After marking HIV Testing Week last week today is World AIDS Day. I found out that I was HIV positive in 2010, when I was 24 years old. World AIDS Day is an emotional time of year for me. It is a time of hope, but also of remembrance.
The year after my HIV diagnosis, I was seconded to my employer’s NYC office, a time of great excitement. I noted the one-year anniversary of my HIV diagnosis in my diary. I referred to it cryptically, not specifying the occasion. I was worried in case I lost my diary and someone found out that I was HIV positive, or in case it fell open on that page and a colleague guessed.
My mum wanted to take me out for dinner in February 2011, before I flew to NYC. I had seen my HIV and Hep C specialist the previous day. He said that it was ok for me to go to NYC. We had a long conversation about how my life should never be limited by my HIV status. Because of my Hep C, I had four appointments a year with my specialist, rather than the usual six-monthly HIV check up. He said that it was no problem for me to spend six months in the USA, as I was so healthy. There was no possibility of my developing any health complications related to my HIV whilst I was abroad.
I ran my hand over the soft fabric of the seat, savouring its texture. My right leg was comfortably crossed over my knee, the white table cloth curving over my thigh. A pleasing diagonal fold ran up the centre of the table. The starched linen felt like canvas. I was relaxed. I had a steak, as well as side portions of spinach and green beans. My mum was enjoying her salmon. My mum has a slight appetite. I love eating out with her because I normally get to eat half her food. My mum was having a glass of wine. I was not drinking anything at all then, on account of my Hep C. My mum, of course, knew about neither my HIV or Hep C at this time. I had explained my sudden decision to stop drinking alcohol by saying that I was on a detox. The lie slipped from the tip of my tongue. I had then “enjoyed” my detox so much, that I decided to continue with it. My mum believed this and said that I had even inspired her to go on a detox. I do not like lying. I did not feel guilt about not telling my mum the truth about my HIV and Hep C. I was hurt emotionally about my HIV. I was trying to come to terms with it myself and at this stage I did not feel comfortable sharing my HIV status with my mum. I was wounded. I was entrenched. I felt that I could deal with the pain on these terms. My terms. I had some sort of control around it. At least I could control who I disclosed my status to. I had my own boundaries and I had to be really comfortable before I was able to push these. I was scared the fear would otherwise ricochet outwards. And potentially overwhelm me.
Seventeen per cent of the 100,000 plus people living with HIV are unaware of their HIV status. Two-fifths are diagnosed late, after they should have started medication, resulting in potential health complications. I was diagnosed early, testing approximately twice a year in the years preceding my diagnosis. Early diagnosis and adhering to the medical regime determined by my doctor has ensured my health. This HIV Testing Week, gay or straight, know your HIV status. Get tested!
It took me a number of years to come to terms with my HIV diagnosis. I am now an LGBT and HIV awareness activist, having left my career as a lawyer at the beginning of last year. It was a while before I was confident enough to tell my employer that I was HIV positive, although they were ultimately supportive. My parents were amongst the last people I told about my HIV status. It was hardest to tell the people I loved the most. I told my mum in 2012 and my father shortly after. My HIV is not something which defines who I am, but it has allowed me to grow into the person I am today. I have evolved from being a terrified patient to being the empowered POSITIVE young man I am today. World AIDS Day is about celebrating people living with HIV. HIV positive people need your support! Let us also remember the 25,000 people who have died of AIDS in the UK and the millions who have died of AIDS globally. On 1 December wear your ribbon with pride!
Follow Philip: @philipcbaldwin