Being involved within the HIV/AIDS community, each time I spend time with friends and colleagues who are long-term survivors, I always take a few moments to reflect and be thankful that I didn’t have to go through what they had to endure.
So much has changed since the start of the epidemic, and although life is not perfect for anyone living with HIV, it’s pretty darn close to normal. Even in the almost six years since my diagnosis, I've seen a vast majority of improvements with regards to treatment options and way of life. But for a segment of the current generation that is negative, the realities of what it’s like to be HIV+ hasn’t sunk into a degree where they are at all frightened by a positive diagnosis.
Even with all the advancements and varying levels of improvement within the general public’s perception and views on HIV, being HIV+, although manageable, is still not as simple as taking a pill once a day. The realities that are attached to being HIV+ are of course individual, but many, including myself, still struggle with a variety of issues surrounding our diagnosis.
The stigma surrounding HIV has unfortunately not vanished from existence and is very real and present for most of us. What we have seen in more recent years are more social campaigns aimed to fight against the stigma that is attached to being HIV+.
The harsh truth is that anyone who is open about their HIV+ status will at some point in their lives endure some shaming. It’s as easy as being asked how you got your HIV. There isn’t a correct answer to this question as any answer given can and most likely will be associated with something negative. Whether it was unsafe sex, drug use or even not knowing how you became positive, every answer could be quickly and easily related to having had done something that is viewed as 'bad'.
And what about dating? Disclosure to anyone, especially a potential sex partner is and will most likely always be the hardest aspect to deal with.
As a gay man, personally, it’s like coming out for a second time, over and over and over again. With time, one builds up more of a thick skin, mainly because if we didn’t, after each disclosure, we would hurt more and more inside to the point of no return. For those of us like myself who are publicly open about our statuses, might not be affected as much by the harshness of the disclosure process, but when that moment does arise to disclose, it’s very much still a mental anguish that I struggle with.
The mental realities of dealing with an HIV diagnosis are the ones that most don’t talk about. It’s easy to stay healthy and be proactive about taking care of your body, all while living your normal daily life, but when it comes down to it, all of us who are HIV+ have those silent moments with ourselves that remind us of how we feel inside about our status.
I am not ashamed of being HIV+, and actually, I have embraced it and moved forward with my life. But, regardless of all of that, I still hurt at times. Why shouldn’t I? This is my personal struggle, which I freely admit, and what can be labelled as a 'grieving process' that will most likely be on-going throughout my lifetime.
With so many advancements in antiretroviral medication, the majority of HIV cases can now be treated as a chronic illness and without too much hassle to the medication taker.
However, some people do face side-effects to the medication and what we still don’t know what will be the long-term effects of these newer antiretroviral drugs some of us are taking on a daily basis. The pills that are keeping us alive could be having some negative impact to our insides, and only time will tell just what those will be. This concern, as well as others, is why some of us who are HIV+ will never actually reach peace of mind when it comes to our diagnosis.
So what truly are the realities of living with HIV? We can now live a mostly normal life if we keep healthy, stay on a medication regime and maintain an undetectable viral load. Medication options are abundant, and anyone who is diagnosed and who has access to treatment can find the best solution for their personal care plan.
The mental anguish that goes hand in hand with being HIV+ is a very real thing. Ignorance and lack of education still have people pointing fingers and shaming you. Disclosing a positive status is and will continue to be one of the hardest things anyone with HIV will have to do. We’ve come a very long way in three decades, but it’s not over yet. The realities of HIV are very real and shouldn’t be discredited due to a less volatile situation that is presented in front of us. It might not suck as hard, but it still sucks.
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