Battling stigma from self and others


I had just booked an appointment at the GU clinic to have some tests done and start myself on PrEP[MB1] ; because although I always strived to have protected sex in the past, I knew that one day, especially with my state of mind at the time, there could come a moment of weakness, so PrEP gave me security.  

 

I had tests done every 3 months and always tested negative. At that time (as now), the hassle and stress involved to get PrEP in Malta was and is frustrating. After you order your supply from abroad, you must get the prescription for the medication to be released from the parcel office. Everything was going swimmingly until one day my medication was delayed by a week or so.  


 At that time, I had a sexual partner who I was slowly beginning to trust. I used to ask him if he ever got tested, and if his status was negative - he always assured me that he was negative. One night of weakness or perhaps carelessness was about to change my life forever.  

 

A fortnight later I found myself at the GU clinic for my normal routine tests… the results of which tested positive. I knew exactly when, how and with whom it had happened. I knew when I had used condoms and when not, and therefore I had no doubt how I acquired HIV. My world fell apart, and although the staff at the GU clinic were very helpful and supportive, at that moment it was not enough. The first thing that crossed my mind was the front page of The Sun in the beginning of my teenage years - Rock Hudson had just died due to AIDS- related illness. The worst thing that could have happened to me, happened.  

 

Million horrific thoughts went through my mind. How was I going to tell my parents, who to this very day still don't know that their son is HIV+, and who probably will never know as I believe that this news will be too hard for them to handle and understand. My mind turned into a roller-coaster; I was already thinking of the repercussions: how my life was going to change, how I was going to face the world.

 

Two weeks after I got the terrible news, I was supposed to be signing a preliminary contract for my new home. I was filled with trepidation because I knew that to apply for a mortgage, the insurance agency would ask for an HIV test.[MJR2] [MB3] I went home, looked in the mirror and promptly burst into tears. I was crying like a baby, looking at myself in disgust and feeling like a total failure, hating my single life which I was slowly starting to accept and enjoy.


I could not be alone.    

 

I called a close friend who was very, very supportive and he assured me that HIV is not a death sentence anymore and that, even if I did not believe it at the time, I will get through this. A few anxiety-filled weeks later I went back to Mater Dei to run some more tests and started the treatment. 


My CD4 count was at 560, and while my immune system was still high, my viral load was up to 193,000.copies/ml The clinic advised me to take my pills exactly on time, so I set the alarms on my mobile - I was eager to reduce that viral load down to an undetectable level, but to be undetectable the viral load had to be quite low.

 

I felt sexually unattractive; even jerking myself off disgusted me. I literally felt dirty. It was a long way to go but luckily after 5 months I got the virus to an undetectable level.


Now I realise that it's not only the condition itself that affects you psychologically but the stigma and the rejection from fellow local gay men who are HIV negative and who also lead a sexually active lifestyle, as I did and still do. That is what really hurts the most. You see it in their faces when you mention your condition and their attitude towards you changes instantly, their judgement about you is that you're a slut and that you fuck around without any kind or form of precaution, little do they know that one simple mistake can lead to all this. This is the reality that I accepted and must live with.

Today I hope that people can overcome this and accept that HIV is a small part of you and it’s not all that you can offer. It’s certainly only a very small part of me! I hope that there will be more education and awareness about HIV, I truly hope that PrEP will be more accessible, because we are all human and perhaps someday or other, everyone will have that one moment in life when they will throw caution to the wind through weakness or carelessness. Finally, my advice is to know your status and get yourself tested regularly.

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