when I realised I no longer needed to pretend, I let the guards I had long built up down. Left myself vulnerable. But I don’t blame him. It isn’t his fault. I did eventually speak to him, he rang me and suddenly everything felt good again. The black mark on the horizon didn’t feel so daunting. But much like with my friends, this feeling was short lived. The phone call soon ended and with it, the realisation I will face this, for the most part, alone.

And that’s where I find myself right now. I’m back in the waiting room dealing with uncertainty in a mind that doesn’t stop. My bloods have been taken again and I find myself on a painful wait for a further phone call. I don’t know when that call will come, but I know it is coming. And even if I don’t get the phone call this time, I know it is only a matter of time before it does. Maybe now it is time to prepare myself and look inside for the strength I need rather than to others. I’ve had reassurances from both friends and professionals. I know the facts and I know I’m probably letting myself get carried away by the fear of uncertainty. I know I’m stronger than this, stronger than the virus and that the medication in the long run is what will help my body when it can’t help itself anymore. It’s not only the side effects both short term and long term that worry me, but the realisation that every day for the rest of my life at some point during the day I will remind myself I’m stuck with this and there is nothing I can do. I’ve spent the last two years in blissful ignorance because the onset of medication was not imminent, without a care or a second thought that time does fly-by and that your tomorrows soon become your todays. There are days when I actually forget I am HIV positive, but that will change, no matter how hard I try I will soon have a daily reminder that I’m stuck with this; there is no getting away from it anymore. I think this is what I’m scared of the most. This probably all sounds silly to some, but not silly to me. I’m scared.

I was lost. I still am; to some degree I always will be. But things are better now. It doesn’t feel so cold or so dark; I’m not so alone anymore.

Nobody knew that all I needed was for them to know, but letting them know was the hardest part. Now they do. For all my worry nothing has changed, least not in the way I had imagined. If anything the bonds are stronger and the feelings deeper; I know I’m not being a burden to anyone anymore, or feeling like I would be. I know I can talk to them and turn to them for help and comfort – an ear to bend, a shoulder to cry on – whenever I need it. I remember what it was like before I had this. When I was at the mercy of my fears. The apprehension I had about opening up. The stories I’ve heard and read of rejection from others who found themselves in the same situation I now find myself in, and how the fear of rejection prevents others from ever opening up.

I want to show the other side to this. To provide a balance to all those stories of rejection and to show that disclosure is not always bad; good can and does often come from it. For this I turned to my friends once again. All only too happy and willing to add their voice to that of my own.

 

James –

I’ve known Anthony for about six months. He Facebooked me through a mutual friend. He’d seen me speak at an HIV vigil. He thought I was rather handsome. I’ll admit to thinking much the same when I saw his profile pic pop up. I asked him if he was HIV early on during one of our initial long messaging sessions and he disclosed immediately. I imagine my being HIV too must have been a relief, making disclosure easier. I’ve never known Ant as anything other than HIV+. However I don’t see him as a status. Our relationship, in the short period of time it has existed, has given me more than just another HIV+ person to discuss the ‘ins and outs’ of HIV. Far from it. Ant and I spend most of our time competing to see who can come up with the perfect soundtrack on any given day. He’s become a part of my daily life, even though we don’t live in the same city. Most days one of us will pop up somewhere to say hello. Or to post a music video. Or to be smart. Either way, he’s become a part of the fabric of my life easily and quickly. I have no idea if Anthony was in any way different before his diagnosis to the Anthony I know now. It’s not a question that ever crosses my mind. I’m pleased to have him around – despite the miles of motorway that lie in between us. If anything HIV has enabled a friendship to bloom between us. It gave us an immediate connection. It is no longer our only connection. HIV hasn’t been divisive – it has brought us together. Disclosure created something good. As it so often can. Anthony is a great human being. Shame he’s got such chronically bad taste in urban music!

 

Lisa –

I’ve known Anthony for just over a year, after meeting him at a mutual friends’ flat warming party. In the relatively short time since then we’ve become close friends.

Ant opened up to me about his HIV positive status the first evening we met. The conversation was unexpected; my resulting emotions complex. As soon as he told me I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of compassion for what a contentious situation he was dealing with. I totally understood why he found it easier to open up to me – a relative stranger – about his status, when he admitted he was struggling to tell some of his closest friends. He didn’t have to try to second-guess how his disclosure would affect my perception of him. I had no deep or long-running preconceptions of him to relate the status to. Had no connections to family members he might not have got around to opening up to yet.

I was suddenly aware of my own ignorance about HIV and AIDS. Every time I asked questions or tried to contribute to the conversation I felt uninformed and more than a little bit thick and embarrassed that I didn’t know more. Although I do feel as if I know more now, I sometimes think I may either come across as being patronizing or rude if I ask “the wrong” questions or say “the wrong” thing. I also think some times: “Is now the right time. Will Ant want to talk about it when I have something on my mind?”. Ant’s openness made me feel as if our connection on meeting had quickly deepened. I felt it was a compliment for him to trust me so quickly.

