He sat me down in the cold room, looked at me, before letting out a sigh and said: “You do know what this is for right?”
And at the back of my mind, something in me knew did not want to hear the answer, yet I knew I was resigned to my fate.
"You’ve tested positive."
Hi, my name is Juan (not my real name); I am turning 22 this year, and this is my story.
Just barely two months ago, the term HIV didn’t strike me as something personal. To me, it felt like, “something someone else would get, and I wouldn’t get it.” I guess it’s the feeling of being young, of feeling invincible.
But all that soon changed.
It was the routine pre-ORD check all full-time national servicemen need to go through. One of the tests done was the HIV blood test. Now being the clueless kid I was, I didn’t know what the blood test entailed. I had heard rumors of it being a HIV check; some said it was a check for other ailments. Nonetheless I underwent the check, thinking, of course, nothing would go wrong in this minor formality.
Then came the phone call on afternoon. “The MO needs to see you urgently.”
At the point in time, I didn’t know what to think. Perhaps something was wrong with me, or perhaps they lost my blood sample.
Or perhaps I had HIV.
The day came for me to receive the news at the medical centre. I was worried as anything, and when it came to me, it hit me like a truck at full-speed. I just fell silent, and sighed.
What I felt was strange on the day was how I didn’t want to think about how I got it, but rather, what should go on from this juncture.
Then came the dilemma of disclosure which buzzed in my head for the whole period of time I was at the medical centre. I didn’t know if I should disclose my status to my Mother, who was my only other family member (Dad left when I was really young). It ached me to think about the hurt I would cause by telling Mother.
But it was something the MO (Medical Officer) said that made me take the next step.
"I would tell her, because she is my only source of strength."
That night came disclosure and a lot of hurt. I wound up telling my mom about everything, and instead of tears and all, she turned out to be surprisingly stoic about it. I was the extreme opposite - a blubbering mess of tears and emotions.
What she did say the next morning made me feel even sadder though. "I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t do anything in the night," she said.
I guess by telling her about my HIV did hurt her (after all to see your only child go through this and face stigma will be painful), but I am glad I told her because I would implode if I didn’t. I felt better after discloing because I didn’t need to feel like I was hiding things. She did tell me her greatest fear for me after knowing was not so much my health, but for my future, because I guess she knows the stigma and hurdles PLHIV need to go through.
Things got better (they always do I believe) after my initial visit to CDC (Communicable Diseases Centre), where the doctors and medical social workers reassured my Mom that everything would be fine.
I guess she really heaved a sigh of relief when she knew my initial CD4 count was above average - 513. :) It also helped that I did not need to start on medications this time around, although my doctor has been egging me on to get started.
Apart from my Mom, I have two other friends who know about this. The first is a close male friend, also gay, who stayed by me throughout the period of time I was awaiting my test results in camp. He was the first friend to know of my diagnosis, and I was genuinely touched by his concern.
The second is my best gall, who I came out to in Polytechnic. It was weird disclosing to her, because by then, I had undergone sessions at CDC, and my life was slowly regaining its normality. But I guess because she was the first person I really came out to, so I felt compelled to let her know, as a friend. She was shocked to know, because like me, she thought we were infallible; we were indestructible. I’m glad I told her, because now we talk more openly, like how we used to.
Looking back on my journey with HIV, I would have to say that I am blessed to have a relatively fuss-free path. That’s not to say that my path has been smooth though. I am thankful for the support from my mom and my two close friends. That, and the new HIV positive friends I made at one support group session. I think it’s good to know that there are people who are just like you - young, with goals and dreams - who are with HIV too. It’s interesting to see how people cope differently, and definitely I am learning about coping with medication from them, when the time for me to start my medications comes.
I think one important mantra to adopt when you discover you are diagnosed with HIV is to not take the reproachful approach, but rather, take the proactive approach. I feel that one should not question the “why?” (as in “Why did I end up with this?” and so on) but rather question the “What’s next?”. For me, taking this approach made me re-assess my goals (I gave up and withdrew from an award I fought hard for) and made me sit up and take stock of what I want to do.
I think being forward looking helps. It is no point harping on who might have infected you, or why you got this - one needs to take control of life from this point on. Someone in my support group said that, “This is a new chapter of your life; you need to write the chapters of your life.”
For those that worry about disclosure to their parents, I urge them to reconsider. I disclosed because I know our relationship, and the fact we draw strength form one another. It also pays to remember one line my mom told me after disclosing to her, “No matter what happens, you are still my son, and I will journey with you on this road.” It is a bittersweet line that is exceptionally poignant, and it is worth recalling for those who worry about repercussions.
Also, it is worth remembering that not everyone needs to know about your status. Share it with those who need to know, and those who really care. Granted, sometimes relationships may falter, but those that stay on will only emerge stronger. :)
For those that worry about the future too much like I do sometimes, sometimes it’s okay to just stop and take in the now, and be thankful for the things you have. The feeling of being thankful helps one to move along in life. If you fear things, and if you fear your illness, this can only mean that the illness has won half the battle. Remember, you have not fallen down and you will be the person you always are.
You must also remember that you are not alone in this, and if you need help, help is always available! (I can help listen too, if you want!)
And so my journey with HIV has only just begun; I know that this will be a long journey, lasting my whole life. It won’t be smooth, neither do I hope it be very rocky., but this is what is willed to me. :)
Like the saying goes - “This is the new normal.”
To many great things in life,