Let us go on an adventure. How about we all re-imagine what HIV is and what it represents? How about together we lose the stigma attached to being HIV+? Lets #ReimagineHIV
Let us go back to 1991
It was 1991. My seventeen year old self was standing in the school corridor about to enter a class. A friend asks ‘what do you think you will be doing when you are 40?’ My response could not have been better predicted. I can remember the words coming out of my mouth as if it were yesterday, ‘Probably have HIV and living in London’.
Fast forward 23 years and I’m now 40, living in London and diagnosed HIV-positive. Was it fate that led me here? Can I foresee the future? Do I have an alternative career as a clairvoyant? Well quite frankly the answer is no to all those questions.
Making such a throwaway, idiotic and dumb comment, my seventeen year old self didn’t know what the future was going to be. Though, making that comment has always stuck in my mind. Even though I knew about HIV and was very much aware of its existence, yes it was a possibility, I never thought it would eventually become a reality.
Me and my partner, Mark, decided an adventure lay ahead. A decision was made to move to London from the South Coast town of Poole in Dorset, UK. Mark had lined up a few interviews to get a job and I decided that I could get a transfer with my job for a large national retail company.
Late July 2014, Mark took the first step and moved to London, gaining shared accommodation for himself so he could start his new job in a friend's flat. I was to follow 8 weeks or so later. Spending alternate weekends between respective homes over this period and in the meantime, Mark would look for a suitable flat for us to rent. Also, I was to have my 40th birthday during this period.
I had given up smoking in January of this year and had a persistent cough which I put down to using an electronic cigarette. I found it a great help to get me off the nicotine addiction as willpower alone had failed so many times in the past. I really wanted not to be smoking by the time 40 came.
The time came to give notice on our flat in Poole as Mark had found somewhere for us to live. I spent a few weeks getting our old property into shape before handing the keys over and heading to London myself.
I had been in London for a few weeks when I received notification that I was able to get a transfer with my employer. I would soon resume my old job in a new location of West London. A little nervous and apprehensive, not just about starting somewhere new, but the whole way of life in such a fast paced city.
Our adventure was about to start and hopefully I could shake this cough that had been going on for far too long.
We had got settled into our new home very quickly. Getting to grips with living in a city again. Learning how to ride the tube as it was something I had only ever done a couple of times before.
A month or so after starting at my new (old) job I took a couple days off work as I was not feeling quite right. I thought I had the start of a bad cold and that all the upheaval of moving home in the summer and the cough I had was finally catching up with me. I was feeling tired quite regularly after finishing work and I was starting to nap in the afternoons after getting home. I was getting up at 5am some mornings to get into work for a 7.30am start. I had begun taking naps in the afternoon and feeling generally run down and not quite with it. At this point my cough was getting worse, yet I was not coughing anything up. A dry persistent cough I could just not shake.
After a couple of weeks I was still thinking it was just one of those things. I thought it would soon pass as soon as some routine was there and I’ll be feeling back to normal pretty soon. During this time I was still using the electronic cigarette and there was no way I was going to start smoking again (perhaps it was this making me ill, yet I was still so dependent on it for a nicotine fix).
More time off was needed and this time I took a week off. Phoning in sick every day, I was telling my employer I had the flu and I would be back as soon as I could. In my mind it was the flu and I wasn’t leaving my bed. I just wanted to rest and get better. I couldn’t even go to a doctor as I had not got around to registering with a GP since moving to London. I knew I had to get back to work as soon as I could due to being only able sign myself off sick for a week without requiring a doctor’s certificate.
After a week off, I got myself back to work. Several shifts down I was back in bed unable to move. This time night sweats had kicked in and I was starting to shake hot and cold. I was ill. Seriously ill. Looking back I can see this now. Though, at the time I just had to shake it off. I would soon be back to normal.
I got myself into work for one last shift before coming home after being there for just an hour. The tube journey home was horrendous. I thought I was going to pass out. I was hot and dizzy and thought I was going faint. I was sure I wouldn’t make that journey home without incident. I could feel the tube carriage getting hotter and hotter and the air becoming very thick. I got off at the next stop and sat on the side of the platform. I was there a few minutes before a member of the underground staff noticed me and asked if I was alright. I said I was just catching my breath as I was not feeling too good and then I would be on my way. They offered me some water which I took and felt much better afterwards. I got up and got myself back on the tube and made it home.
Another week passed and I still hadn’t received medical help. Instead, confining myself to bed and sleeping for hours on end and sweating so much. Now, I really knew something was not right. I knew I needed help but not being registered to a doctor what was I to do? I didn’t want to go to the A&E department as I didn’t think it warranted it.
I managed to get myself to a walk in clinic which was a short train journey. It took all my strength. I was feeling weak and my cough was very persistent. I was finding it hard to get my breath and feeling hot all the time. I had noticed the weight I was losing too, being sick and I couldn’t keep food down. My appetite was virtually non-existent as it was. The weight was dropping off me and I was looking really old.
The doctor checked me over and said it was just a bad case of the flu. He told me to take over the counter products and to rest up. Really? I couldn’t believe what he was saying. There had to be more to it than that. I had never felt this rough in my life before.
After getting myself back home I decided enough was enough. I said to Mark, I was going to have a short sleep and as soon as I got my strength we were going to go to the hospital. I knew I had to.
This article first appeared on Leigh’s own blog here.
About the author: Hello. My name is Leigh. I'm originally from South Wales though currently living and working in London. I moved here in the summer of 2014 from the south coast of Dorset, UK. I lived there for nearly 6 years before deciding it was time for a new adventure. Little did I know that on my travels over the years and the adventure that lay ahead, I was a carrier of something inside of me. I was diagnosed HIV+ positive in November 2014. This blog is my journey from diagnosis to now.
You can follow Leigh on twitter @Reimagined_Me here.