I have been HIV positive for 17 years after an unprotected casual sexual encounter when I as 24 years of age and had been sexually active for less than a year. At the time I was devastated and scared and did not know anything about HIV. I lived in a regional area and was disconnected from anyone in the LGBTI community. When I was diagnosed it literally felt like a kick in the guts. I was fortunate to receive the love and support from my family. I also lived close to a local sexual health clinic and was able to access the medical and support services that were available there.
At that time, I was advised not to worry about commencing treatment until my CD4 count fell below a certain amount. For several years I had great CD4 counts after the initial seroconversion and I attribute this to probably having inherited good genes. In my early twenties I was attracted to Buddhist philosophy and meditation. This interest led me to travel for a while around India, Nepal and Tibet backpacking alone and staying for retreats in monastery’s soaking up the culture. Although I didn’t realise it at the time I was able to draw on these experiences later in life in order to make sense of my predicament and remain fairly optimist and grounded after my diagnosis.
I commenced treatment 6 years ago after a period of uncertainty of what to expect. The medication was not has disruptive as I anticipated and in a short period of time my viral load became undetectable.
I have only taken a treatment holiday once after a three year relationship ended that resulted in my life spiralling out of control. I was alone and hurt and used drugs to cope with my pain. But after six months I recommenced treatment and have learnt to take my health and wellbeing seriously. I am still undetectable and have recently started a new HIV medication that is easy to take and easier to access from my community pharmacy.
I would strongly recommend to anyone newly diagnosed or taking a break from treatment that there is no reason to be concerned about the current regimen of medication. Looking back now, I believe that starting treatment at the onset of diagnosis is a huge step in treating HIV; and with the current medications I feel it’s a positive and healthy step in stopping the onset of the virus into a chronic illness.
I would like to let anyone considering taking HIV medication that life does go on. I look back at my journey and realise that the only thing causing my grief was my thoughts and feelings. There is no reason to be fearful or scared. Embrace and accept every aspect of who you are. Be grateful for the sacrifice and courage of those who have come on this journey before us. They have paid a large price for us and there have been people who still suffer from the mental anguish of losing loved ones and from taking treatments that have resulted in more harm than good. Every obstacle and challenge is a wonderful opportunity for growth. I have learnt to accept my HIV and am grateful that it was made me a stronger person who doesn’t waste any chance to love and be loved.