WHEN THE FRIEND ZONE BECOMES A WAR ZONE

YOUR SILENCE, SPEAKS

It’s been a year since I wrote this email, and I never had the courage to send it. A year ago I severed the ties between you and I, but somehow we managed to kick-start our friendship again, even if it was just for a short while, only to have it end in nothing but silence. Most people think that it’s hard for me to open up, but I’m on a journey where I am learning to heal.

I know this: a broken heart is an open heart. It is in the breaking, when our hearts are peeled back on themselves, that our truths have passage to come in and out. If we’re lucky, our hearts will break over and over again to reveal new ways of being, of thinking, and of loving. Each break allows our hearts to heal better than the time before and yes, there is pain every time we’re cracked open, that inferno radiates immeasurable pain but my broken heart is not the same as sadness, sadness occurs when the heart is stone cold and lifeless. On the contrary, there is an unbelievable amount of vitality in a broken heart.

WHEN THE FRIEND ZONE BECOMES A WAR ZONE

By now, you are probably familiar with the term “friend zone” but in case you’re not, here is a definition from my super reliable friend, Wikipedia. “In popular culture, the friend zone is a situation in which one member of a friendship wishes to enter into a relationship, while the other does not. It is generally considered to be an undesirable situation for the rejected person.”

So how does it apply here? Well, at one point in my life, I wanted to date you, but you only wanted a hook-up. It was a painful pill to swallow, but it is a pill all of us have had to take at one point or another.

When that night plays back in my head – I watch the scene like a ghost. I see myself clinging onto my best friend trying to suppress my tears in a crowed bar. “Stop it Wade! Please just walk away. He does not care about you, can’t you see that?” My heart felt as if my blood had become thick black tar as it struggled to keep a steady beat, with watery eyes I continued to scan the bar looking for the exit, hoping that I would not bump into you, but I did, suddenly I couldn’t breathe, I was choking on my own emotions. You could see that I was hurt, but you did nothing wrong.

You have become a silhouette, as if you walked out of all the photographs and left behind blackness. It’s difficult to remember anything about you now, I don’t know what your voice sounds like anymore. Your smile is faded in my mind and your “louder than life” laugh is muted. There is heartache that comes and goes, always returning in quiet moments when I think of the memories. I want so much to keep you close, to talk and laugh like we once did, but I am scared – I don’t know if my heart could handle another inferno.

THE EMAIL YOU NEVER GOT

Hey Boy

This email is probably long overdue. I guess I put it off because I didn’t want the end of our “union” to be so formal and final – also a part of me wanted things to work out, however I feel that I need to get this off my chest so that I can allow myself to move on. I’ve been thinking a lot about what has happened between you and I – I’m ready now to tell you why.

I needed to say goodbye to you and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. You just weren’t making me as much of a priority as I was making you, and that’s okay – it’s part of life. It was just becoming more painful to have you in my life than to release you – so I let go. I want you to know, it wasn’t easy, because we had a great bond and friendship, I was looking at some of the photographs and videos we took just the other day, and I don’t regret not even one minute of it. But unfortunately you stepped on my heart just a little too hard and I knew I had to walk away. I still miss you right now, and I will probably feel the pull of you for a long time, and while I don’t know what the future holds, I do know that I must treat myself with kindness and respect in order to move on. There’s no point going over the bad times, we both know what they are – and we also both know everything we’ve done to try to work them out. And yes we have tried, it just didn’t work out well. We had some really great talks about what needed to change, but nothing ever did.

The decision seemed to be obvious to my head, but I had to persuade my heart, the process takes time, and it’s always painful. In this case, I probably realized that once the ties have been severed I’ll be able to move on.

One of the beautiful things about love is that it’s amazingly optimistic, meaning – we can idealize someone who is unbelievably wrong for us. My mind played tricks on me, leading me to make rationalisations for your behavior and I kept telling myself it’ll be different the next time, even though it never was.

I kept asking myself “What am I getting out of this union?” Does it feed my soul, or drain me? Sometimes it’s hard to know when to quit – like I said, the decision seemed to be obvious to my head, but I had to persuade my heart.

My final goodbye to you was accompanied by a flood of emotions and a sinking feeling that it was really over this time. Maybe I was overwhelmed, maybe I was scared, again it was my heart that was in the firing line, and it just kept taking bullet after bullet. Letting go of you, honestly felt like a death, even though losing someone to death is out of your control, but letting go of someone who is alive and well, is a hard choice that can feel equally devastating.

At first, I was in denial a stage, trying to protect myself from the intensity of the loss. Which is why I had to block you from my life, I couldn’t deal with having a connection to you, and I am sorry that I was so cold.

The next stage, was the bargaining period, I kept thinking about what more I could have done to prevent the loss, or I became preoccupied with the good times we had together. I still question my decision to walk away. I will probably always wonder if I should have stuck in there longer, maybe my heart would have eventually given up, even though I knew you never felt the same way I did.

One day I will look back and realize I learned something about myself from this experience. It may be something profound, or it may just be that I finally discovered what a broken heart feels like but either way I will have learned something and I want to thank you for the things you have taught me. Boy, you have inspired me to love more, to be more patient and to forgive. I forgive you for making me feel like I wasn’t good enough for you. I forgive you for embarrassing me in front of my friends. I forgive you for keeping me at arms-length. One day we may even be friends again, but right now, I’m just trying to be compassionate with myself and take it day by day. I think letting go was the best decision I could have made, given what I had to work with.

