I left, feeling like the only person on earth, like in ’28 Days Later’ when Cillian Murphy stands on a bridge looking around – hearing only silence. I texted everyone I cared about, grasping desperately for someone to say it was going to be OK. I felt like a stranger in my own body, the person I used to know didnʼt exist any more.
Iʼve never forgotten how insidiously awful it was. I was only just eighteen and a few weeks away from my driving test and moving to London for university. A few months earlier I’d been to a kink club during Manchester pride, where Iʼd not exactly practised the safest sex. My family had just gone on holiday for two weeks so I was home alone. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, the bed soaked, me dripping in sweat, but I wasnʼt hot. My dreams had been far more vivid than I could remember and so colourful too – this wasn’t not normal. I knew deep down this wasnʼt right but I didnʼt dare make the connection.
I booked myself in for a HIV test and had to wait over the weekend for the results. The day came, it was a beautiful sunny August day. I was sat in the waiting room of Hawthorne House at Heartlands Hospital and the health advisor came to get me. She tapped away, “Iʼm afraid, the result is positive” she said, I yelped, my hands came to my face, it felt as though Iʼd been shot in the stomach, tears burned my eyes and face. Iʼd ﬁnally been caught out. I wasnʼt as smart as I thought, my knowledge of science and health didnʼt mean I was invincible after all.
I left, feeling like the only person on earth, like in ’28 Days Later’ when Cillian Murphy stands on a bridge looking around – hearing only silence. I texted everyone I cared about, grasping desperately for someone to say it was going to be OK. I felt like a stranger in my own body, the person I used to know didnʼt exist any more. When I got home I looked in the mirror – “who is this person”? my mind asked. I felt bereaved.
Over the next three days, I couldnʼt eat – I didnʼt care, I couldnʼt drink – I didnʼt care, I stopped doing the things that I used to like – I didnʼt care.
After crying down the phone at anyone who dared touch the issue with a barge pole, lamenting the loss of my old “innocent” self, a friend said he was coming down from Scotland. For the next week, we barely said a word, I just cried and stared at the TV. At night he held me as I cried myself to sleep, he was just there for me. Even now I canʼt ﬁnd the words to express how much that week meant to me.
My driving test came – I didn’t care. I got in the car, my body like lead. I failed – I didn’t care. My ex sat outside the house demanding I let him in to cuddle me – I didn’t care – heʼd only say “I told you so”. Later on I tried to gather myself for when my parents came home. I was due to move to London to go to UCL in a week. When they came home, my mom knew something was wrong, but I couldnʼt tell her what – when I met her gaze she could see the pain but no words came.
The next week I ﬂoated around, trying not to think of the move that was to come. Then move day came, I packed up my life, my body still feeling like lead. We drove to London, I walked into my halls of residence and sat on the bed. It was expensive, but felt like a prison cell, dark, dirty, cold – much like how I felt inside. I went to uni the next day, barely caring, just wishing I could retreat to the womb. I managed to latch onto some lovely people, they offered some distraction.
The next year was a blur of mindless sex and drugs, I was craving that tiny moment of validation and approval. My body and my soul felt damaged beyond repair, especially my soul. If it hadnʼt been for the boyfriend I somehow managed to get, Iʼve no idea where Iʼd have ended up. He was my rock and, even though weʼre no longer together, I love him still to this day.
Nine months later I was told that Iʼd also contracted Hepatitis C (HCV), something inside me ﬁnally snapped. Id just been told my nan had terminal breast cancer, and on top of all that I was supposed to be revising for my exams.I told my boyfriend that I was going home, I think he knew I wasnʼt coming back – and so did I. Back at home I walked into my nan’s house and I could see the fear in her eyes. She held me close and squeezed me tight for the ﬁrst time in my life as I handed her a huge bunch of freesias, her favourite ﬂower.
The next day I saw my HIV doctor, he wrote a letter to my tutor in London – I wasnʼt going back. I had to get treatment for the HCV, a year long ordeal. My mom found the letter before I could send it, my parents were shocked and upset but I had to bear my heart to them and, fortunately, they were there for me. My parents told my aunts and uncles who were shocked and worried but, thank heavens, very supportive.
A month later I moved all my stuff back home and waved goodbye to London, the place I felt had ﬁnally chewed me up and spat me out, changing me beyond all recognition. I said goodbye to my boyfriend, I just couldnʼt deal with it all, a decision I still sort of regret. The next day I started treatment for HCV and the day after that my nan died. I said goodbye to her for good at her funeral a week later and the life, as I once knew it, was deﬁnitely over.
A little while later I started receiving counselling from Healthy Gay Life (HGL) in Birmingham. Iʼd really hit rock bottom, I had lost everything I thought I once knew. Over the course of the next year, I went from feeling awful, to utterly terrible and back again. But I opened my soul, being brutally honest about what Iʼd put myself through and all of the hurt inside. In a way that year was one of the best of my life, ﬁnding out what really meant something to me and really getting to know myself. I managed to forgive myself for how stupid Iʼd been to move a little past the anger and blame that burned inside.
Developing a wonderful trusting relationship with the counsellor I had saved me from what I thought would be a life of misery and anger. I began to live my life again slowly and began to rediscover who I was and what I wanted in the process. I began to make friends again, cherishing those few who really were good people and who cared for me genuinely, instead of lots of “friends” who really didnʼt give a monkeys.
Iʼm still learning, getting used to the “new” me, but that feeling of dread and fear is long gone. I felt that if i shared my (hopefully not too long) story with you, it would help others to realise you can get through a whole bunch of horror and that counselling and real, true, friends and family, really can be a saviour, and you will feel “yourself” again.
Hereʼs to the future!