When you are first diagnosed, it feels like you have been given a life sentence. You feel isolated and alone. You are left within the whirlwind of your thoughts and emotions. It is a mental and emotional roller coaster of coming to terms with the new reality that you have HIV.
Though it can be seen as a life sentence in terms of it being a lifelong medical condition, you remain free. This is one of many chapters in your life, with much of the journey and its conclusion still to be written. It is a new chapter and a new beginning of self-awareness, individual purpose and happiness. When I found out that I was HIV positive, I never imagined how much my life would change, how many friends I would lose or how many friends I would gain. But being diagnosed HIV positive opened up my eyes and showed me the true colours of the world and the people who live in it.
I have been stigmatized and discriminated against due to my HIV status. Even though I have grown to accept my status, I still have moments just like everybody else living with the virus. I still have days when I wish that I could be free of this virus and disease, especially on those days when the neuropathic pains hit. Every cough, sneeze or tingling in my throat scares me.
For many years, I’ve kept my HIV status very private. Coming out as HIV positive was not an option during this time. I couldn’t tell anyone- especially my family that I was not only gay but also had contracted HIV. I told myself it was because I wanted to protect them or at least that was my excuse to continue living in the shadows of loneliness, shame and guilt for having allowed myself to contract this virus.
But it’s something that I’ve learned is a part of me. It’s a large part of me, but it’s not the biggest part of me. I want people to look at me and think, he is Rohit Malik. He’s got HIV. But who cares? I never thought that I would be in this situation. And I know a lot of other people who thought the same thing. I was very naive, young and uneducated. People need to be more educated.
HIV awareness is still so important. A lot of parents don’t want their children to be taught about sex or diseases related to sex in school. I’m not an expert on when to talk to a child about these things, but I believe they should be educated about HIV and other issues when they are in high school. Ideally, the students should be able to ask questions of someone who is living with HIV.
Real questions with real answers can and should be asked. I was once on a road of self-destruction, but, because of my diagnosis, I am now on the road to self-discovery. I am not that competitive of a person but now I think of myself as a winner in this game called life. I put myself at risk in the past and now I must live with the consequences and what I might call now a small blessing. I now eat a healthier diet. I go to sleep at a reasonable time. I get restful sleep. I take all my necessary medications and vitamins. I am more physically active and I am learning to take life at a slower rate and actually smell the roses.
Although everyone has their own journey, there is a natural river of empathy that flows through me when I see people living with HIV. I get that it is a uniquely stigmatized disease and can come with a lot of social burdens. I think knowing your status is essential; access to treatment is essential. Talking about HIV and reducing stigma are also crucial to making a dent in the HIV fight. We have the tools to begin to turn the tide of this epidemic and it is time that we scale up and put them in place for all of our health and well being.
I would say that when something like HIV takes control of your life, having someone to share it with it makes it easier. Also if you have family and friends, you have a great life. HIV is not the end of my life. I can choose to live a normal life and have a normal life span because I choose to fight, stand up and be brave. I choose to fight against HIV stigma and to stand up against HIV discrimination. I choose to be brave against HIV.