 

Joanne –

I have known Anthony for around 3 and a half years and met him when I started working at the same firm of Solicitors as him. He kind of took me under his wing and we have pretty much stayed friends ever since.

I made arrangements with Anthony over the Christmas period to meet up and go to Manchester for a “mooch”. We started the journey into Manchester and the conversation was about the usual kind of stuff then out of the blue he turned to me and told me he had something to tell me, something he had wanted to tell me for a while but didn’t know how I was going to react. At first I went into a fit of giggles thinking it was some silly boy problems or perhaps work? oh how I was wrong. As soon as the word HIV left his lips I wanted to literally jump over to the drivers side and squeeze him to death, it took everything in me not to. I just wanted to cry as he started to explain the last 12 months and what he had been going through. I can honestly say that not for a second I felt disgusted, ashamed or wanted to reject him in any way. If anything I wanted to sit there hugging him all afternoon and in fact when we finally got out of the car I stopped him and squeezed him for dear life. I held in the tears but that’s all I wanted to do, cry, and when I got home that is exactly what I did. I just felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness and “what the hell could I do to help him?”. Also he began to tell me the other people who knew about his situation and however selfish it might seem, I was upset that I wasn’t one of the first to know. I think I was surprised that he thought there was a chance I wouldn’t want anything to do with him and more so I think because I just kept thinking how there must have been so many times when he felt alone and I could have been there for him.

Naively I really didn’t know a lot about HIV, just unfortunately the stigma that goes with it. Anthony explained the ins and outs about the virus itself and what exactly he himself is going to encounter along the way. I feel a lot more aware now and although I would never judge him or anyone I feel the whole situation has opened my eyes to it all.

When we got back to work after the Christmas period nothing really changed between us; there was no secret little HIV meetings at lunch or awkward stares in the corridor, but it has made me pick up on when he’s not looking or acting his normal self and I try my best to check up on him. I did lay there the night he told me and I did think what if? what if my friend actually dies. Now that I know a lot more about the virus I know that he has all the chances in the world of living a “normal” healthy life, but there is always that fear. Ant knows that our relationship will never change and I am so proud of him. No matter what, I am and will always be there for him through bad and good, I love him.

 

Julie –

I first met Anthony 3 years ago.  We’d both had the same bright idea of studying law!! I was sat in class feeling nervous and full of trepidation; in you walked all confident, fabulous, handsome and stylish.  I knew after that first class we’d be friends.  From that day on you teased me, made me laugh, got me in trouble for giggling in class and calmed me down around exam times – until of course my nerves rubbed off on you and you started to panic as well!!

In short, I found out quite by accident through work.  I couldn’t believe it.  I read, re-read and read those words again a thousand times.  Not you.  This couldn’t be happening to you.  On the one hand I had a professional duty not to repeat what I’d learned – even to you.  More importantly, as your friend, I didn’t want you to feel pressured into having to talk about it or tell me things you didn’t feel comfortable with me knowing just yet, if at all.  This wasn’t about me and the questions I had or the devastation I felt; this was about you.  This was happening to you and I felt sure you’d tell me when you were ready and if you didn’t – so be it.  I wouldn’t find that offensive, it wouldn’t make me mad, I just longed to let you know it made no difference to me, to us, and that you weren’t alone.

I cried.  I sat stunned for what seemed like a lifetime and cried some more.  If you had been with me you would have used the line you’ve used on me a trillion times…”God! you’re such a female”, with a shake of the head and a roll of your eyes.

How do I tell you that I know?  Indeed, do I tell you that I know? Had you told anybody?  Were you going through this alone?  Did you need me?  As your friend I wanted you to know that you had my unquestionnable support.  As your friend, I decided it was only right that you tell me when you were ready and not when I put you in a position where you had to  It took you six months.

We were enjoying a tipple after the hardest of days.  “I have something to tell you”, you said.  You looked lost and full of fear but I knew what was coming and I smiled.  I could finally hug you and tell you that I’d be here whenever you needed me.  I knew then that you trusted me and trusted our friendship.  You had no idea that I’d known for so long.  I was glad for that because I did sometimes wonder to myself whether I was unconsciously behaving any different towards you.  I didn’t mean to and I’m glad I wasn’t.  As far as I’m concerned HIV never did, never has, never will spoil the relationship we have.

It’s easy for others to try and show empathy, emotion or understanding towards you but I guess no one really knows your pain, your sadness, your moments of joy until they have walked a mile in your shoes.  I use the old cliché of knowing lots of people but only having a handful of friends.  You are in my handful of friends and I will walk every mile by your side.

 

Craig –

Anthony and myself crossed paths on the search for love. We went on one date and I think it’s safe to say we both wanted only to be friends from that moment on. I now class him as one of my closest friends and part of my immediate group. We have danced, laughed, been drunkenly propositioned by female prostitutes and narrowly escaped the wrath of their pimp together. but when a male gay friend sends you an alcohol fuelled text completely out of the blue saying he needs to talk to you there is one of two things that goes through my head. One, he is in love with me or two he has HIV. On this occasion it was the latter and after a few texts back or forward I had had pretty much guessed what he was going to tell me.

