I was diagnosed back in 2012 and not only was this a very difficult time for me. I was in a relationship, but it was this relationship and this partner who I had contracted HIV from. This is where my life changed forever and to make things harder, the situation with us didn’t sustain the impact of my diagnosis and the relationship came to an end shortly after I had told him.
So there I was; I had just found out I was positive, and I was on my own. I was living in a town where HIV isn’t prevalent, or at least, it’s not spoken about.
My way of dealing with my diagnosis was by being open and ‘fearless’ about what people thought…or at least tried to be.
The truth; I was terrified. Before I was diagnosed, I was outgoing, confident and honestly, at times, arrogant! I was very comfortable with who I was. Suddenly I felt like my self-esteem was ripped away, and I was left feeling vulnerable and broken. I used this idea of being fearless and open to help me face my diagnosis head on even though I was terrified.
I tried to use apps and sites to chat to guys, but when it came to meeting anyone, I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t ready mentally or sexually…the thought couldn’t be further from my mind, but this was okay, I needed time to come to terms with my diagnosis, and adjusting to it mentally. A guy I had known for a long time, Alfie, whom I had been secretly infatuated for years with, offered me incredible support, we became close…and began a relationship. I tried to be happy, but still in a dark place mentally, and underneath it all, in utter turmoil.
It didn’t take long for it to come to the surface. I was terrified of intimacy, to the point where I felt myself shaking in fear. Not by any means a fault of his, it was my mind just not allowing me to enjoy it. I found myself paranoid about condoms and it made sex a difficult experience for me.
Speaking to you bluntly, I felt worthless, like I was some kind of sub-species of person. I was stigmatising myself constantly…there were days I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror…so I questioned how anyone could look at me when I couldn’t even look at myself. I needed to become comfortable with myself and to rebuild my own self esteem.
However this darkness turned in to self-destruction…and that inevitably meant things with us didn’t work out, which broke me even more.
Time went on, and I tried to date other guys, but all the time my issues were unresolved, I came back to the same point. Running scared with my walls getting higher and higher. A little while later, I started chatting to a guy and discovered that he was also positive. We started dating, and then it became more serious…I even ended up moveing away with him when he did.
I suddenly felt ‘normal’ again!
I wasn’t afraid; I didn’t fear what he’d think of me or about my status. It was just about him and me. I started to love who I was again, he didn’t know it, but he was helping me accept my diagnosis, he rescued me from the place I was in…and I fell in love with that feeling, and now I realise, I had attached that feeling to him. It was during this relationship, I finally accepted my diagnosis, and felt comfortable with who I was.
Had he not have been positive, I’m not sure things would have worked with us, it seemed to be the thing that held us together. The more I became comfortable with who I was, the further I drifted away from him. Although he and I ended unpleasantly, I will always have a great deal of gratitude towards him and for how our times together changed my attitude to my own status.
So, there I was again, positive, and on my own…but this time felt a world away from how I felt before…I felt like me. I felt strong.
I worked in the gay scene at the time, and enjoyed the attention I got…I loved it! It made me feel good about myself. I wasn’t by any means ready to jump in to a relationship…but I was ready to date again. I have always been very upfront about my status, and feel it is my responsibility to do so. So when the indications were made that it would be relevant, I initiated ‘that conversation’.
‘That conversation’ is a difficult one to have, and I won’t give anyone the impression it gets easier, because for me, it simply hasn’t. This is however, a conversation that can’t be avoided. For me it is incredibly important for the other person to know. For me, it is their right.
When you start chatting to someone new, you look forward to seeing their messages or seeing them…you realise you like them…and then it’s time. We have to tell them we are positive. On top of insecurities you already have, being positive, for me, is now my biggest. It’s not a scar I can cover up, it’s not a bump in my nose, it’s not my weight…honestly, as hard to accept as it is, some people are scared of it.
You say it…
You feel nervous, scared and sick…
In my experience one of three things then happens.
They either run a mile…and that hurts. Your whole personality is disregarded, as if HIV is who you are…it’s devastating. It gets easier to cope with, but never easier to take the rejection.
They ask questions, which is great, curiosity means you are teaching them something they didn’t know…but then, you hope they don’t switch off, discount you as an interest and then put you in the friend-zone.
Or, and this is my favourite, they accept it, they don’t mind and tell you it’s not an issue. I can’t tell you how much that this one makes me smile. It’s like that feeling at school when someone tells you they like you too…it for me, is literally that excitement. Butterflies…euphoria…normality!
I have dated a few times since my partner and I ended, with both positive and negative guys and it’s become less and less of an issue for me as time goes on. I was guilty of stigmatising; I was doing it to myself. With the fear of society, and for the most part, wrongly so, I put myself down and devalued ‘Jayce’.
It has taken me a long time to realise it, but HIV doesn’t define me, it doesn’t change me, my personality, my utter lack of muscles or the inability to grow facial hair. It doesn’t make me any less funny or lazy. It doesn’t decide that I love Italian food, hate shellfish or crave toast at 2am!
I am ready for the next chapter, whenever, or whoever that may be with!
About the author: Jayce is 23 years old, currently living in Ramsgate, Kent. You can follow him on Twitter @just_jayce. Jayce also has his own blog justjayce.com which you can read by clicking here.
This article previously appeared on Positive Wise here.