7 Things You Only Know If You Were Born With HIV
The Debrief: I'm a middle class 20-something girl, living with (undisclosed) HIV. Here's what I know...
I have to start this article, the way I have to start any disclosure. I was born with HIV. I wait for the shift in sympathy, the clogs whirring behind someone’s eyes as they register that I am a true victim of an epidemic and not a reckless drug addict/gay man/African in one of those sad adverts that make me change the channel when I’m trying to watch the TV guilt-free. To a huge amount of people, I am the HIV unicorn. I do not fit the image of a positive person. I do not even fit the image people have of someone born with HIV, because I am a UK resident, middle class, well educated and both me and my mother have had access to good healthcare since I was but a twinkle in my father's (who is negative) eye. Yet here I am, with my rude good health, with my battered British passport and my normality. I stand with a generation of young people who have grown up with the virus in the UK. The majority of us live in silence, and exist as if we are members of Fight Club. We nod to each other in clinics and whisper our results to anxious parents. And then we stay quiet until the next appointment. The first rule is....don't talk about it.
I am no longer afraid to break that rule. Here are the things I know as an undisclosed young person living with:
You realize how terrible everyone is at safe sex
Why in 2015, in the UK am I still having to argue about using a condom? I mean it’s not like HIV is the only STD going. Also, do I have to explain the basics of reproduction? DO YOU WANT TO IMPREGNATE ME? Why is the 'pull out' method so popular when my friends keep getting preggo from it? Take a seat, whack a condom on, and we will all have a lovely time.
You are constantly amazed at how ill-informed everyone is
No, you won’t get it if I sneeze on you or kiss you. Yes, I can have negative babies. No, I do not have AIDs. No, I do not have to abstain from sexual activity, I just have to be smart about it. Yes, I can still handle your food as long as I don’t rub my vaginal fluids/blood into it and serve it to people (especially those with open sores in their mouth) like the other waitresses do. Wait, what?
You secretly resent your friends with other diseases who can talk about it openly
Oh, so you have like Chron’s or Diabetes. GOOD FOR YOU I HOPE YOU ENJOY ALL THE SUPPORT AND SYMPATHY, AND THOSE WEIRD MOMENTS WHEN PEOPLE TOUCH YOUR ELBOW BECAUSE YOU HAVE AN ILLNESS.
*feels like a terrible person*
Relationship disclosure is literally the worst thing in the world
Quick lesson, as someone who has been in 'remission'(yes, it exists for us too and it means that my viral load is undetectable, and the virus is asleep because it is repressed by my now normal immune system and those big pills I take) for most of my life, I am not legally required to disclose unless I have unprotected sex. Furthermore if I did slip and sit on a naked willy, the chances of me passing it on – with my specific results – are so super low that my partner would probably not be given Post-Exposure Propylaxis (PEP) at a clinic. Ergo, it is not necessary for me to disclose straight away and go through the emotional wormhole that is telling your partner until you sure you are wayyyyy in lurve.
Every disclosure makes you vulnerable to having your heart not only broken but smashed into tiny little pieces that make you feel like the most unworthy human in the world. And there is no Beyonce song to help you through it.
Your heroes are your hospital staff
I was born in the 90s, at the height of the epidemic. I have been with some of the same hospital staff for over 20 years. They fought through the bleakness of their patient list getting smaller and smaller every week. They bring us hope. They are some of the few people who you totally trust. And they let you cry about your final exams in appointments as well as like….blood stuff.
You have a love/hate relationship with 'scare' campaigns
On one hand, I fully approve of people being diligent about protection. Because not everyone with is actually diagnosed. But the more scared the general public are, in conjunction with mis-formation…the more we are driven underground. And not in an edgy Skepta kind of a way.
Stigma hurts you everyday
Directly and indirectly. Directly – when your close friend informs you that they would never even share a bed with someone with HIV, you die a bit (and not because you are disease ridden). Indirectly – when Southpark or something jokes about it, or someone points at a bad omellete and says 'looks like it’s got HIV!'
Eggs can’t get HIV. But you can. And I do. And it is sad, and it is bad. It is scary, and it is lonely. But for so many of us, it just is. We take our meds, we occasionally have blood tests, but the rest of the time we are just getting on with it, the way you do. Because with or without HIV, we still have bills to pay, episodes of KUWTKs to watch, and unhealthy obsessions with eyebrows to maintain. Don’t look for us. We are here.
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