My journey with HIV

Michael shares his story from HIV diagnosis to becoming undetectable.

I will never forget the morning of the 4th July 2016. The day I received my little silver package in the post. Little did I know then that this little package would be one of the most important deliveries of my life, as in this little package was an HIV home test kit.

I was more intrigued to know how the kit worked than I was worried about the results. I am safe, so I had nothing to worry about. I was doing the test to tick it off my to-do list.

The test was relatively simple to do - just a prick of the finger, suck up some blood and wait for the 15 minutes for results. Instant results in my case. In a blink of an eye my life changed forever. My test returned a positive result. I was staring at two solid lines and they were as clear as day.

In that instant I froze. I wanted to throw the test away and put it down to a false result. It had to be a false result because I could not have HIV. I just stood looking at the results with disbelief, checking the box for it to say it is not accurate and false results happen, but instead my eyes focused in on 99.7% accuracy. I knew I had to have the results confirmed, I had to know it was a mistake. I went into auto-pilot and before I knew it I was in my doctors, crying at the receptionist that I needed to see the GP. He checked it was an approved test and then he was a little lost as to how to help. The best he could do was to tell me to go to the Sandyford centre where I could get a full STI screening and express HIV test.

The day of my results came and I was adamant I was going it alone, but I caved and asked my sister to come along with me for support. When I was called the guy asked if I was sure I wanted her to come in with me, right then I knew I was not going to be hearing good news. I had barely sat on the chair and I could hear the guy say “so we have your results back and it is a positive result.” My head sank and my world collapsed around me. I was numb, angry and lost.

So I knew then I was HIV positive, but I was going to have to wait for an appointment with a specialist doctor for my full diagnosis. The journey was just beginning.

On the way home I made up my mind that I was going to tell everyone straight away.

My mum was the first, and it broke my heart to tell her. As expected she broke down in tears, but kept reassuring me that everything would be ok. She tried to give me a cuddle but I wouldn’t let her near me. I didn’t want anyone to touch me, not even my own mum

I then started to do the rounds of my family. I was expecting anger, to be rejected and really to lose each and everyone one of them. But instead I was given cuddles, reassurance and told “We still love you” “Stay strong”.

I began to do research on HIV and AIDS and discovered a lot of scary stuff - I now know not to always trust Google. But just as all hope was fading I discovered this magic word “undetectable”. The light at the end of what felt like a very dark tunnel. This changed my entire outlook; I was no longer looking at death but life. I could take medication that would almost halt HIV in its path and stop me from passing it on.

It took a couple of more weeks, but finally the day came when I had an appointment to find out the details of my diagnosis and course of treatment. I choose to start medication straight away. I wasn’t going to give the virus the chance to develop, but most importantly I knew that if I took the medication then it would stop me from passing it on. I remember taking that first pill knowing just how much power a little table held.

Within a couple of weeks having taken my one table each day my doctor presented me with my results - “not detectable”. It was like he was handing me my life back. I got a copy of the results and went straight to my sister’s house to show her. I’ll never forget the smile on her face. In that moment we both realised that everything is going to be ok. The meds were working and I can have my life back. For weeks I had avoided being near my nephews and niece, but that evening I gave then a massive cuddle and we all rolled around the carpet play wrestling. For the first time in weeks I felt a weight lift.

When I began working again I was expecting to be stigmatised, for them to avoid me as soon as they found out about my status. But to my shock and delight when I told my colleagues they gave their full support. I explained all about my medication and how it means I cannot pass on the virus. Every time I tell people I see that look in their eyes, but it wasn’t ‘aww you have HIV’, it was a look of surprise and shock and confusion. HIV quickly becomes a side issue, people are just amazed about the idea undetectable. It’s something they’ve never heard.

People keep telling me that being open about my HIV status is brave. But by choosing to be open and honest I am raising awareness and educating people about HIV. People mostly are and or become accepting. It’s just the unknown that is feared.

Life does go on after the diagnosis. I am finding myself getting back to a happy place. I have family and friends around me who offer their support and love. Slowly I am starting to get my old self back, although I am still coming to terms with my own diagnosis, and what come with it.

HIV is life changing but it doesn’t have to be and should not be a life sentence.