He wanted to discuss this face to face so we arranged for him to come to mine. We both knew I had guessed what the content of the discussion would be so when he arrived his words were, “well you have guessed it anyway haven’t you”. I felt it was important for him to say it out loud so asked him to tell me, which he did – a good friend of my Mum’s had recently been through exactly the same thing so I was pretty clued up with what happens. I was shocked when Ant told me that he had been diagnosed just after we had met (nearly a year before now) simply because I hadn’t really noticed any change in him. I guess I would have expected some anger, bitterness or a lack of contact, Ant being someone who is happiest when texting on that Blackberry. I instantly wanted to say “why didn’t you tell me? Why did you go through this on your own? I could have helped!” I knew this wasn’t a death sentence, as it had been in the early days, and that people would not die of AIDS, more likely some other disease. I wanted to get across to Ant that nothing would change due to what he had told me. He was still the same, I was still the same, and our friendship was still the same. We chatted for a while about it and I got up to speed with what has happened the day he was told, how brilliant his Mum had been and his trip to the beach. I still wished I had of known so I could have helped. The thought of him going through that on own his was horrible, I wanted to help.

Since then I feel Ant’s confidence in disclosing his status has grown. He is telling more people and seems comfortable doing that. My simple advice has been everyone will be fine and if they’re not then they are not worth it. Yes this is a simple view but also very true.

So the journey continues and we are nearing a very important point, the possibility of meds. When Ant gets to this point I will be right behind him and ready to tackle it head on.

 

Ann-Marie –

I’ve known Ant for 15 years. We met when we studied art A level together, and we’ve been friends ever since. Although we’ve spent a lot of that time living separate live; myself moving around the country and eventually settling in Australia and Ant’s done his thing, every time we are in the same place it’s like we never left.

I’ve currently returned to the UK and on my latest visit back home I was really disappointed after trying to arrange a night out to catch and Ant failed to show up, giving a poor excuse, and I didn’t hear from him afterwards. I was upset by his absence and didn’t know what to make of it. Just before I got around to contacting Anthony to explain my annoyance he texted me to say that he had to tell me something that would explain his weird behavior, but that he didn’t want to do it via text message. While I was waiting for the call all kinds of things were going through my head as to what it could be that was so serious.

For as long as I’ve known Ant I’ve never felt such trepidation over a telephone call from him, but when he told me what it was I couldn’t believe it. I was left speechless with only one thought running through my head – how could it happen to Ant? I certainly didn’t know what to say, as I felt anything I could say would be absolutely useless. I kept going over in my head what he’d told me. It was obvious from the way he was talking about his situation that he’d had a long time to think about it himself and try to come to terms with the position he now found himself in. He told me about a blog, how in a way it had helped him and helped deal with his issues of opening up to those close to him. Reading his blog made me realise just what he was going through emotionally. I saw a side to Ant that I’d never really seen before, that I suspect he guards well. I was happy to discover that he has the full support of his family behind him – after he told me I kept looking at my little boy’s; still only babies at the moment, and trying to imagine how I’d feel if something like this ever happened to them in the future. If it does, I’d want them to stay as strong and positive as Ant has been, and I’d hope they would know they could come to me much like Ant was able to do with his mother and as much as Ant knows he can turn to me.  I’m sure it’s the only way to get through something like this. I’m glad he finally told me what he was going through, I can only image how very difficult a thing it is to do, no matter how long you’ve known a person.

I’ll be heading back to Oz soon and my only hope is that Ant knows I’m only a phone call away if ever he needs me, but I’m so glad to know that I’m leaving him with such great friends and family around to support him when he needs them. Love you Pants

It is peculiar how life turns out when you think about it. We plan for so much in advance, yet it is generally the decisions made in an instant that shape our lives so much more profoundly. I would never have foreseen that in January of 2009 how much change that year would have on me; that my entire outlook and approach to life would really be the same ever again.

The transition from 2009 into 2010 was a significant one of sorts – it very much felt like I was saying good-bye not only to a year, but to my old life whilst marking the beginning of year one of a new forever. Much like hitting the proverbial reboot button, everything was different and I was just starting to come to terms and comprehend the significance of that change. I still am, a further 12 months on as we journey onwards to the climax of the year and bid farewell to yet another year. But what has 2010 taught me and what lessons have I learnt.

