I sat down with a 25-year-old pursuing his Master’s degree, who was recently diagnosed as HIV-positive. Choosing to remain anonymous, he’s decided to share his story with others who may be afraid to get tested, “I should’ve protected myself, but I want to give the person who infected me the benefit of the doubt that they did not know their status.”
How did you find out you were diagnosed? In July 2016, I applied for life insurance, which requires a mouth swab test for cocaine and HIV. My test came back as abnormal, and that’s when I started to become nervous about having the virus, being that I have never used cocaine. I was diagnosed with HIV shortly after recognizing how large my lymph nodes in my neck had increased in size. After researching a bit online, I thought it’d be a good idea to get an HIV test. This is exactly one year after I believe I contracted the virus.
In what ways has your life changed? For me, taking medication daily is the only major change in my life since being diagnosed. When I was originally diagnosed I became depressed, and the first few months of knowing I had the virus was tough. But I took it one day/pill at a time, and that’s all you can do.
Tell me more about the pill. I have to take one blue pill a day, with food. It’s called Stribild. I personally haven’t had any bad side effects or symptoms. It is also important to note that I compete in athletics and exercise at an advanced level 3-5 days a week to keep my fat and sugars at a reasonable level, and to encourage my immune system to get better, or just not get worse. With that being said, my immune system is functioning at a healthy and normal rate.
Have you been sexually active since being diagnosed? No. I told myself that I would not become sexually active until my viral load was determined to be undetectable. I became officially undetectable in March 2017.
What is the biggest take away you want readers to know who’s thinking “I’ll never be HIV positive”? Protect yourself, use condoms. It’s that simple. People that you engage in sexual encounters with may or may not know their status. Get tested, know your status. That doesn’t mean you have to shout it out to the world, but it is important to know. When speaking with others, most haven’t gotten tested because they are scared to know. Don’t be scared, be courageous. Having HIV doesn’t mean death or the end of the world. As long as I continue to take my medication, nothing else really changes. It’s all about having a positive outlook on the situation and trying to find support because that’s important too. Support can come from anyone. Your doctors/nurses, family, friends, or whoever you feel comfortable with. The stigma is the biggest thing that accompanies HIV. Education is key. We all need to work to eliminate this.