Pull the trigger, ain’t nobody gonna do it for you...
It was last year, at the end of June 2018. Maybe the 23rd, or the 27th, I don’t remember well. It was almost peach dark, 11 in the evening. I was sitting at the terrace of a bar in my hometown, holding a red beer with my two hands. I was sweating and shaking, even though it was softly warm. I was waiting for my ex-boyfriend, since a few minutes, before he comes and greets me with his stupid smile. It didn’t take long to come out, just after a few banal questions you ask when you don’t see a person for a few months. After awkward answers and a long silence, I’m ready to explode.
« Dude I fucked up. I really fucked up this time. I went for blood tests two days ago and that’s it. It finally happened…
I’m seropositive. »
The rock was thrown, and didn’t take long to hit the water. He did not say much, except a honest and quiet « fuck », as if he didn’t want that the empty town square could hear it. That word alone was enough to make me weep. Like the ugly cry ; shaky chin, red forehead and nose, dripping snot and so on. He was on the edge to join me in my sorrowful crisis, but took me in his arms instead. He hugged me strongly, repeating « I’m here. Don’t worry, I’m here. »
I know you are. But I’m not. Since I learned I was seropositive, I was not part of this world anymore. I became a stranger, a harmful and dangerous human being, on this very special day. I was sky-rocketed, a million kilometers away from my body - my now nasty, gross and unbearable body, invaded by this asshole below.
I became a student, 3 years ago. I left my hometown, after so many years of struggling with my sexuality towards my parents, the outstanding boredom prevailing in this French countryside, the need for change and freedom, the want for finally accomplishing my life and finding a goal. A tiny little goal in this ocean of fucked up things that are life and the world surrounding me.
I became someone else while moving out. Coming from a not-so-wealthy family, but still living comfortably, I was not anxious of going to the other side of the country. Even though I am not an extrovert, I always pull through most of the situations without any harm. Though, I strongly believed that for quite a long time.
I met awesome people, with which pleasure, night life and recklessness were the true motto, rhyming with discount Gin, flat lukewarm Tonic and sometimes with chemical substances. They helped neglect the business school bullshit, along with many drunk and drugged nights, lousy clubs, stealing street signs and long walks on the shore of the river, trying to forget about the -soon to knock in your head- incoming hangover.
Besides that, it was time for me to finally unleash the colossally horny guy co-living in me since I discovered Grindr, when I was around 15. Usually in my region, I had to remain alone with my own hand to provide the sexual need devouring me. As this hand was not enough, I sometimes rode hours on my motorcycle to get to see someone approximately appealing. Meaning younger than 3 times my age and who did not act like a psychopath. Hard to tell which part was the most complicated to avoid.
When I moved out, everything changed.
In this sunny, comfortable, student city, I finally had dozens of guys to hook up with, a few hundred meters away. It was so easy. If not several times a week, it was several times a day, with many different guys. I never counted, and it actually always made me laugh to lose count. I gave myself many names, many different paths of life, to those many souls I’ll never see again. I really had fun with that. Then I thought, why not have funnier fun and mix drugs into that. I was condom-addict while sober, but assuming the same thing while flying high would be a terrible lie. I got tested, many times, and never caught any STDs. I have to say that I’ve been desperately stupid and tremendously lucky at that time.
I always pull through most of the situations without any harm. Though, I strongly believed that for quite a long time.
I moved out, once again, after a year of pure decadence, from this sunny, comfortable and student city, to a grey, cranky, ex-soviet city. After realizing that there, substances made you hangover not only for a day, but for a week, I reasoned myself to stop it, altogether, with my roommate. Life was going great in this city, we were going out on daytime for museums, weekends in neighbor countries, and at night with friends in clubs. Night life suits me, I have to admit. And it did for quite a moment.
On a Friday night, end of March 2018, we were preparing for a long, usual night in one of those gloomy techno clubs. Finally leaving the flat to go dance for a few hours, my moment has come.
The stroboscopic lights were raging into my eyes, the sound was echoing all over the walls, on my body, increasing my impression of highness and horniness ; a pill would have been perfect for this very moment, I wanted it, I needed it, and looked for it; it’s been so long! Checking a few people, and losing my friends in the process, I approach this guy. I could only remember he was 30-ish. Hairy, bald, tall, small, funny, sarcastic: I don’t remember. The only thing I do remember, is him handing me a glass. It had a shitty, oily flavor. Bad gin ? Scotch ? Strange East-European booze ?
These kinds of drinks don’t make you wake up in a flat with 2, 3, maybe 5, other naked guys. It doesn’t make you wonder who these guys were. It doesn’t make wonder why you are naked too. It doesn’t make you want to cut your head off, that hurts like never before, on the very moment you open your eyes. It doesn’t make you wonder why you are here. It doesn’t make you wonder which day, which district, and even which city you’re in right now. It doesn’t make you run away, leaving half of your belongings behind.
It doesn’t make you wonder what they did to you.
It doesn’t make you wonder why you, why now, why?