On a high point I learnt how truly wonderful my friends are to me and how I should never have doubted whether they would support and be there for me when I need them – I don’t think they’ll ever fully appreciate how much their support means to me, but I love them all dearly for it. And not just old friends, but new friends also who have come into my life this year. Short as that time may be, I value these friendships as I do where time-spent has been a factor. But the true value of friendships old and new is not the only thing I’ve learnt. Some things, for instance, have not changed. I still hate the whole dating process. At the start of the year, dating was the furthest thing from my mind – I just was not in the right place on an emotional level to the notion of any form of commitment. I still have a few ghosts to put to rest, but the prospect is more open to me now. At times I guess I’m too damn impatient for my own good and want it all today. But on the other hand, the few dates I have gone on with other HIV positive guys have only proven to be as unsuccessful a pursuit as it was before I knew my own status. There just seems to be a whole host of new games to be played with lots of scared people who are unsure about their own destinies, or people who feel I should accept what is on offer to me almost as if to say that by being HIV means I should settle for second best. I am meticulous, I won’t settle for anything less, but when I meet the right guy and I get that feeling like fireworks exploding in my belly at the mere mention of his name, then I will know the wait has been worth it.

I’ve told more and more friends over the year about my status and, with each, my confidence has grown, which to me is a sign that things for me are improving and that being able to open up to those close to me is not as much of a daunting task as it was for me this time last year. I have no wish or want to be a walking billboard, but I want to reach a point were I am as matter-of-fact over this as I am about any other aspect of my life. I’ve always been a very open person; I’m not scared, or normally aren’t scared to speak my mind, express my opinion or merely be upfront with people. To be anything else frustrates me endlessly. I’ve come very close to slipping-up in front of people who do not already know, having to suddenly go quiet or change the subject quickly like I’m harbouring some dirty secret; I hate feeling like I’m ashamed of it, this couldn’t be further from the truth – I am in no way ashamed of my status. I’ve started this blog, volunteered at a local HIV/AIDS charity and I’m happy to assist any way I can in raising awareness. These advances in the outlook of my situation for me are all positive signs that I’m coming to terms with disclosure. I still haven’t told my dentist and a few friends, and the thought of disclosing in a dating situation in which I am not already aware of the other’s status/viewpoint still terrifies me, but I know I’m getting there with that one, slowly. As recently as the other day I discovered yet anther aspect of ordinary life where voluntary disclosure factors, one that should have been obvious but never hit me until after the event. When I had to recently go to a high street chemist for over the counter cold relief medicine I was asked whether I was on any type of medication before they sold me cold/flu relief sachets. Quite casually I said no, as I am not, but as I walked away the reality of the situation that one day I will be hit me. This was something I would never have ever thought of, yet it is so obvious as to why they would need to know this.

2010 has also made me realise that I’m not immortal. As the year has drawn to a close I have noticed it is harder to keep illness at bay. For someone who never used to even catch a common cold, I can’t seem to now shake anything but I suppose this merely mirrors what I have known with my counts on a steady decline all year; I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything else. I ended 2009 with a CD4 count around the 800 mark; I end 2010 with them having dropped by almost half of that. Where medication was only touched upon in speculation, I have now been told I will be on medication before the end of 2011, possibly as early as March. I don’t know how I feel about this. If it happens it happens and in the long run it is the medication that will keep me healthy and alive, but I can’t help feeling scared with regard to the impact they will have on me, both short-term and long-term, both physically and mentally. I know my consultant won’t leave me in the dark, and I have people who I trust without question to whom I can turn to for advice, but I am still anxious about it all. I’m struggling to come up with the words as I type this to describe how I honestly feel about this other than to say that I think this is what will make it all feel very ‘real’. That is not to say it isn’t now, and I’m just living in some state of denial over my diagnosis. I am not, but I think because my initial CD4 count was very close to 1000 I was told meds would not be an option for sometime. I felt relieved and never suspected that ‘sometime’ would be so soon. It gave me time to heal from the shock of my diagnosis and progress forward at a speed I felt comfortable with. I wasn’t forced into having to come to terms with my status in a short window before I had the extra stress of coping with the onset of medication. Not that living with HIV so far has been a walk in the park, but I think a lot has to do with the fact medication is for life. You never come off it. It will be the final nail in the coffin and it will become something I have to confront on a daily basis for the rest of my life, no more putting it to the back of my mind as something to worry about until tomorrow because tomorrow has too soon become today. And I don’t know if I’m ready for that.

So whilst I move through the transition of one year into the next, already aware of events that lie ahead, a lot still remains uncertain. To some extent it is that uncertainty that drives me forward whilst also leaving me anxious at the same time of what will happen and where I’ll be when I’m looking at 2011 through the same retrospective eyes as I now find myself viewing 2010.

I have no doubt that in years to come I’ll still be making the same mistakes I’m making now; falling for the wrong guys, spending way way too much money on clothing, drinking more than my body weight in alcohol and never being the last person to leave the party because I’ve already passed out in the bed of the host. I’ll look a little older – though not too much. I will be trying to act a little wiser and the worries, fears and loves I have now will be replaced with others. I do not know where I’ll be, or if I will be with anyone… these are things I just simply do not have the answers to, but the thought of things to come is what gives hope for tomorrow. For now, I’m determined to take heed of the lessons learnt and ensure 2011 will be different. If being HIV has made me realise anything it is the old cliché of taking your opportunities when they come across your path – have no more regrets – and it is now high time I put that into practice and see where it takes me. I do not believe in fate or destiny; a pre-planned existence is not something I would have signed on for. The future is not for us to know, but for us to experience. But wherever life takes me as long as I have friends, love, laughter, music – good times – and a little bit of hope for the unknown, then….then I think I will be ok.