I wish you well. You truly do deserve the best that life has to offer you. You’re a great guy and you have a great support structure. I wish only the best for you, I’m sure you know that. Please know that I do love you, and a part of me always will, and I’ll always remember the good times we shared.

I really hope that this email will bring you closure, just as much as it has given me closure.

Keep your head up high and carry on emitting your bright, beautiful, bold light.

Take care of yourself Boy.

Good Vibes Only

Wade

Advertisements

“U EQUALS U”

STANDING UP

As a person who is HIV-positive and involved in HIV advocacy in my community, I’ve realised recently that it has become impossible to have a conversation about HIV without having the term ‘undetectable’ used, misused and abused. The lack of awareness of the term ‘undetectable’ is one of the reasons I was inspired to compile this blog.

Unfortunately HIV is still shrouded behind a veil of shame that keeps people from having honest conversations about their health. Silence is death and I believe that education and awareness is the key to helping the general public understand exactly what HIV is and how a person can not only seek treatment to live with the virus, but also prevent further infections.

In order to overcome the stigma associated with HIV, we must first remember that an HIV-positive person is neither a deviant, nor a victim. I am not suffering from HIV, I am living positively with HIV, on my terms! It’s been more than thirty years since the first cases of HIV were documented. Even though we have made great strides in our treatment and prevention methods yet, still, HIV is associated with the AIDS epidemic, unsafe sex, drug use and prostitution. Often people believe that a person with HIV did something wrong or bad to deserve it. I can say that no one deserves to contract a life-threatening illness, and the sooner we move on from that notion, the better.

The other great challenge in fighting stigma is to understand that HIV is not a death sentence. Many HIV-positive people on effective ARV treatment maintain active, healthy lifestyles well into their senior years.

WHAT HIV UNDETECTABLE MEANS

So you may have heard someone say “I’m HIV-positive, undetectable” but you’re not really sure what it means – allow me to explain:

A newly completed study of 358 serodiscordant [seerOHdiskawr–dnt] couples (one HIV-positive partner and one HIV-negative partner) has not found a single case of HIV transmission in 16,889 acts of condomless sex. The ground-breaking Opposites Attract study, conducted by the Kirby Institute at UNSW, Sydney, made its report to the 9th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2017) in Paris, France, in July 2017.

The study reconfirmed that an HIV-positive person can achieve an undetectable viral load after undergoing and maintaining effective ARV treatment, this means that the levels of HIV is so low that they cannot transmit their HIV infection to an HIV-negative person through condomless sex. There is also an overwhelming consensus that having and maintaining an undetectable viral load is a safe and effective HIV prevention strategy. However, it is important to note that being HIV-positive, with an undetectable viral load – does not mean that you are cured from HIV, it might still be present in the blood, but in amounts too low to be measured or detected.

Reacting to the studies’ findings, Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said: “Scientists never like to use the word ‘never’ of a possible risk. But I think in this case we can say that the risk of transmission from an HIV-positive person who takes ARV treatment and has an undetectable viral load may be so low as to be unmeasurable, and that’s equivalent to saying they are un-infectious. It’s an unusual situation when the overwhelming evidence based in science allows us to be confident that what we are saying is fact.”

The HIV ARV treatment works by suppressing the level of HIV virus, or viral load, within the patient’s body. In most cases after consistent daily treatment for six months, generally the HIV viral levels are undetectable. Today, treatment is much easier to take, has a much lower risk of side effects and is much more effective at controlling HIV while keeping the immune system healthy. Once an HIV-positive person achieves an undetectable status, it is possible to remain at this level provided that the person is compliant with their ARV treatment.

WP-034 UU WEB BNNR 960x640 v02

OK, SO WHAT IS AN HIV VIRAL LOAD?

An HIV-positive person can have their viral load measured to determine if their ARV treatment is effective. A viral load test can also indicate how infectious their bodily fluids are. By giving a blood sample to a laboratory, the blood sample will inspected and this will indicate the amount of HIV virus particles in their blood – these particles may also be referred to as ‘HIV copies’. The level of a person’s HIV viral load is what causes them to be more or less likely to transmit the virus.

A person who is not on ARV treatment will generally have a high HIV viral load, meaning that there is an increased amount of HIV copies in their blood and bodily fluids, making them more infectious and therefore the risk of transmitting HIV is higher. A viral load test can provide important information about the way that HIV might affect a person’s health and if it is left untreated and those with a high viral load tend to lose CD4 cells and become ill faster.

In comparison, a person who is on ARV treatment will have a lower viral load, meaning that the HIV copies in their blood and bodily fluids are so low, that there is no risk in transmitting HIV. Once an HIV-positive person has reached an undetectable status their viral load should be monitored every three to four months to ensure that their ARV treatment is still effective in controlling the amount of HIV copies in their body.

Be-healthy-know-your-viral-load

 It is important to note that, while effective HIV treatment by means of ARV’s and an undetectable viral load will protect HIV-negative partners from being infected with HIV, they do not protect them or you from other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Also, in some countries, condomless sex without disclosing your HIV status is a criminal offence, regardless of the likelihood of HIV transmission.

