Albert* is an HIV positive gay man. Here he shares for the first time the personal experiences that led up to his diagnosis, how he looks back on them and how he now lives his life.
I can (now) confidently say that I had an irresponsible 2016 and early 2017. At the time, I had a good job which I decided to leave due to a mild case of depression.
I had also fallen into a dysfunctional behaviour pattern. This included having sex with strangers at least once a week. We’re talking visiting male sex bars and random hook-ups, and the rest were male prostitutes. In all honesty, 80 percent of these interactions were unprotected.
I was going to gym, looked hot and had money, which is what the boys wanted. It never crossed my mind that I was being unsafe. I had a hole in my heart, which I couldn’t understand, that led to drinking and everything else.
It all seemed to be fine and exciting and I didn’t for one second see anything wrong with these sporadic rendezvous. It made me feel relevant, like I mattered and was noticed. I craved male attention and this was the one way I knew how to get it.
Fast forward to January 2018. After I left my job, things changed. Where are the boys? Wait a minute the money is gone – they’re nowhere to be found. My lifestyle took a dramatic turn. Money was running low and I eventually moved back home where I met a guy a week after I arrived. He was monied, intelligent and attractive and I had nothing but my charm and the skill of knowing how to please another man.
I got him hooked on me, availing myself to him because I knew he was lonely and wanted someone who could be there on request. We met on a hook-up site and then went on a date the very same day. He drove me home and stayed the night. We had such passionate and (another common factor) unprotected sex.
We broke up three months later and a couple of months down the line I got terribly ill where I was in hospital for two weeks. That’s when I was diagnosed with HIV. I never received any counselling, but I accepted at that moment that I am where I am because of my destructive actions.
I still wanted to live and I did what I needed to do; took my medication (ARVs), changed my diet and behaviour and learned to live again.
It isn’t as easy as I make it seem. I had such an amazing support system, which God was at the centre of. I read the Bible daily, prayed. There was my family, close friends and my spiritual advisor. Notice all these elements are about support and positivity. I cut out most of the negative. I started taking my treatment on 17 Aug 2017 and I still take it today. I am as healthy and strong as the next person. You cannot tell the difference between me (HIV positive) and an HIV negative person.
Sadly, it isn’t that way for everyone because some people have made their HIV status a defining point in their lives, which it doesn’t have to be. They give up, become depressed, don’t take their medication and sadly some end up dead.
I cannot undo the things I have done that have led me to the current predicament, but I have full control over what becomes of me from today and the remainder of my life. I have a goal right now and that is to be virally supressed when I take my next viral load test. But that can only happen if I stay on my treatment.
I look forward to each day of my life now, like the next person. I hope to live for decades to come, which I know is possible through the correct behaviour change, ongoing treatment, using a condom when I have sex and the positive mental attitude which I have adopted.
I could have prevented the trauma had I tested sooner and known my status. That means I could have taken better care of myself and possibly have infected less people along the way. I do not have control over that and I’m at peace with it.
I am not one to preach but I can only encourage the ones who this might reach to adopt similar steps, if not better ones. You can continue the life that you had hoped for.
Just so you know, this is the first time I’ve shared this with anyone who isn’t close to me and it feels good to let it out. My body may be doing well but my mind is still recovering from it all. It gets better each day with every positive step in the right direction.
I hope you make the right choices too. Take care of yourself.
* Not his real name
Knowing your status and getting onto treatment if you are positive allows you live your best life, for yourself and others. For free gay-friendly testing, counselling and treatment services contact OUT in Pretoria (call 012 430 3272) and Health4Men in the rest of South Africa (call 071 683 3226).