My life changed forever following my diagnosis, but not because I fell dangerously ill, gave up work or lost family and friends. In fact the opposite happened. I’ve paid attention to my health and wellbeing more than I ever have before, I’ve found a job I love with an organisation that works for people with HIV and those affected by poor sexual health, and I’ve made new friends from the HIV community and grown closer to my amazingly supportive family.
I had avoided sexual health clinics until I was 21 and moved to Manchester. A mixture of ignorance about how much at risk I was to sexually transmitted infections and fear of nasty procedures, interrogating questions and being judged for what I enjoy in the bedroom.
Once I finally braved a visit I realised there was nothing to be afraid of, the clinic was as intrusive and scary as a trip to the opticians or a routine dentist appointment. I went regularly, every few months or so and always had an HIV test – and all the tests always came back negative, and I started to take more risks.
I spent a week in the south of France in the summer of 2009, on the last day I got badly sunburnt and started to feel really ill. When I got home I didn’t start to feel better as I expected to, and I noticed other symptoms. I found out I’d contracted chlamydia and gonorrhoea, and cleared these easily with treatment, the HIV test came back negative. I spent two weeks suffering flu-like symptoms and was confined to my bed but then I felt fine again and was back to normal.
Fast-forward to Thursday 5 November 2009, I’m sat at my desk in work after lunch and receive a text asking me to contact the sexual health clinic to make an appointment. The week before I’d been in for a general check up, but also concerned that since the summers antics I had a persistent cough that hadn’t gone away.
Between June and late October a voice in my head kept telling me maybe I should go back for a second HIV test. The fear of the result I did not want was enough to put me off and I distracted myself with everyday life.
The morning after I had received the message I took the bus to the clinic with an ex-boyfriend. Figiting in the waiting area I saw a couple of nurses enter an ‘interview room’ and a few minutes later they called me inside.It’s hard to remember how I felt when I heard the news, I was numb but my mind was also frantic with questions, my brain unable to untangle them all. The nurses took blood for further tests and despite their advice I went straight back to work.
My viral load (the amount of virus in a cubic ml of blood) was 79,000, my CD4 count (number of T-cells (or T-lymphocytes/ helper cells) in a cubic ml of blood, which play an important role in your immune system) was 213. I started treatment almost immediately, thrown into a new routine taking four pills once a day.
Nine years have now passed since my diagnosis and I’ve been happily living openly with my HIV status since November 2012. I still take treatment, now just one tablet a day and with the knowledge it is keeping the HIV in my body supressed, which means I can’t transmit it to anyone else.I hope to share my past and present and help those who have been diagnosed with HIV as well as challenging outdated perceptions that many people still have.
I grew up in South East England and after finishing school moved to Lancaster to complete a degree in Philosophy. After graduation I moved to the wonderful city of Manchester and have been here ever since, now residing in Salford. I was diagnosed with HIV in November 2009, the virus has made me a stronger person but hasn’t changed who I am and I won’t allow it to define who I want to become.
I’m a liberal queer guy with a ‘leftie’ political outlook. I enjoy socialising with friends, music and film. I’m a strict vegetarian and enjoy keeping fit. I’ve always been interested in LGBT activism, feminism and the animal rights movement. As well as being a sex-positive HIV and sexual health advocate I believe in the equality of all people in order that future generations can live in a diverse and sustainable world.