10 months of medication bottles (Truvada, Darunavir and Ritonavir) and a few metres of gaffer tape, et-voilà – a pair of (oversized) pants.
Taking my pants off led to me contracting HIV and the need to start the antiretroviral medication I now knock back on a daily basis. It only seemed fitting after a very rare ‘light bulb’ moment to put the two together and create something a bit different for GMFA’s ‘#Pants2HIV’ campaign.
This week marks five years since I made the decision to visit the Manchester Centre for Sexual Health, after suffering with a flu like illness during the summer of 2009 I’d dug my head in the sand a little after an initial HIV test reported a negative result. That decision was ultimately for the best, I might not have got the news I wanted but I’m living a normal and healthy life as a result – because I found out my status.
And since I came to terms with living with HIV and found the confidence to speak about my diagnosis publicly I’ve done my best to raise awareness about the virus and the amazing work that so many organisations and charities do.
My message has remained the same, we need to fight the stigma associated with HIV and change social attitudes towards the virus. I’m ok because I got tested. 1,000s of people living in the UK aren’t – they don’t know they’re HIV positive, they don’t know that without a diagnosis they risk passing on the virus to other people more so than at any other time of living with the condition. These people aren’t getting tested because they don’t realise the importance, or because they’re scared of the result.
This time five years ago I didn’t know I was HIV positive, but taking the step to take another test was the best decision I made at the time. My CD4 count after my diagnosis was 218, a couple of weeks later it had fallen to 213, low numbers even though I’m 99% sure I was infected just 5 months earlier… who knows what might of happened if I had left the visit to the clinic for another 5 months? Luckily that’s something I’ll never need to worry about, but I am concerned about other young guys, as well as other men and women, being too afraid to take that step and get tested.
So I persist in fighting the virus and the stigma: pants to HIV and pants to people’s ignorance, I’m not afraid to use my voice or even a bunch of bottles and some tape -whatever it takes – I’m in. I’m no different to anyone else, there’s just something inside me that’s made me that little bit stronger.