When I was first diagnosed early September in 2007 I was 21. I was petrified of medication as my best friend was on medication and I watched him struggle with side effects which would make him house bound due to the unpredictable nature of what he was going through.
I was diagnosed whilst on PEP. The first and only time I had taken some responsibility for my impulsive sexual behaviour and I got the call back and the news hit me rather dramatically.
At the time I had been seeing an amazing doctor who was practising at a great clinic. Due to the shame around my dishonesty I would not see him again for at least 12 months. Being on PEP was a scary experience because nobody knew, I was alone and did not have the capacity to ask for help or even research what could be happening to my body. Once I got the diagnosis I stopped taking it and retreated into my internal man cave.
When I was 22 years old I was introduced to an amazing naturopath who specialised in HEPC and HIV treatments. I think I was actually some hippy tangent at the time and that is why I was drawn to his practise. I had heard that once I start medication I will not be able to stop, this was a scary though. I had also heard from people that if I do go off the medication the HIV will develop an immunity to all drugs and then I will get sick and die. (That’s how the message from what people were telling me was being translated internally anyway) So for the next 2.5 years I would take a range of naturopathic medicines which included; Clear Heat, astragals, vitamins, Olive leaf, Omega 3 and probiotics throughout the day. I was taking 20 plus tablets a day and my health was great. I was advised by my naturopath my CD4 will stabilise but my viral load may spike over time. I was fine with what he was saying to me because I trusted him and I believed what he was telling me because he was a professional in his field. Taking this regime was incredibly important to me, this was the first time I took ownership of my health, with succumbing to fear based peer-pressure.
Once I got over the initial shame of my diagnoses and was able to go back to my doctor with some positive news and action in relation to my dishonesty over the years I was able to get more of an understanding of how the medications worked and what it all meant. My CD4 was stable at over 1000 but my viral load started to get rather heavy getting upwards of 100,000. Which instilled a little bit of fear because even though I had a healthy immune system, I myself being a sexually active and adventurous young man was very infectious.
Being highly infectious scared me. Not only was my internal dialogue full of self-anger and shamed based statements, I was putting the circles I was mixing in at risk. The thought of infecting someone else sickens me, yes it is not a death sentence but there is definitely a loss in sexual freedom to a degree if you decide to live honestly with HIV.
When this was all happening there was the “new black” in terms of medication it was all the buzz, people were saying it was the future of HIV treatments so I started asking my friends who were rather older than me and had a harsh opinion of what I was doing with the herbs and slandered it as voodoo and a mark of disrespect towards myself. I believed the opinions of uneducated people around me. I see now how they were coming from a place of fear and projected that same fear onto any baby gay who was going through this process. My specialist advised me that this new drug could unearth underlying mental health issues and that it wasn’t the best choice for me. One pill a day was the selling point so without really thinking about it and deciding to run with my friends advice and not my HIV specialists’ professional opinion I went in with swagger and asked for a script.
I can still remember getting the little book of firsts from the Sexual Health Centre in Carlton and read something about the first man on the moon and thought wow…. this has to be fabulous!! Not researching, not having the ability to reach out when needed and also not living the healthiest of lifestyle’s I ended up making this experience rather a horrible one. I felt alone, was consistently sitting in shame, I didn’t have the ability to reach out. So I was alone with side-affects, identifying souly, in dark moments, as the boy with HIV.
Crawling out of that space was difficult. I ended up feeling very unhealthy again so I went back to my naturopath for assistance and then I went back to see my specialist who recommended a combination therapy. He then went on to explain to me that because I have had mental health issues in the past that it was not the ideal medication for me after all. If only I had of listened!
Once I started my new combination I anticipated some side effects and I didn’t get any. Sometimes I was constipated if I did not drink enough water throughout the day. I was undetectable within 6 months and I felt happy, proud and I had my power back because I did as was suggested and got professional advice.
Over the past four years while being on this combination there have been periods when I have wanted to stop continuing with my medication because I felt great. Luckily I have great friends who are healthy minded and ask the right question and even give me a loving slap and ask me: “Why would you do that when your health is going from strength to strength?” Seriously all I had to do to remain in this space was adhere to my medication regime, develop a healthier lifestyle and keep active. I also started noticing that certain types of vitamins were making me feel unwell with my meds so I started doing research regarding whole food vitamin supplements and over the counter synthetic vitamins. It is amazing what I came across and so I decided to change to a whole food vitamin supplement to compliment my HIV treatment and since I made that change my CD4 have gone from a good 500+ to an outstanding 950+.
My medication regime is about self-respect. I engage with professionals and seek support from those I trust. I take my medication to give myself the healthiest chance to live fully and to take my power back to suppress the little bug I have in my blood called HIV.