Should a serodiscordant couple want to stop the use of condoms, it is important to wait six months after the first undetectable viral load test, to be sure that treatment is working. It is also important to discuss this issue carefully with your partner and ensure they are also comfortable with the decision. Additionally, an HIV-negative partner may also want to explore the option of taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) which is an oral pill once a day, every day, to furthermore reduce their risk of contracting an HIV infection.

WHY IT IS GOOD TO HAVE AN UNDETECTABLE VIRAL LOAD

An HIV-positive person that has an undetectable viral load is important for a number of reasons.

First of all, because their immune system is able to recover and become stronger, it means they have very low risk of becoming ill because of HIV. It also reduces their risk of developing some other serious illnesses as well. There is some evidence that the presence of HIV (especially in a person with a higher viral load) can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and an increased risk of a stroke.

Secondly, having an undetectable viral load means that the risk of HIV becoming resistant to the ARV treatment they are taking is very small.

Finally, having an undetectable viral load massively reduces the risk of transmitting HIV to someone else.

MY MESSAGE TO YOU

HIV does not define a person and it will never define me. In South Africa alone, over seven million people are living with the virus.

My hope is that you are able to move beyond the HIV diagnosis itself and connect with the human story, my story, the story of a young man on a journey of self-discovery. Perhaps you’ll stop seeing a disease or virus, and start seeing the person – a son, a loving family member, or a close friend.

When we strip away the labels we place on ourselves and others, we realise all humans want the same thing, to make a connection with one another and to feel like our short time on this earth matters.

‘Undetectable’ refers to an HIV-positive person’s viral load, yes, but it also literally means not able to be detected… invisible. So most of all, I hope this message offers a new perspective on a community of people who, for too long, have been undetectable among us.

If you are HIV-positive and reading this; I wish the best of luck to you and your healing process, let go of the judgement. Continue to look after yourself. Forgive yourself and others and remember to take your ARV’s daily, it is lifesaving! Be not afraid of life’s uncertainties, believe that this life is worth living, and if you ever feel lost, disappointed or weak – return to yourself, to who you are, here and now – and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond. Stay strong and never give up!

As always,

Positive Vibes Only

SWALLOW THIS!

RETHINKING HIV PREVENTION

When I first heard of PrEP, I had no confidence in this new-ish preventative tool in combating the spread of HIV infections. Of course, at the time, I was an HIV-negative man, ignorant AF and judgemental. “Why would anyone want to take a pill, daily – to prevent themselves from being infected with HIV? It’s simple – keep your legs closed and don’t sleep around!” Boy… if only I hadn’t been so ignorant.

So much has happened since then, today, I am an HIV-positive man, well-educated and much less judgemental. So, you may be asking yourself why I never educated myself on the preventative measures against HIV? After all, I had all the tools available to educate myself. Well the answer is simple really – these words kept playing in my head, my safety net –

“My sexual partners don’t look sickly – in fact they’re very good-looking.”

“I know my sexual partners, they come from a good background.”

“HIV? It’ll never happen to me.”

Yes! That’s how ignorant I was, I didn’t even think twice about ever being exposed to HIV. Furthermore I tested negative for HIV on a regular basis, which inflated my ego. I thought I was invincible – HIV would never cross my path. Sadly, it only takes one small misstep to fall flat on ground, and mine was pretty obvious – I had unprotected sex.

Get yourself tested, regularly, I’ve heard it said that there are five statuses nowadays HIV-negative, HIV-positive, Undetectable, PrEP and, the most dangerous, Unknown.

Ignorance is not synonymous with stupidity, ignorance is not the inability to learn – it’s the state you’re in before you learn, so this is what you need to know:

PrEP FOR PREVENTION

tgRKuz9

PrEP, short for “pre-exposure prophylaxis” [prohFUHlaksis] is an HIV prevention strategy in which HIV-negative people take an oral pill once a day, every day, to reduce their risk of an HIV infection.

PrEP must be taken for at least 7 days to reach optimal levels of protection against HIV. The World Health Organisation has added this HIV prevention drug to its list of essential medicines in combating HIV and according to the South African National AIDS Council, 12 clinical trials have tested the effectiveness of oral tablets for PrEP in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America and the United States. PrEP is a powerful HIV prevention tool and can be combined with condoms and other prevention methods to provide even greater protection than when used alone. Daily PrEP has been shown to lower a person’s risk of sexually contracting HIV by more than 90% but people who use PrEP must commit to taking the drug every day, being tested for HIV every 3 months and seeing their doctor for a follow-up every 3 months.

Although the drug can cost about R550 per patient a month, because multiple studies across the world have shown the medication to be an effective way of reducing the risk of contracting HIV, it is widely deemed a cost-effective way of working towards eliminating the virus.

Is it safe? PrEP may cause initial side effects like nausea in some people, but side effects are rare. There are a lot of myths that the drug is toxic and that there are severe side effects, however a small programme offering PrEP to men who have sex with men in Cape Town, side effects are only present in one in 10 patients and only some patients have experienced moderate declines in kidney function associated with higher doses and older age. If you are taking PrEP, tell your doctor about any side effects that are severe or do not go away.

IS PrEP RIGHT FOR YOU?