I’ve never been subjected to direct homophobia. I am aware comments have, in the past, been made about me based on my orientation but never directly to me, more indirect or out of ear shot.  Not that it would have bothered me – I sometimes find it amusing that other people have issues with ‘my’ sexuality, something which really has very little bearing on anyone else’s life bar my own. However today there are some who still refuse to ‘come out’ from fear of being stigmatised. I’ve always hated that term, ‘coming out’, it does nothing more than feed the appetite of some to neatly tag sections of society, identifying them based purely on their differences.

Fear of being stigmatised fuels some to avoid disclosure in all aspects of their life, even parts where there are significant legal consequences. I believe stigma is only a component of the problem. Denial, the refusal to accept something, the refusal to accept one’s HIV status is a large factor. It is quite upsetting that for some the only means of dealing with the situation is to pretend it does not exist at all. Becoming so entrenched in their own denial they now genuinely believe their own fantasy world of a virus free life. I’ve not encountered it to this level directly; I am aware it goes on. When I let my mind wander into its dark recesses, I have thought if that was the case when it was passed on to me – did he know and out of fear or denial just simply not inform me? Was he scared that I would no longer love him? I simply do not know and probably never will; such thoughts are best not dwelled upon. I never discuss past relationships with current partners in any particular detail, so he would never have known my previous rejection of someone over the very same thing.

I do not suffer from denial, but the idea of being stigmatised does play on my mind and the assumptions people will make about me based on something you would never know I had from merely looking at me. I don’t believe anyone should have to hide any aspect of their life out of fear of persecution from their peers. Furthermore I don’t believe people should feel they have to disclose to the wider society out of some sense of moral duty to be part of some campaign of awareness. Martyrdom after all, is not for all.

I now find myself at a very odd junction in life in terms of disclosure. On ‘D’ day I informed a work colleague, the senior partner at the firm where I work and my parents. Before the end of the week I had informed one of my friends. By the end of the month all the partners at the firm I work at knew; then I went quiet. I found myself in a rut, only able to open up to people with the assistance of alcohol. I wasn’t drinking to excess and I wasn’t drinking to forget. I was drinking to open up. I guess the alcohol just allowed the shields to drop and for me to say the things I struggle so much to say. Thankfully I now seem to be over needing the assistance of alcohol in this respect. But whilst I would say that for now, in some instances, I feel more comfortable with opening up and informing people about my status, that niggling gut feeling of the uncertainty of how they will respond still remains. I guess that feeling will never truly go until the mindset of society changes and I do not see that happening anytime soon. There is still far too much ignorance towards the subject. Even now, when I inform people, I still feel like a National Health Service announcement because people do not know the simple basic facts.

Out of all the character traits that go into making me ‘me’, I would say by far my ability for over-thinking a situation is my most dominant trait. And this more than anything holds me back, not only from disclosing, but also in other aspects of my life I’ve spent time side stepping issues. It is a part of me I hate, but a part of me I’ve now long made peace with and accept there isn’t much I can do about it.

Your mind can be your greatest asset, and it can be your greatest downfall. Everyone reacts differently but from the experiences I’ve shared with others living with HIV one thing is clear – we all, for a time, retreat into ourselves. Some of us cope, find the strength to speak to others and get the help we need. Others, sadly, cannot. When the world falls apart rational thought is no longer a gift for some, instead seeing no other option but to remove themselves from life altogether. I was told a story from a friend who works within the public sector; it involved a 18-year old guy who, two hours after he was allowed to leave the clinic after being diagnosed positive, threw himself from a bridge. I can imagine the fear and loneliness he must have felt in those two hours – he must have been so scared.

But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… I do sometimes wonder from time to time how I would have dealt with my positive diagnosis at a younger age. Say had I been 23 instead of 33. Is it my age, the fact I’ve lived and had a somewhat colourful and charmed existence and the valuable life experiences I have gained throughout my life that have enabled me to come to terms and to some degree adapt to the situation I now find myself in? When I decided to start writing this blog it was with a hope to put something out there, to help people in some way who find themselves in the same situations I find myself in now, as well as that of just over a year ago. As I know only too well, when all of the friends and family have gone and I was left to myself, my thoughts, there was nothing that made me feel so incredibly alone – your own mind can be a very isolating place to exist. It felt like I was the only person with HIV. I knew I wasn’t, but still, with all the pain and fear there was an overwhelming sense of isolation. I started to think that I would spend the rest of my life alone and that no one would ever love me; partners, friends and family will more than likely turn their backs on me. This is where the roots of stigma start to manifest – not in the thoughts and feelings of things I had already experienced, but that of what I had not, and the fear of what was yet to come. The uncertainty and trepidation of telling is what left me feeling empty inside and so utterly alone and scared. The fear was of how I presumed I would be treated rather than a reaction to how I had. I’m not saying this will always be the case and that it will never happen; maybe I have simply been lucky thus far, but all the worry I put myself through… justifiable I guess, given how this is a subject we never want to discuss in the open anymore.