I had 3% left. I had only time enough to notice that I was 10 kilometers away from the grey, cranky, ex-soviet city center. I didn’t know where to head, which bus or tram to take. I just took the first one crossing by. I ran away. I flew.
I knew what happened. I’ve been drugged. I’ve been raped. That was a fact I had to face. But for me, it needed to stay right here, on this very tram station, in this very sad and grey part of the city. And it did. When I came back home, I greeted my roommate, and went to my room. For how long, I don’t know, as I kept repeating myself « Nothing happened. You don’t remember anything. Maybe you even were up for it, and just forgot all about it. Nothing happened ».
The brain has always been proven to be extremely powerful over the physical health. A positive mind is more likely to make you healthy, resistant to diseases, energetic, less dependent and simply happier. But I guess my mind was not strong enough.
I started to vomit, a few days after that episode. Discreetly, during the night or classes. If not for waking up covered in sweat. I felt dizzy. Tired. Without forgetting a serious diarrhea. Scared of going to a doctor in a foreign country, I just really badly self-medicated. Asking for a medicine for diarrhea when you don’t know how to speak the language might be as funny as you can imagine. That lasted for a whole month, and it really took my energy off. Funny thing is that I never related it to this night. It passed, my memory of the night with it. Many long hours of classes and exams later, it’s time for me to come back home.
It took me a few days before going, but it was a habit for me test to my blood. Minutes passed, after my appointment. I knew that it would take them a week before they hand me the results. Here I am, sitting in my car, waiting, as if it could come sooner. At this very moment, I almost forgot about this awful night. I convinced myself with time that, as it would never follow me if I never disclose it to anyone - and especially myself- , I’ll never have to face it again. But something in the air was weird. Something was devouring me, like a slow, dying, violent scream.
I stepped outside, and went to buy an HIV auto-test at the drugstore. 22,37€ and an annoyed look from the pharmacist lady later, I had it. Like a glucose test for diabetes, you have a needle to sting your finger with. You apply the drop of blood on a strip, that you then put into a tube. And you wait. 10 minutes. I waited. Raging in silence. In my car. My eyes were focused on this test stripe. Just like a pregnancy test, one line, and you’re negative; your blood just reacts with the test. 2 lines marked, and you’re fucked, dirty, nasty and seropositive on top of that. That’s what the user manual basically tells you.
F U C K
The smell of antiseptic liquids, cardboard-made sickness bags and old people. The light way too bright, reflecting on those ugly greenish walls and making my wet eyes wrinkling, increasing the dizziness. My fingers rapidly patting my thumb, over my damp hand.
I enter the doctor room, nervously, for the results.
« I know what you’re going to tell me». He looks at me, looking strangely puzzled by what I just said. I felt uncomfortable, out of my shoes, out of my place, out of this world. After a small talk, confirming that yes, my blood is contaminated -and with no kind words-, he asked me, looking me in the eye:
« But, mister, I’m trying to understand something…. Do you… actually visit hookers ? »
To be honest, I did NOT expect that. Nonetheless, that wasn’t the first medical slap I took. When, after discovering my condition by myself, I called the hospital to know if I could quickly get a treatment, something to save me; I had for an answer a nice and sweet « But, mister… You’re not urgent ! »
This latter, I understood. I knew that HIV turns into this evil AIDS part of the infection only after 5, 10 sometimes 30 years of HIV-contamination. I knew that my infection started only a few months ago. At this moment, I knew that the night I tried and succeeded to erase from my memory, will haunt me for the rest of my days. They were not aware of the shitstorm I was facing all alone, at least did not give it a try. And I understand. Now, but not at that time.
Today, I am writing this blogpost. Still calmly shaking while remembering these months of anger, self-pity, disgust, rage, depression and hiding. By hiding, I mean to my parents. When I learnt it, I was stuck for a month in my home region, living in my former bedroom. I had nowhere to go. So I flew in Central Europe, alone with my backpack and a tent, for the rest of the time I had to spend here. It did not help for the acceptance of the disease, for sure. It did not help for the remission, for sure. But it helped to hide. I had then only myself to talk with, most of the time. I had only myself to comfort my grey mind and thoughts. I had only myself to focus on my next, hopeful life.
During summer time, a small handful of friends, my boyfriend at that time, and ex-boyfriends, have been informed. 9 persons in total. Tears, hugs, wishes for the best, love and support for the better were spurting out from all of them. Surprising when people actually don’t know much of HIV, until they are close to someone bearing it; surprising how it actually makes you closer to them, when it's boiling just under your skin.
On September 4th, I saw one last - and current - doctor. Same shit, different smell; I hate going there, but on that day, it smelled like rebirth. He was extremely gentle, at least showed some ounces of empathy (and it felt amazing). He went one last time over the virus, its specificities, the many blood controls in the following months and during my whole life, and the importance of the treatment.
The treatment. I was waiting for it for 3 months. 3 months of losing myself, 3 months of nightmares, 3 months of fear, 3 months of untying those mental knots, 3 months of hiding to my parents and coming out to my closest circle. 3 horrible months, which were finally going to an end, on that very day.