PrEP may benefit you if you are HIV-negative and any of the following apply to you:

You are a gay / bisexual and

  • have an HIV-positive partner
  • have anal sex without using a condom
  • have multiple sexual partners
  • have a partner with multiple sexual partners
  • have partner whose HIV status is unknown

You are a heterosexual and

  • have an HIV-positive partner
  • don’t always use a condom during sex
  • don’t always use a condom for sex with bisexual men
  • don’t always use a condom for sex with people who inject drugs
  • have multiple sexual partners
  • have a partner with multiple sexual partners
  • have partner whose HIV status is unknown

You inject drugs and

  • are at risk of getting HIV from sex
  • share needles or equipment to inject drugs with other people

PEP FOR REDUCING THE RISK OF BECOMING HIV-POSITIVE

tgRKuz9

PEP, short for “post-exposure prophylaxis” [prohFUHlaksis] is an HIV prevention strategy in which HIV-negative people take anti-HIV short-term medication after coming into contact with HIV to reduce their risk of an HIV infection. PEP must be started within 72 hours (3 days) after HIV exposure.

If you think you’ve recently been exposed to HIV during sex (for example, if the condom broke / no condom was used) or through sharing needles or if you’ve been sexually assaulted, talk to your doctor or an emergency room doctor about PEP right away.

PEP is effective, but not 100%. You should continue to use condoms with sex partners and safe injection practices while taking PEP. PEP should be used only in emergency situations. PEP is not the right choice for people who may be exposed to HIV frequently – (for example, if you often have sex without a condom with a partner who is HIV-positive). Because PEP is given after a potential exposure to HIV, more drugs and higher doses are needed to block infection than with PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). PrEP is when people at high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting HIV. If you are at ongoing risk for HIV, speak to your doctor about PrEP.

PEP is safe but may cause side effects like nausea in some people. These side effects can be treated and aren’t life-threatening.

IS PEP RIGHT FOR YOU?

If you are HIV-negative or don’t know your HIV status and in the last 72 hours (3 days) you:

  • may have been exposed to HIV during sex (for example, if the condom broke / no condom was used)
  • shared needles or equipment to inject drugs with other people
  • sexually assaulted

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

  • Only people who are HIV-negative should use PrEP or PEP
  • PrEP and PEP are available by prescription from a medical provider, such as a doctor, you can also get PEP at your local emergency room
  • Neither PrEP nor PEP protects against other STIs or pregnancy, and they are not cures for HIV
  • You must be tested for HIV and have a documented negative test result before starting PrEP
  • PrEP is more than just taking a pill every day, it also involves frequent medical visits and lab tests to check for HIV, other STIs, and any changes in kidney health
  • PrEP does not have to be taken forever and can be stopped at any time under the supervision of your medical provider
  • PEP is taken for 28 days
  • If you’ve used PEP in the last year, it might be a good idea to talk to your medical provider about PrEP

HOW POSITIVE ARE YOU?

AN ORDINARY DAY

Waking up can be a really harsh experience, especially if your dreams are better than reality. The saddest part of it is, though, that eventually even the memory of your dream will fade – if you are even lucky enough to remember it that is. I uncover my face and silence my alarm. I blink, close my eyes and blink again… “Wade you have to wake up. You have to wake up, and soon! It isn’t just you either, everyone needs to awaken.” I know that today I am working with a very good friend of mine, Tanya. I am lucky to work with one of my best friends, we’re flying partners and we share the same roster.

I remember feeling optimistic, eager to be in Tanya’s company, we’re such experts at dissecting life’s challenges whilst sitting on our jumpseats but little did I know that Wednesday 29th of March 2017, my life would change forever and that perhaps this was a dissection best left for the experts only. I arrive at work, everything is ordinary – life, exactly how I know it… “Good Vibes Only” everything is “Stunnnning” these are just some of my favourite phrases I say on a daily basis.

We’re doing a double Port-Elizabeth (a 4 sector flight pairing between Johannesburg and Port-Elizabeth) it’s a rather long day but who cares I’m happy and I’m with Tanya. Before passengers board the aircraft, I turn my phone off and whilst I’m turning my phone off I hear an inner voice in me say “Keep your phone off, enjoy today – for what it is.” So that’s exactly what I did – I always try to honour my intuition. After landing in Port-Elizabeth once passengers have disembarked we have some free time whilst the cleaning team prepares the aircraft for the next flight back to Johannesburg, I guess for cabin crew this is our “tea time”. We normally use this time to take a few minutes to catch up with life, have something to eat, connect to social media etc. Tanya says to me “Doll why is your phone still switched off, that’s weird you’re always glued to your phone” I reply and say “Ah it’s cool, today I don’t want to be connected to anyone, it’s just you and I, it’s a beautiful day – who could possibly want to speak with me?”  

Before I knew it we were on final decent into Johannesburg, I was at the back of the aircraft helping my fellow colleagues with the drink service in economy class. Tanya calls me to the front of the aircraft “Wade! Come quick! There is a beautiful sunset outside my window!” She knows how much I love sunsets. I hurry to the front of the aircraft and true to her word, it was one of the most incredible sunsets I had ever seen. I remember thinking to myself “Everything seems so perfect – I’m happy, I have a job I’m extremely passionate about, I have just been promoted, I have loving family and friends, I have no major debt. Come on life, give me a challenge, something to look forward to, a new adventure!” It’s strange how the worst day of your life often starts just like any other. You might even complain very quietly to yourself about its ordinariness. You might wish for something more interesting to happen, and just when you think you can’t bear the monotony any longer, something comes along that shatters your life to such degree you wish with every cell in your body that your day hadn’t become so unordinary.