To think I was so scared to tell those close to me about my status, yet now I question how I would have coped had I never spoke up. My status is not a constant topic; nor do I want it to be and in some instances it is a source of levity, but to know I can speak to any of my friends when something is troubling me or playing on my mind makes me realise I don’t have to deal with this alone. I still like walks along the beachfront, but the significance and comfort it brings me is now replaced by the same feelings I have from my friends. Each offers me something unique, yet all help me see the good when it’s all going bad. Campaigns to raise awareness and fight institutionalised stigma are all well and good, and needed, but just sometimes all that we need more, all that I needed more, was a simple gesture; a hug from friend, to be told it will be ok and that I’m still loved because sometimes it is these simple gestures of unconditional love that are the most powerful and poignant gifts we can offer one another, to make us realise that in the end we are all still human, that life is still worth living and that we do not have to be alone.

We as a community are, at times, our own worst enemy. We scream and shout for acceptance and equality, yet we continue to segregate ourselves off into our self styled ‘ghetto’ in some desperate attempt to save our unique identity. But is this ‘identity’ even worth saving? On the surface it all looks good – nice bars, clubs, restaurants, galleries and parks – being gay has never been or looked better, and we remind ourselves and those around us about how proud we are with annual Pride festivals… even if the actual point and purpose of Pride for the majority is lost in pursuit of the party. But when you start to dig at the surface you uncover a community at complete odds with itself, deep in self-loathing, envy, petty jealousy and needless backstabbing and discrimination. For a community that has been at the blunt end of discrimination for so long and still is, you would assume we would know better than this and by automatic virtue treat one another with the same level of acceptance and equality we seek from society at large. But we don’t. Instead we seem more content to marginalise the community into neat little sub-genres, ensuring we now alienate ourselves further and further from one another. Now, throw into the mix something that doesn’t care about the genres and sub-genres we choose to create – something that has a long and mixed history with the community. For such a small community to be affected so significantly by a virus you would have thought that maybe, just maybe, this would somehow bring the community together – joined in a common purpose and goal – and we’d be drumming home the message of awareness as a solid unified community. Wouldn’t you? Not anymore. Whilst initial reaction did galvanise the community to some degree, that sense of solidarity much like the seriousness of the virus itself, on the surface, seems to have soon been forgotten. Whilst the ignorance to the subject demonstrated by society at large saddens me, the ignorance displayed by some from within the community itself terrifies me.

For most, not all, HIV still equals AIDS, which still equals death. Even more alarming, a lot of people still do not know the difference between the two. Some people will remember the ‘Don’t die of ignorance. Don’t die of AIDS!’ slogan from the late 80’s which was the government of the times’ attempt at addressing the issue by way of a national campaign to raise awareness. It didn’t quite work that way. This was the age of Thatcher after all, a time when Section 28 of the Education Act was a key piece of legislation so with the sudden epidemic of a virus that some dubbed the ‘gay plague’; I remain unsurprised by the approach the government took in light of their stance on homosexuality. But the problem as I see it is that ever since this colossal fuck-up that was a campaign, no one has really touched the issue on a national level.

This is not to say the issue of HIV has never been addressed anywhere else. Never let a soap opera not see an opportunity for a story line after all. To some degree I can’t call them for the fact they addressed the issue by introducing HIV characters; which again helped raise awareness. But, you just knew, when Todd Carty decided enough was enough, that the character of Mark would surely die of AIDS. We all knew this the minute his character confirmed his status. HIV characters have appeared elsewhere. And refreshingly not always gay characters either.

But TV is not the only place HIV awareness has been alive and kicking. The world of fashion often supports HIV foundations, and United Colours of Benetton went one step further. My belief has always been that if you have a message to make, make it, and make sure people remember it. United Colours of Benetton attempted just that. In February 1992 Benetton’s method of communication changed radically, using a photo of David Kirby in his hospital room with his family at his bedside taken by Therese Frare. In November 1990 this image had already appeared in Life magazine as a black and white press photo and had already won the 1991 World Press Photo Award, however Benetton’s use of the same image as part of its advertising was what brought it to the attention of the world’s media and made people start talking about AIDS again. I understand the power an image has and how at times we need it, just like they needed it – the world needed to wake up, and for a small time it did. Yet they, we, soon forgot the message. But it worked, for a small period of time it worked where the Tory campaign in the 80’s had failed so miserably because it achieved what the national campaign never even came remotely close to doing. It gave the virus a human face. It gave us David and his family and for a time it made us think. And for that moment David was me, and he was you. He was my parents, my family and my friends. He was all of us. It made you think; me think, in ways a tombstone and an iceberg simply cannot. It made you think of those close to you. It made you thankful that David and his family were not you, but it also made you look past the ‘catch phrases’, the virus and made you look at the person and think, what if?