On September 4th, I was on my bed, sitting, and still nervous and shaking. My parents were in another room, watching TV, having no idea of what I was about to do. I opened the pills box, named Stribild, trying not to make any noise. A kind of a big pill, the ones that you’re a bit scared of getting stuck in your throat. A kind of greenish pill, with a 1 surrounded by a square. A kind of a pill, saying that, you won. On that very moment, I knew I was going to be a whole new person. I was about to swallow life, freedom and salvation.
I understood the day after that it wasn’t truly liberating. The treatment seriously affected me ; I was physically and mentally broken. I was tired, I was down, my muscles were stiff. I sometimes puked for no reason, I had nausea, and going to the loo was not a side issue either; once again. I was irritated, depressed and didn’t want to do much of my day. Moving again to the grey country for a last semester, going back to those boring classes… A living nightmare, lasting for weeks.
After a month of medication, I had another blood test. I was medically proven to be undetectable. Still seropositive, but now alive. For the first time since several months, I smiled, and rejoiced. I am saved and safe!
Every day, for the rest of my life, one green pill, at 8PM.
I personally had many demons living inside me, but now there’s only one that I try to weaken, every day. And I’m winning.
Fighting the obscene
HIV does not kill anymore. Once it’s treated.
The principle is quite fucked up, but basically the pills attack the living viruses in your blood (the viral load), dismantle them and bring your immune system back to the normal. Although it’s undetectable, the pill actually doesn’t work on the sleeping virus, hidden in many glands in your body and genitals. That’s why you need to take it regularly, every day. To fight that little bastard that keeps waking up to invade your body, blood vessels and take your immune system down with it. Keep in mind that it isn’t either a 100% winning situation; the pill destroys your kidneys, your lungs, makes you age quicker; which will later bring me to be tested every six months.
With that treatment, I’m medically clean, even more negative than any uninfected person. I don’t have to talk about it to people I meet, to my job, my university, my surrounding. I don’t even have to inform my partner. If I chose so. I don’t have to bear the terror of infecting someone else. I don’t have to live in a body that doesn’t feel entirely mine anymore. I don’t have to think anymore that I’m just a statistic, one more nasty gay guy fucking around, which I did before being proven undetectable.
Meanwhile, HIV still kills.
Every year, 2.1 million persons become HIV positive. 1 every 20 seconds.
Every year, about 1.1 million people die worldwide, because of AIDS-related opportunistic diseases; like tuberculosis.
1 person out of 5 will not know they’re infected, and won’t be treated.
47% of the 37 million infected persons worldwide have access to an effective anti-retroviral treatment, 25 times better than 20 years ago.
Europe, and especially Central and Eastern Europe, combined with Africa, are the only remaining regions where the virus continues to spread. Everywhere else in the world, it falls back. It needs efforts, prevention and information to be, maybe, someday erased.
People, from what I experienced, still stigmatize HIV, while knowing it’s not a killing disease anymore. Pills exist to prevent contamination (PreP), on regular basis, just like the one I have. You can even take one pill 24 hours before having sex and have no risk of infection. If you’ve taken risks, if the condom broke, or if you’ve been raped, you have a few hours to run to the hospital and get a month-long treatment to erase it for good. If you’re pregnant, you have a chance to not transmit the virus to your baby, still via treatment.
In France, tests are free, quick and anonymous in hospitals, for many sexual diseases. In Switzerland, it costs as little as 30 CHF to get tested. Though, they are 30'000 living (in France only) without knowing they have it. You know why? Because they fear the virus, or misunderstand its dangerousness. They’re mostly the cause of the epidemic, and it needs to change.
Even though I didn’t pursue the perfect healthy way of living, one doesn’t need to avoid drugs and sex mania to remain HIV-free. See, I’m a good example. I did everything wrong and had dozens of chances to be infected, yet never had been. Then, all of a sudden, when I got control over myself, I guess life just wanted to slap me in the face for my previous destructive behavior. I still consider myself as lucky on this day, and glad I never participated in the epidemy.
I’m you, your brother, your aunt, your niece, your colleague, the guy or the girl you’ve caught an eye on in the bus, the cashier. I’m everywhere. I’m not dangerous anymore. But I’m here. I live and breathe the same air as you do.
For the many dead people that had no treatment only a few decades earlier, for those who won’t get a chance to have one now, for the probable persons you could infect, for the many sleepless nights you’ll have to face, for the many people worrying for you, for your own health:
Want to see another life path of a seropositive person, in a documentary format? Go watch Loic, Séropositif Indétectable
You’re not alone. Need support? You can write us, or go to specialized organizations. Personnes Vivant Avec (People Living With It) in Geneva focuses on the life after, for seropositive people. Many numbers or websites give you immediate support and help you on your healing process, such as Aids.ch or Sidaction.fr. Every hospital can welcome you in an emergency, if you think you had a risk of infection.
The whole world is prepared to fight this terror, and so should you.