After the last passenger disembarks, I turn my phone on. Finally I’m able to connect with the world and my people, it’s been long! I receive a number of messages, Facebook notifications, Instagram notifications and so on – but there is one message that I see in the viewing window on my phones screen, it’s from my friend “Done the research. Name is taken but got some alternatives. We need to speak URGENTLY – not related to that” after reading this message, my stomach instantly turned, swallowing hard, I clutched furiously at my chest, hoping that my heart would stop racing. With a long exhale I can detect all the tell-tale signs that my brain has started the overthinking process. (If you’re trying to make sense of the above message, my friend and I planned to start a motivational blog website, we wanted to register http://www.positivevibesonly.com but that user domain name had already been taken. Ironically since – I’ve started this blog alone, without his collaboration unfortunately). I replied to his message “Hey just landed. Whats up?” He replies “Boy with family, can’t speak now, but I have to speak with you TODAY. Don’t wanna discuss this over text” the turning stomach feeling intensifies I’m seconds away from completely shutting down, I’m worried about him, I think that there is something really wrong with him – does he have cancer? Or perhaps he lost his job, I start thinking of how I’m going to help him – I care about him. I try calling him a few times but to no avail, he isn’t answering any of my phone calls. I send him a message “You can’t do this to me…” he replies saying “I’m sorry, I’ve been trying to call you all day. Where are you tomorrow?” I desperately try to make sense of this, thinking “Great Wade, you chose the right day to keep your phone turned off… yeah right!?” Tanya could see the look on my face that something seems to be terribly wrong, she tells me to keep her updated and that she will keep me in her prayers. I run to my car and leave the airport, rushing home I’m feeling sick to my stomach – still – trying to figure out what is going on. He tells me that he does not want his family to hear what is going on and that he will call me as soon as he gets home. Closer to home I get a message from him saying “Everything will be OK – POSITIVE VIBES ONLY” he also suggests that I don’t go to work the following day, by now I feel like fainting, I can feel every last drop of my blood drain out of my upper body and into my feet. He sends another message “You gonna have to sit down when we speak… YOU will be fine.”

By now, I am home. I can’t remember the drive home, I guess “auto-pilot” kicked in, my mind is so preoccupied with a million different thoughts. I know that I’m going to receive very bad news. I take a cold shower to cool my body down and wait for his phone call. It felt like I was waiting hours on end, eventually he calls me. I walk outside to the pool area because I’m worried my Mom will see the look of panic on my face.

Being the bearer of bad news is a terrible thing, sometimes you don’t know if you’ll have the words, the delicacy, the strength. You think of the person on the other side: how you’re about to bring their world crashing down with a single phone call and deep inside them they’ll hate you because their sorrow will just be searching for someone to blame. Then what do you say? That you’re sorry? Sorry for what? They’ll hate you even more because they’ll know you’re not sorry like they are. They’ll know you haven’t been destroyed like they have.

The phone call was brief, the ending less than graceful. He says “Wade I’ve been feeling sick and just could not get better, even after antibiotics I still felt sick, so my doctor ordered some blood tests and I decided to randomly check for HIV as well. Well Wade the results came back today – and I’m HIV-positive.” I took a deep breath and said “Noooooo – it can’t be true – what!? NO! Are you OK?” I can hear the tone of disbelief in his voice, I’m shattered. It’s difficult to respond, I’m worried for him, is he going to be OK? Suddenly it all makes sense now… I’ve had sex with him, without using protection – he was the bearer of bad news, a difficult but brave phone call to make. I realise now that I will need to be tested for HIV too. I tell him that I would not be able to do this alone, I need him now more than ever. I rush over to his house, once that first tear broke free, the rest followed in an unbroken stream. I sat upright – close to the steering wheel of my car, my palms were numb and adrenaline floods my system, shutting down my ability to think logically. I felt like letting go of the steering wheel, wishing this was just a bad dream and that is was time to wake up. I began to cry with the force of a person vomiting on all fours. “Please God. Please God. Please God this can’t be happening, please!” Before arriving at his house I wipe away the tears, he can’t see me crying again, he has seen me cry too often. I need to be strong this time. I wipe away my tears and put on the famous “everything-is-going-to-be-OK” mask although I am scared, fear sits on me like a pillow over my mouth and nose. When I arrive at his house, he is on the phone with a doctor, I wait for the phone call to end, he walks up to me and says “Can I please just have a hug?” I hug him tightly while holding my tears back, I’m scared too. He taps me on the back ending the hug session and says “Come we’re going to the hospital to get you tested.” Normally this isn’t a scary thing for me, I get tested at work regularly, but this time it just felt different. In my mind I already started preparing myself for the worst. I couldn’t drive properly my legs were shaking, speeding as fast as I could to the nearest hospital. I drove straight through the boom gate before it could fully open, I could hear my heartbeat banging in my ears, I just wanted this anxious feeling to end.

TWO LINES THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

The hospital casualty room is as devoid of beauty as I am of hope. Its walls are simply cream, not peeling or dirty, just cream. We tell the nurse on duty that I need to urgently have blood tests, but the hospital was busy, there were people waiting to see a doctor too. At the time I thought I was the only patient, I kept asking the nurse how long it would be until I saw a doctor, she replied “I don’t know, they’re busy with a resus.”  I realised then that someone was fighting for their life in the room next to me and it was going to be a long wait until my bloods were taken.

