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MJ - Rebuilding my life (again)
I was diagnosed in 1985. I went to have an HIV blood test because I was feeling sick with flu like symptoms. At that time, I was 22 years old and an undergraduate at university. The diagnosis did have a substantial psychological impact which led to a year of anxiety induced fatigue.
In the early stages managing my diagnosis was botched because I had nobody to turn to or to talk to about it. I didn't understand what was happening to me. I eventually turned things around by doing physical exercise and going overseas at the end of 1985. The anxiety eventually lifted and I was perfectly okay.
My feeling of being unclean or contaminated was an overriding issue. At the time, it was very difficult for me to not think about or not consider my HIV status. It was ever present in my mind. It was a dominant factor in my first year of diagnosis and a few years after that. As a result of that it certainly coloured how I made decisions and my interactions with people.
A defining moment
Over the period ‘85 to ‘96 my t-cells went down to less than 50. My viral load was explosive. My treating doctor was quite amazed that I didn't succumb to any major opportunistic infection. At the time, I was getting a lot of minor problems such as warts and gingivitis and things like that, but certainly nothing that required anything like hospitalisation or even a day off work. I thought my time was probably up by about 96 and I went on what I thought was my final overseas trip to North East Africa.
I came back and my doctor and my father strongly encouraged me to start medication. As the medication worked its magic I started thinking about what I would do with the rest of my life; what skills I had. So, I used the experience I had with working in the Public Service to my advantage and set up a consultancy business. I was now in a position to mould my vocational and working life and that was at the age of 40. That was a defining moment.
Because of my diagnosis, I did not achieve what most people do for example I didn't get a drivers licence until I was 40 years old. When I was 22 I was too afraid to get one in case I had an accident and there was blood, and I had to tell somebody that I was HIV positive. Anyway the point is at the age of 40 I did go out and have lessons to learn to drive a manual car. I now have a car and I couldn't exist without it.
I am in a relationship at the moment and my partner knows about my HIV status. That was an explosive hit to him one day a few months ago. I'd say definitely HIV has affected my ability to commence relationships. I think it all comes down to my initial reactions to the diagnosis, of feeling contaminated and unclean. Even though I don't think of myself in those terms now, it's nearly impossible to get over the fact that other people may consider you in that way. I've probably limited the number of partners because of that hurdle. Now the hurdle gets easier and easier to jump over as I get older. I'm less worried about somebody else's reaction. It is very privileged information and a lot of people don't disclose all their health matters to people just for the hell of it. I squarely fall into that category of person. I think somebody only needs to know your HIV status if you're going to be undertaking specific activities and behaviours with them.
Don't focus on limits- focus on what you can do.
I don't think I ever had an HIV identity per se, even though I was quite consumed by it in the early years of my diagnosis. I never really felt part of an HIV community or that HIV dominated my life as such. Certainly it's important and affected my decisions. However, twenty years later, it's an aspect of my life while definitional in terms of health matters, certainly doesn't define or limit what I do as a rule. At the age of 45, a lot of my contemporaries have other health conditions for which they require medication. So, HIV is really not something that is extraordinary.
I work on the adage that there's a solution to everything and generally speaking whatever happens there will be some element of it that you can use to your advantage. Each situation will be different. In order to proceed I look for what is possible or positive about a situation or circumstance regardless of how painful or difficult it may be. I focus on the positive aspects rather than dwell on what I do not like, can't do or change.
Ask yourself: “What is it in your life that you can actually achieve?”