FS Mag Upfront "Oh shit, I have HIV!" HIV+ME with Ruaidhri O’Baoill @RuaidhriOB “Oh shit, I have HIV” were not the words I said when I was first diagnosed. They were what I said out loud to myself six months later as I was sat on the tube on my way home from a long day at work. Ever since I found out I wondered if I would be able to forget and move on with my life. It became an everyday occurrence that someone would ask me “How are you?” or “How have you been coping?” Taking my medication every day constantly ensured that HIV was now a part of my life and I wouldn’t be forgetting about it any time soon. I was even convinced that people were saying the word ‘positive’ more than they normally used to. No matter what happened I felt that I was walking around with HIV tattooed on my face. So when I finally forgot about it, on two separate occasions, my reactions were very different. With no tube strike in sight, I was on my way home from work. Sat on the Northern line making my way south, I had finished my daily catch up with today’s current affairs. By current affairs, of course I mean the Metro’s Guilty Pleasures section. I remember putting the paper down and finding myself in a daydream. That was when it hit me – “Oh shit, I have HIV!” I can’t really describe the feeling but it genuinely felt like I was receiving the news for the first time all over again. However this time I started to smile. Then I began crying but they were more happy tears. The sense of having this burden lifted was immense. I thought I had finally made the breakthrough I had wanted to so when I hopped off the tube at my stop I felt pretty much on top of the world. I was sure that this was the beginning of the rest of my new life. However that was short-lived. The following week I pretty much found myself in the same situation. On the tube and on my way home, I had managed to forget about it all over again. The only difference was this time I was heartbroken. I remember feeling frightened that by forgetting it I had seemed to somehow move on with my life. I was frightened that this was now the new me. I wasn’t ‘Ruaidhri, a gay 26-year-old living in London’ but rather ‘Ruaidhri, a gay 26-year-old living with HIV in London’. People had stopped asking me every day how I was or if I was coping. My big news had become old news which I found very hard to accept. My life, I felt, started going downhill. My social life, my friends and work suffered as a result. I struggled with letting it go. After wanting so much to forget about having HIV, I didn’t want to anymore. Forgetting it somehow made it real and I wasn’t ready for that. I would constantly tell people that I had HIV, even those I had just met. I suppose this way made me feel that if it was new to them, it somehow kept it new for me. This carried on for a while until it had reached the point where I had just become exhausted with it all. I got tired of talking about it and was even fed up saying the word HIV. I realised that in order for me to move on, I have to accept it. I have to forget about it as it allows me to think about other important things in my life. I also realised that yes, being HIV-positive plays a part of my life but doesn’t define who I am or will become. I still struggle every now and then with it being the norm but at the same time I look forward the times when I forget and say “Oh shit, I have HIV”, as I can now finish the sentence with “and I am doing just fine” Ruaidhri is 26-years-old and originally from Ireland. He’s been living in London for nearly five years. Ruaidhri was diagnosed HIV-positive in August 2014. In his spare time he likes to stalk Victoria Beckham and run after plastic bags on a windy day. HIV+LIFE HIV AND STRESS Short-term day to day stress is something that we all experience and it shouldn’t cause any major problems, or be anything to be overly concerned about. In fact, not all stress is ‘bad’ stress. Anything that causes a change in any aspect of your life can cause stress, even if the change is good. Getting a promotion at work, for example, is usually good, but can be stressful. If the demands of life become too much to cope with, however, then stress can cause problems. If you are finding it difficult to cope with new situations physically, mentally or emotionally, then the stress caused by this can become too much to deal with. Being diagnosed and living with HIV can bring with it times of increased stress, but there are things that you can do to try to keep stress levels down. Stress and the immune system Short-term stress should have no detrimental effect on your immune system, but long-term stress can be a problem. Too much stress can suppress the immune system, whether you are HIV-positive or not, leaving you more open to viral infections such as colds and flu. It can also mean that these infections are more difficult to fight off. If you are HIV-positive, your immune system may not be as strong as it used to be. The combination of a weakened immune system and too much stress can therefore have an effect on your day to day health. HIV treatment and stress Starting on anti-HIV drugs for the first time or changing the combination you are on can be stressful. There’s a lot to consider and new routines to learn. In the initial period, the side effects of the drugs can be stressful to deal with for some people. If you are worried about coping with the stress of starting or changing treatment then speak to your doctor, or talk to a health adviser at your clinic about stress management. Managing stress Before you can start to manage stress, it’s a good idea to first try to identify what’s causing it. You may be under a lot of stress because of being diagnosed HIV-positive, or because you’re starting or changing treatment, but there could be many other reasons as well. Talk it through with someone who may be able to help identify the cause, such as your doctor or a health adviser at your clinic. It may even be worth considering going to see a counsellor, such as the ones available through Terrence Higgins Trust. When you have identified what factors are causing you stress then you can start to do something about it. Other ways to manage stress include learning how to relax. There are many different kinds of relaxation techniques, from simple breathing exercises to complementary therapies such as massage and yoga. Some people find that these kinds of complementary therapies work very well for them. Physical exercise can also be a really good way of relieving stress. It doesn’t have to be really hard exercise – sometimes a gentle swim or going for a walk can help you to unwind and also help you to cope physically and mentally with the stresses in your life. Support For details about counselling services that may be available and suitable for your needs, call THT Direct on 0808 802 1221. GMFA has a section of its website dedicated to gay men living with HIV. Visit www.gmfa.org.uk/living-with-hiv. THIS ARTICLE WAS TAKEN FROM ISSUE #149.