I noticed that all political parties rushed to actively speak out about raising awareness on the 1st December – World AIDS Day – but one must ask, where are the national government initiatives and campaigns if they are that keen on raising awareness? I’ve already made my views felt about the misguided knee-jerk approach taken by the Tory party on raising awareness in the past and the fact we’re still, rather ironically, fighting the stigma that this campaign helped to generate. But should mistakes made by others in the past be allowed to continually haunt us? Should we not look at this as a warning of what can happen when subjects are approached in an insensitive sterile manner, where the facts and information are ignored for the sake of putting the fear of God into us, making us give in to paranoia instead of listening to the rational thoughts our brains are telling us? We see it everywhere, the power of paranoia. We’ve gone to war on the strength of it.

I’m also aware of various online initiatives – the Internet is a powerful tool – but is this really enough and with the rate of new diagnoses still worryingly high one has to ask the question, is enough still being done? The answer has to be an overwhelming no. I was aware it was World AIDS Day mainly because that day has more meaning to me now than ever before, but also due to my own level of awareness coupled with knowledge of groups on Facebook of all places. But away from Facebook and the Internet, I did not see or hear much mention of it. The number of Red Ribbons I saw was depressingly low as well.

I’ve discussed the significance of the Red Ribbon with friends, both positive and negative and all seem to agree on one thing: the importance of the message it symbolises has been lost, due in part to the fact that some people disturbingly are not aware of what it means, or sadly, simply do not care because it doesn’t affect them and look down on those with whom it does affect with contempt. Yet, on a personal note, it was a very touching and heart warming feeling to log onto Facebook and see how many of my ‘friends’ had changed their profile pictures, and from those I noticed more then three quarters had added the red ribbon; almost all of them were friends who are aware of my status. Coincidental or not it still touched me, but the bitter side of this pill was that this was still a small handful out of a few hundred friends, which I feel is sadly very telling of the problem at hand.

Ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds stigma. Raising awareness only goes so far in rectifying the situation. Education and accessible, straightforward information is paramount. When I attended a local HIV charity soon after my diagnosis for simple basic advice and assistance, I was taken aback by just how much information on the subject was available; I felt the same with the GUM clinic. But why is this information not out there and far more accessible already? I’m not ignorant, yet besides the collection boxes that become ever more apparent the closer we get to Pride weekend and World AIDS day, for the most part, there is no mention of it. The ribbons are soon taken off, put away till next December and the day itself, the 1st December, is then only remembered as a point to start the countdown to Christmas from.

So yes, sadly I feel our community still has a lot to learn about what it means to be living with HIV today. It may not be the gruesome reality it was 25 years ago, but nor is it a walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon. Still today, for many awareness of what living with HIV really means is largely shrouded in blissful ignorance, because the unpleasant realities have been airbrushed from HIV campaigns for years now, replaced with a message of it no longer being a death sentence, the medications do work. Half-messages lulling some into a false sense of security and with no government showing a keen interest on initiating a national campaign of productive awareness – past the scripted ‘sound-bites’ designed to display false empathy – to work alongside the good work that is being done by organisations and individuals; I don’t see this situation changing anytime soon. Within all the silence and mixed-messages, society has forgotten the real dangers, blinded by complacency whilst becoming more concerned over trivial matters of celebrity, and what they wore at the weekend, rather than the real issues of the day. I feel it really will take a celebrity coming out as being HIV positive before the majority in this country sits up, pays attention and takes note.

We seem to live in an age where everybody wants to change the world, but just do not want to change with it – the comforts of denial and ignorance are far more alluring. After all, it is something that you always hear affects others? So whilst ignorance is rife amongst the meek, the invisible army will remain just that and awareness will only ever reach those for whom it is already sadly too late. Bombs will always fall and fall, yet the world still goes on and we soon learn to forget the lessons learnt and the reasons why. HIV may be considered manageable, at a price, but I’d sooner not have to manage it, I’d sooner not have it at all. The knowledge that the drugs do work does nothing to reassure me or help make me accept my situation better, and nor should it you.

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.

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?

I am known for having wonderfully random ideas now and then; some I see through, some I don’t.

I’ve always enjoyed reading blogs by others. I don’t know why I’m fascinated at the similarities I have with people I will probably never know or meet. I guess reading about the experiences of others and the fact that some people can relate and take comfort from it is the main driving point. It is a strange notion I guess. I’m sure there are therapeutic qualities to it all.

One thing I am good at it is rambling on. So this is an aspect of my so called life; sort of.

I’m a friendly, open-minded, honest 30-something who tends to treat people how I would like to be treated in return.  I can be somewhat indecisive and hate being asked to make decisions, but this could be the Gemini in me? I have a million and one things going through my head, however struggle at times to just say one thing.