The only words I conditioned my mind to hear were “Mr Schaerer, we’re ready for you.” I could hear nothing else, it felt like the world was slowly disappearing in front of me. Or maybe it was just me who was fading away. Those moments didn’t matter anyway, all I wanted was to know what my results were. Inside the hospital there was a 24-hour pharmacy, I decided to walk there to find out if they had any rapid HIV testing kits. I approached the pharmacist, passing the people who had been waiting in the queue – honestly I didn’t care about them, I had tunnel vision, I said to the pharmacist “Please help me, I need a rapid HIV test.” I could see the look on his face soften as he passed me the testing kit. My friend and I took the rapid HIV testing kit back to the casualty room where I was waiting to see a doctor. I asked one of the nurses to help me do the test but she was not sure how it worked, even though there are clear instructions for use printed on the box. My friend and I were hesitant to do the test ourselves, we didn’t want to mess it up. After reading the instructions over and over we are now finally confident enough to do the test ourselves. I prick my finger with the lancet and draw up blood into the plastic pipette, I then deliver one drop of blood into the cassette and add two drops of provided diluent – after this the instructions simply say “wait 15 minutes.”

My heart was hitting my chest so hard I thought it would break my ribs and rip my skin apart, the only thing I could think about was what the results of my test were going to indicate. My heart twisted and sunk with nerves as I sat in front of the test. I have held my breath in a pool before, this isn’t like that. This is like having a gun to your head and being told not to let your heart beat. Of course it will beat. And just like the heart must go on, your lungs will inhale whether it is air or water. The white light enveloped me, my breaths came in sharp pants and I tried to gain control, but nothing was working. It hurt! I tried to breathe calmly, but every time I tried looking up my eyes kept dropping to the test cassette. I’ve done this before – one line means HIV-negative and two lines mean HIV-positive. When I saw the first line starting to develop I knew that it wasn’t normal. The first line was faint, but I could see it, it developed over the “T” column, I knew then that the test was starting to indicate that I was HIV-positive. Shortly thereafter the second line developed over the “C” column. Those cruel, horrible, necessary lines were there, the two lines that were needed to indicate a positive reading on a rapid HIV test. In 15 minutes my entire world had changed, the result I had waited for with anxiety and worry, knowing, somehow, what they might say. It’s difficult to remember exactly what happened after that, I don’t know where my friend went and I don’t remember what he said. He had probably gone outside to smoke a cigarette.

When I eventually saw a doctor I told him that I had just tested HIV-positive on a rapid test which I had bought at the pharmacy inside the hospital. He asked me to do another rapid test – it felt like I was reliving the worst experience of my life. Again, the rapid test indicated that I was HIV-positive. The doctor said “I’m sorry to tell you this but it is very likely that you are HIV-positive, these rapid HIV tests are quite accurate. I will call a nurse to take your blood as a confirmation.” The doctor walked away and said “It’s not a death sentence anymore.” His words splinter inside me causing more pain than a blunt knife lodged into my heart, of course I never got any kind of post-test counselling, I never saw the doctor again. Whilst waiting for the nurse to take my blood, slowly, the panic and anxiety flowed away, I was in shock. My eyes closed and aimed towards my clasped hands, trepidation swelled through me as I slowly raised my eyes yet again into the steadily shining lights of the room, I held onto the curtain that surrounded the bed I was sitting on and fell to the floor. My body felt hot, I wanted to take all my clothes off, it felt like my world was ending. My friend came back into the room and gave me a can of coke. I needed the sugar rush to prevent me from fainting. The pain that once burned like fire had faded away to an icy numbness. Black filled the edges of my vision and the only thing I could hear was my own heartbeat.

The hypodermic needle grew as I watched it come close to my arm. The nurse had me sit up. Next, she said “I will be testing you for Human Immune-deficiency Virus markers, HIV viral load, a full blood count, liver function, Hepatitis B Virus markers, Hepatitis C Virus markers as well as a CD4/CD8 count.” I looked away at the wall, denial, trying not to centre my attention to the needle embedded in my arm. However, my eyes swung back to it as if out of control. My bright red blood filled a number of tubes. “What is all this?” I didn’t know what she was talking about, I just kept quiet. I’ll admit I was ignorant, I never knew a lot about HIV and even as I tried to recall what I did know, I quickly realised it was little. I had always thought this would never be a challenge I would ever face, even as a gay man.

THE BLAME GAME

My friend and I left the hospital and I spent that evening at his house. Initially I think we were both still in shock or denial. He had been told earlier that morning that he was HIV-positive too, he knew first-hand what I was experiencing. At the time there was just nothing to say really – we’re both HIV-positive and who is to blame? I know what he is thinking and I’m sure he knew what I was thinking. The awkwardness is like touching an electric fence – not enough voltage to kill but sufficient to keep things uncomfortable. Naturally you want someone to blame for every blow that life throws at you. We decided to talk openly about previous sexual partners, this proved to be the wrong thing to do, it angered both of us, but still who is to blame? It is impossible to know who infected who, besides, what will it change? I can say today that: I gave myself HIV – it doesn’t matter who gave me HIV – I need to take full responsibility for my actions and lifestyle. I learned to forgive myself and to forgive the person who gave me HIV. I have always known that forgiveness is the key to life. In July 2016 I met with the man who murdered my Dad and I forgave him, so why can’t I forgive the man who gave me HIV? The forgiveness thing is the most powerful thing we have. You never forget the pain. You never forget how it hurts, but yet you are grateful that God has given you forgiveness. So when you give it to others, it comforts you. That’s the only way you’re going to heal.

