I found out when I was 20. I had just broken up with my boyfriend at the time. I was tired, had bad headaches and sometimes found it hard to move certain parts of my body. I was having blood tests done at the hospital, so I decided to have them test me for all the different STIs as well. When I heard the results, the first thing I thought was that I was never going to be able to have kids. I didn’t know very much about HIV, so I had no idea about how much it would determine the rest of my life.
It was the beginning of a very intense period. In hospital, it turned out that my resistance level had already dropped to just 19 CD4 cells. The doctor diagnosed me immediately as having AIDS. The headaches and paralysis were the result of meningitis, which I had got due to my low resistance. They put me in coma and told my mother that she should prepare herself for the worst. But then the medication started working. After a month and a half in hospital, I was able to go home. After that I had nine months of rehabilitation. I had to learn to walk and talk all over again.
Four years later
Now, four years later, my resistance is fine, my viral load is undetectable and I feel completely healthy. I have a full-time job and I’ve had a super sweet boyfriend for several months now. He is seronegative. When I first met him, he told me that he was studying to be a nurse and that he wanted to become specialised in HIV and STIs. “Well, then I’m the perfect object of study for you,” I responded. It was a relief for me that I didn’t have to explain a lot.
Telling my dates that I have HIV
When I was dating I would usually bring up the subject fairly quickly by subtly steering the conversation towards sex. I thought it was important to tell my dates in advance that I was positive. Even though my viral load is undetectable and the chances that I could transmit HIV to someone are minimal, if I were the one who was negative, I would like it if the other person would tell me in advance. That way, he can choose for himself whether or not he feels comfortable going to bed with someone who has HIV. Considering how little I knew about HIV in those days, I think I probably wouldn’t have dared to do that.
People know very little about HIV
So many people know so little about HIV. That is partly why there is so much social stigma surrounding HIV. In hospital they advised me not to tell everyone that I was HIV positive. But I am open about it. I’m very bad at making up stories. If you do that, you have to remember exactly who you told what, and in whose presence you can or cannot take your medication when you need to. I really didn’t want that kind of situation. The risk of being open about it was that I might lose some friends, and that did happen. I even lost a few good friends. There were even a few nurses in hospital who refused to wash me or to feed me. There, too, there are apparently still many misunderstandings about HIV and about how you can or cannot get it.
Sex without condoms
My boyfriend and I don’t use condoms when we have sex. That was actually more his idea than mine. I know it is practically impossible for me to transmit HIV to him, but in the beginning I found it a really scary idea. What if... We made sure that we found out everything we needed to know about the conditions under which it is possible to have sex without condoms: it needs to be a monogamous relationship to ensure that no other STIs will be involved. And I have to take my medications consistently so that my viral load will remain undetectable. Now that some time has passed and my friend has remained seronegative, I’m more comfortable with it. My boyfriend is just as eager to have kids as I am. So you never know, that may well happen.