In 2009, I signed up to give blood at my company’s blood drive. I gave my donation on my lunch break and went back to work. A few weeks later, I received a phone call from a woman who asked if I could come to her office.
When I arrived, unsure as to why I was there, they told me my blood had been tested for HIV antibodies as part of their protocol. The blood I donated contained those antibodies, making me HIV positive.
I sat in silence for what seemed like a lifetime. They handed me a pamphlet and told me it’d answer any questions I may have, and if I needed to talk to someone, I could call the number on the back. I left the building and drove home.
It has now been over 10 years since that day, and I’ve learned a lot since then, especially in the first year after my diagnosis. Here are five things I’ve learned about living with HIV.
1. Support is necessary
I’d just been given some life-changing news and had no one to talk to about next steps. Sure, I had a pamphlet with a bunch of information, but there was no one who’d gone through this situation before to support me and help me navigate my life after this diagnosis.
This experience taught me that if I was going to live the rest of my life with this virus, I had to do my own research. After all, it’s my life. I had to find out information about care, medications, regimens, and more on my own.
2. HIV affects all kinds of people
While trying to find out as much information as possible, I noticed that anyone could contract this virus. You could be a Caucasian female with a husband and two kids, live in a house with a white picket fence, and still contract HIV. You could be an African American heterosexual male college student who is intimate with only one or two girls, and still contract HIV.
During the first year, I really had to change my view of what I thought and how this virus shows up in the lives of others, as well as my own.
3. Looks are deceiving
Once I found out about my diagnosis, I went to my hometown many times over the first year. I was still too scared to tell my family that I had HIV, but they didn’t notice anything.
They interacted with me the same, and they didn’t see any signs of anything being wrong. I didn’t look different and I was confident that they’d never find out just by looks alone.
I did all I could to keep them in the dark about my diagnosis. But no matter what I looked like on the outside, I was dying inside from the fear. I thought they wouldn’t want to be around me anymore because I have HIV.
4. Disclosure does wonders
It took a while for me to disclose my HIV status to my family. They all reacted differently, but the love from all of them remained the same.
It was no longer about me being a gay man, or the virus that affected those “other” people. It became personal and they allowed me to educate them.
The thing that I’d tried so hard to hide from them was the very thing that brought us closer together. After receiving the news, and taking the time needed to process it, they realized nothing else mattered. And trust me, I feel it even when we’re miles apart.
5. Finding love is still possible
After a couple of months, I tried dating and disclosing my status. But I experienced people literally running out of the room when they found out I had HIV, or guys seeming interested only to never hear from them again.
I spent several lonely nights crying myself to sleep and believing no one would ever love me due to my HIV status. Boy, was I wrong.
Life has a funny way of showing you just how powerless you are to stop certain things. Finding love is one of those good ways. My current partner, Johnny, and I spent hours upon hours talking on the phone about business prior to meeting face to face.
When I met Johnny, I just knew. I knew I had to disclose my HIV status to him, even just to see if he’d react the way others had in the past. Over six years after our first meeting, he’s now my biggest supporter and strongest advocate.
HIV affects more than just a person’s physical health. It also impacts our social life, our mental health, and even our thoughts about the future. While everyone’s journey with HIV is different, our experiences can lead to important lessons. Hopefully, some of the things I learned can help you or someone you know who lives with HIV.
David L. Massey is a motivational speaker who travels sharing his story of “Life Beyond the Diagnosis.” He is a public health professional in Atlanta, Georgia. David launched a national speaking platform through strategic partnerships and truly believes in the power of relationship building and sharing best practices when dealing with matters of the heart. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram or his website www.davidandjohnny.org.