A day in the life of an HIV poz, 25
Mornings are hard.
I wake up beside my medicine purse. In it are my four remaining antiretroviral (ARV) pills, antibiotics, B-complex vitamins, antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs. After taking my antibiotic tablet, I make my bed, unlock my room and walk straight to the bathroom. Cold water falls on me, and while rubbing my skin with soap, I check my naked body’s rashes and tiny bumps.
Even with my father sending me to the office, I arrive late. I disappear from my table and walk to the HIV treatment hub to refill my ARVs.
Being a neurotic guy who asks a lot of HIV-related questions, I have become a friend of the staff in scrubs. The morning is already busy with clients, but I never meet their eyes, and they do the same. In the hub, you try to be careful not to taunt people by not connecting.
Sir J offers a seat to complete my form. As he gets a bottle of pills, he asks me how I adhere to my daily lifesaver.
To tell you honestly, I am more physically healthy after my diagnosis. Common side effects like hallucinations, fever or headache never occur to me. I have not caught a flu or cough or rashes since.
On my weekly reminder are exercising, eating a balanced meal, avoiding liquor and staying away from smoke and dust. I am asymptomatic of any sickness, and I have neither dropped nor gained weight.
But emotional torment and stigma are the ones that may end me.
“Did my confirmatory results arrive already?” I ask Sir J.
“Good. More time praying for a false-positive.”
“Let’s pray for it, sir. It may require a miracle.”
Even though I have gotten used to this routine, I wish this to just be a nightmare I can overcome by waking up. Taking medicine every night reminds me of how vulnerable I am, but there is no other way to keep living. HIV screenings are most likely accurate, and in the hub where I was tested, no HIV-positive patient has returned to get a different lab test result.
Our organizational meeting hasn’t started yet. A short prayer is followed by a getting-to-know-you activity. Our facilitator tells us to get a partner and hold his or her hand, and I panic inside. It’s too much to ask from me who struggles to open up after this condition.
Nobody knows I am HIV-positive except for my four doctors and other counselors. My family has no clue. I only disclosed it to my ex-boyfriend, hoping that some constant, visible support from him will make this less unbearable.
I was relieved when I found out he tested negative. I told him his status was a wish God granted to me, and I will never stop worrying about him.
Even when we broke up and he wouldn’t return my calls, he’s still my best friend. He said I shouldn’t worry, as he can take care of himself. I was hurt instead, went ballistic even, because I expected him to tell me I can talk to him about my fears.
He replied in a text, saying: “I have a boyfriend.” Still, he’s my best friend. I didn’t say I have to be his. I didn’t understand why his boyfriend had to stand between helping me cope with life.
Those minutes felt the lowest of the low, the quicksand pulling me under until it was terribly hard to breathe.
“We’re already holding hands. The activity didn’t start yet,” my partner tells me, so I let go of her hands.
The preliminaries proceed to messages from the top-rank officials in the company, as well as the rules we need to follow. I dodge the event’s essence by absentmindedly browsing through my mobile photos. In the gallery, I feel happy and sated. I also think, here’s this guy caught smiling at the camera, but I don’t know him anymore.
When the meeting is done, I go back to my table and type “HIV cure” on Google. Nothing is new.
The start of my evening is in a church with me saying my prayers to God. I talk to God several times a day, sometimes crying. He knows the drill:
“Dear Lord, You are my physician. I am a witness to how You heal people and even grant my wishes, so I will not lose my faith. My illness cost me my relationships and my sanity. Lord, I am afraid. I am afraid of the future. Afraid of the people who will reject me again. Afraid of the side effects my therapy may cause. Afraid because this does not make sense. Help me to find beauty in this situation. Lord, while waiting for the confirmatory result, please protect me from any disease. Please reward the people who have stayed by my side. Please fast-track the cure for HIV and AIDS. It’s hard to live with this illness, so I am praying for my brothers and sisters living with this virus to remain steadfast. For my country, Philippines, please heighten the public’s awareness and eradicate the stigma so we may stop the HIV rate from rising. Lord, please hear my prayers. Amen.”
After dinner, I shut my door, lie on my bed, recalling what happened to me today. My room’s a prime example of my life now, completely safe from any harm, but where I am alone.
Modern medicines are highly effective, and numerous studies show how the lives of people living with HIV (PLHIV) have improved. With adherence to drugs and a healthy lifestyle, a PLHIV can keep his or her status undetectable, meaning the disease cannot be passed on to anybody. Two people have been “cured” of HIV. We have Magic Johnson and other advocates to prove how we can manage our condition well. On top of that, ARV pills in the hubs are free.
However, the rate of HIV in the country is still increasing. We are afraid of educating ourselves about reproductive health in proper avenues. We do not get ourselves tested because we think HIV screening is only for promiscuous people and drug addicts. As a result, we infect other people. Nobody teaches us how to respond when someone discloses his or her HIV status to us. We describe HIV-negative as clean, as if we do not shower.
We need to criminalize those who discriminate against PLHIV because we don’t trust one another. Under such a society, we PLHIV will hide, suffer alone and silently get by. It’s hard to think positively that the world does not end for us with our diagnosis.
My alarm tells me it’s time to take my ARV, and sleep. Time is longer for me with the viruses that plague my system, and to live one day with grace is already a breakthrough.
While I try to think better of myself and my life, uncertainty surrounds my very hours, so it’s wiser to be certain of a few things. For example, if I live tomorrow, I will fix my room. If I live next week, I will go to the appointment with my therapist. If I live next month, I will finish my office tasks. If I live next year, I will become an HIV activist. If I live for the next two years, I will love fearlessly.
The writer, 25, is struggling to manage growing up and his emotions. His e-mail is [email protected]
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