I won’t allow any negativity to surround what has happened to me, it won’t do me any good, or my health. But moving forward, I’ve learned to love and respect myself more. I know who my true friends are, and most especially, I’m happy with the love and support that I’m getting from my family, friends and fellow people living with HIV. There is always life after an HIV-positive diagnosis, it’s not easy I know, and this will always serve as a reminder to me, to live my life to its fullest.

BREAKING THE SILENCE… I AM HIV-POSITIVE

Telling my Mom that I am HIV-positive was probably the hardest part of this journey, it’s the last thing you want to tell a parent. I knew it would hurt her, I knew it would disappoint her, I am her only child. Coming out as HIV-positive is 100 times worse than coming out as gay, there is something so destroying about revealing your status to people who love you, you can almost see the sadness in their eyes. She went to bed and didn’t say much, she said she needed to process it. It took her a while to come to terms with my diagnosis. She felt guilty that she wasn’t able to protect me. I tried going into education mode, trying to tell her that I was still going to live a normal life, but at the time I still knew very little about HIV and AIDS – and I was still awaiting the results of the blood tests that were taken. In the back of my mind I was still hoping that somehow the rapid HIV test was inaccurate. I spent all my free time on the internet researching facts about HIV and AIDS. I soon realised that I shouldn’t spend all my time reading up about HIV and AIDS, most of the content is harsh, one that I battled with was: “Life expectancy 20 years with the use of ARVs” for me that meant I will be dying at the age of 45, I cried until my eyes ran dry and my chest heaved violently. I’m not ready to die at 45! I never will be. I know now that this is not true and I will live a normal long life, as long as I maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I scheduled an appointment with my family doctor who would explain my blood test results. Dr Van Der Merve had indeed confirmed my HIV status “Yes it’s true, it is reactive, you do have HIV – but you’re still healthy, look at you, you’re the picture of health” it was difficult to believe, mentally I felt sick and disgusting. Even though my CD4 count was normal with a low viral load she still suggested that I start ARV (antiretroviral) treatment immediately – the sooner you start ARV treatment the better.

I decided to disclose my HIV status to my family and close friends soon after I was diagnosed, again this was not easy as I wanted to tell them face-to-face. This is not something I wanted to discuss over an email or text message. All my aunts cried when I told them, I could see the sadness and fear in their eyes, I’m sure it was the last thing they were expecting to hear, having said that – I have the most supportive family and friends who only want the best for me. I am incredibly blessed. “Nothing changes, I still love you, now and always, no matter what” was a common comment.

MY DAILY VITAMIN

A triple therapy antiretroviral drug – efavirenz [efAVirenz] – emtricitabine [emtryeSYEtabeen] and tenofovir [tenOFohvir] all packed into one big orange pill, a pill that I will need to take for the rest of my life. I opened the bottle and took out the pill, I looked at it and held it close to my racing heart. I closed my eyes and asked it to only do its magical healing super-function. “Please stop destroying my white blood cells.” I remember thinking “What is this pill going to do to my body?” I had taken 2 weeks off from work after being diagnosed, I needed time to allow my body to get used to the side effects of this pill and I wanted to be in the comfort of my own home, during this time the side effects I experienced from the ARVs were intense. About 45 minutes after taking the pill, the first side effect starts kicking in – dizziness, everything surrounding you starts to spin and you feel unbalanced, shortly after that a series of hot flushes spread over your body, combine that with feeling nauseas as well. I had no appetite, my bones and joints ached. I urinated blood for a few days and felt constantly tired. The side effects have subsided now but I still have constant lower back ache since starting treatment and most nights I have nightmares too.

I had never believed in taking pills – not even antibiotics, I am a person who believes in the healing power of nature and eating healthily. I read online about the potential damage these pills could cause my kidneys and liver but if you don’t treat HIV with ARVs it can lead to the disease AIDS, so I really had no choice if I wanted to live. I just had to deal with the side effects. I started combining my ARV treatment with ozone and oxygen, a natural treatment that involves having ozone gas pumped into your veins intravenously every day. I’m not sure how effective this alternative treatment is, but I’m willing to give it a bash too.

Although I dislike taking this pill and I’m extremely worried about the long-term damage it may be causing my body, I know that this pill is designed to slow down the replication of HIV within the body, repair damage to the immune system and reduce the viral load (the amount of virus in your bloodstream). Eventually my viral load will become “undetectable”. People with undetectable viral loads stay healthier for longer and they are also less likely to transmit the HIV infection to others.

DOES HIV LOOK LIKE ME?

Although HIV and AIDS has become very common, it is still surrounded by silence. People are ashamed to speak about being infected and many see it as a scandal when it happens in their families. People living with HIV and AIDS are exposed to daily prejudice born out of ignorance and fear. By sharing my personal story with you, my hope is that I can break the silence surrounding HIV and AIDS. Don’t be a silent witness when it happens to you or around you.