I’m a natural born worrier. I thank my mother for this genetic gift. I’ll worry about things even when there is no real need to worry. People often comment that I don’t shut up (in a nice way!), but when I do they soon start to worry whether I’m okay. I found that in August 2009 I didn’t speak for a very long time. Some people noticed that for a small period of time I just shut down and shut myself off. Tried to disappear completely. I guess whatever works really.

I can laugh for hours at nothing, have a current love for 80’s pop music and tend to daydream in law class. I have an unhealthy addiction to sun-dried tomatoes and chocolate cheesecake equally, but not at the same time. I adore the sunshine and can think of nothing better than spending days lounging around in it, but don’t take well to sitting out drinking in it.

I originally trained as a Graphic Artist, but soon after discovered the dynamics around study and work are not really the same thing. I have a bit of an ‘artistic temperament’. I love discussing the ‘arts’, however not with an employer who insists Red should be seen with Green, regardless of what the rhyme warns us. Law is certainly different. It fulfils my need for a world that operates in Black and White. Grey is good; I love wearing it, I just don’t like it when my life falls into it.

I can be clumsy at times and have the attention span of a 5-year old. Ill-mannered people seriously annoy me as do people who think splashing a canvas with paint is ‘art’ and chavs, but that goes without saying really.

I’ve recently started to suffer two day hangovers but I’m not sure if this is just a sign of old age or the fact HIV is doing a good job of ensuring I suffer for as long as I possibly can. I am just about coming to terms with the prospect of growing old and realise it is inevitable; one day I will probably swap socialising at the latest bar for the bingo halls drinking G&Ts with friends who smell of must and no longer possess all of their own original limbs… but for now, I hang out with friends where thankfully only one of the above applies.

I always find it funny how people go on about hating being pigeonholed, but then go on and proceed to play up to even the most obvious of stereotypes. I love fashion, shopping and socialising. Sadly, bar ‘Confide In Me’, I can confirm I have no overwhelming desire to start worshiping Kylie as the icon she is. However when I see her in Berlin next year she better be no less than fabulous.

It’s now just over 12 months on and my counts are still good. I have become more and more aware of the impact it’s having on me as time goes by. I find myself exhausted a hell of a lot of the time, to the point I sometimes struggle to spend a whole day awake without an overwhelming need to sleep. At first I put this down to me being lazy, very lazy but it has gradually started to get worse. My consultant is of the opinion it is nothing I really need to worry about.  I do worry a lot about what impact meds will have on me. Weird I guess, as I don’t think I’m scared at the prospect of starting meds; it is now as inevitable a part of my life just as much as it is inevitable that the sun will set and the moon will rise. I think I’ve managed to come to terms more with the diagnosis quickly because the prospect of meds was not immediate.

I love spending days people watching whilst wondering what they are thinking about and wondering whether they know just by looking at me. Well, when the weather lends itself for such activities. I always wanted to play the piano. I used to play the flute and violin and can shatter eardrums with my vocal range. Being let down irritates me. Yet when I look at life retrospectively I always seem to, for the most part, surround myself with people who do nothing but that. Not everyone. I guess the saying is true; when the shit does hit the fan you know who your true friends really are. And I do have some wonderful friends.

It is strange how being told you have an incurable, but manageable illness makes you look at things differently. Nothing really can ever prepare you for being told that you now have something that you always hear about affecting others. Telling my parents I was HIV was difficult but necessary. Telling my close friends was also hard. I ‘came out’ very young and figured I’d never have to do anything like that ever again.

I’ve never been one of those who can bottle things up, at least not for long. I’m artistic. I have emotions and I show them, no matter how hard I try not to. I find myself being as concerned by people who are constantly depressed as I am by people who are constantly happy. I’m quite contradictory at times and prone to going off on a tangent, which sometimes leads to what I’m saying appearing chaotic but usually makes perfect sense – I hope?

It is a strange feeling to look back at a year and be able to say that this is/was the first 12 months of the rest of my life. How I took things for granted before and assumed, to some degree, I was untouchable. HIV has changed me, I acknowledge this, whether I wish to accept that or not yet is debatable. I’ve become more aware of my body, how it works and when it is not working how it used too. I’m aware that my mother, regardless of the reassurances she gives me, worries more now than she ever has and I hate the fact I’m powerless to change this. My mother tries to dismiss it and just says that this is what mothers do, but I know this isn’t the case. I know people will view me differently, judge me purely on the basis of a virus I happen to have, regardless of whether they like me for being me. It hasn’t happened yet, but it is merely a matter of time. I seem to discover new ways in which the virus affects me, not only physically or mentally. I guess what doesn’t kill you eventually makes you stronger. I do feel stronger, mentally, now that the world has started to slow down. I’ve come a long way in 12 months. That initial isolating feeling of being so alone is no longer there. I’ve started to open up more to people close to me – friends, true friends – letting them in instead of keeping them at arm’s length. It is just the beginning but it’s a start. I’m in no rush. I have the rest of my life in front of me.