There are a lot of assumptions made about the kind of people who get infected with HIV. Some people think that it is a reality for homosexuals, drug addicts or the promiscuous, the truth is, it can happen to anybody – you don’t have to be a gay male, you don’t have to be a drug user and you don’t even have to be promiscuous. What about people who have been raped and subsequently become infected with HIV? What about the faithful partner who is infected with HIV from an unfaithful partner? Or the thousands of babies who are born with HIV and kids orphaned by HIV. So the next time you have something to say about HIV, think about who may be listening, you never know what their story is. Don’t be naïve about the kinds of people who can get infected with HIV, because no one is exempt.

Learn how to react and deal with the news in a better way when someone confides in you and has the courage to tell you they are HIV-positive. Don’t be ignorant… get informed on how to protect yourself from getting HIV. Take responsibility for the prevention of HIV in your community. Challenge negative attitudes and behaviours that contribute to HIV stigma.

More than half of young people who are living with HIV are unaware of their status. I urge all my family and friends to share this post to create awareness. Get yourself tested – regularly, know your status. Fight against HIV and AIDS, it is your responsibility.

I won’t give up – ever – HIV is not my death sentence, it was just my wake-up call.

You are not a victim for sharing your story. You are a survivor, setting the world on fire with your truth. You never know who needs your raging courage. I am living with HIV. I am not suffering from HIV so please don’t say that – or call me a victim of HIV. My name is Wade.

THE FORGIVENESS THING

And that was it. My Dad was gone. He never saw my first day at primary school. He never saw me graduate. He’ll never see my success. It seems unnatural.

On May 14th, 1994 – Louis Schaerer, my Dad, was killed by a single gunshot that punctured his heart. There had been an argument between my Dad and his “best friend” but Stanley gave no real motivation for the murder and he does not know why he murdered my Dad – nor can he remember the chain of events… well that’s pretty convenient.

Today – the day I’ve been waiting for, my entire life. I came face-to-face with the man who murdered my Dad. My aunt and I needed answers, explanations and closure for my Dad’s untimely death, we had been trying to contact Stanley for years but to no avail. Ironically on my aunts birthday we had finally been given Stanley’s contact details, a month later we called him and asked to meet him. He agreed! When Stanley first sat down at the table across me, he had his head down and he wouldn’t look at me, maybe because I am the splitting image of my Dad. He wouldn’t look into my eyes at all. I said “you know what Stanley, if my Dad had taken your life, I would expect him to have to pay for what he did…” and whilst I was preparing to let out years of anger that was built up towards him I stopped – I became still, I suddenly felt a calmness take over my body and I ended up telling him “I forgive you Stanley and I don’t hate you anymore” but at the same time I wanted him locked up, caged, never to see daylight again, because he was responsible for abruptly ending my Dad’s life. I couldn’t believe what I had just said. I remember thinking “it’s okay Wade, forgive him”.

The grieving process, I think it began for me, when I started primary school, I couldn’t understand why I did not have a Dad, the Dad who played soccer with me, the Dad who took me out to the dam to go fishing. I just knew that I was blessed with an amazing Mother, who wasn’t afraid to play soccer with me and take me fishing – even though we weren’t successful in catching not even a single fish. My Mom took the role of being a Mom and a Dad; she dedicated her life to me – always working hard to ensure that she could give me the best life she could possibly give.

When I was old enough to understand what death meant, wave-after-wave, a tsunami – of just “stuff” – hatred – anger – sadness… emotions hit me down time after time. Here I am a teenager and I hated this middle-aged murderer, and the only thing I knew about him was his name… Stanley. I never ever thought I would be put back together. I remember thinking this is crazy… how could this have happened, how do I live a normal life now. Thankfully I am blessed with a loving and caring family, who have been a constant source of support.

I went through the motions of life. They say life goes on, but it would be 22 long years before my emotional turmoil would end. Today, I took a hard look at my heart and I heard “Wade, you need to repent. You need to repent for all these things that you’ve said about Stanley. All these feelings that you’ve had for him, all the hatred you’ve had for him” at the same time I’m thinking I have a right to have these feelings don’t I? Well the truth is no, who am I to judge.

I said to Stanley “you took something very precious from me, but I forgive you. It hurts me, deeply. You hurt my family, you hurt a lot of people Stanley, but may God forgive you. With maturity, I hold myself accountable and responsible for my actions and thoughts towards you, which is why I choose not to hate you Stanley.” I had to make sure that I had truly forgiven him, that there was no hatred bottled up inside me. “Today, from the bottom of my heart I want you to know that I forgive you” I asked him “Stanley will you do just do one thing for me? If you ever find yourself in a position where you know you’re going to die, I mean whether it be due to violence or illness, would you just ask God to come into your heart and forgive you?” His face suddenly softened and tears came into his eyes, at this point I knew that I had been given the closure I needed. Our meeting ended, I shook his hand and said “best of luck to you and your family”. I walked away from hatred, I walked away from suffering and chose to see the light at the end of a very long dark tunnel of un-forgiveness.

Being on the other side of forgiveness is important in my life because it made me free enough to be myself, I can really live and enjoy life. I can enjoy people. I can enjoy being home, I can enjoy laughing. Outside of that, I’ve got a huge loving family and great friendships that I cherish deeply.

The forgiveness thing is the most powerful thing we have. You never forget the pain. You never forget how it hurts, but yet you are grateful that God has given you forgiveness. So when you give to others, it comforts you. That’s the only way you’re going to heal.

I learned today that, un-forgiveness is a dangerous thing.

July 14th, 2016

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