There's no coincidence that I chose today to be part of an HIV study. I woke up today eager and ready to go to the clinic to take part in a survey that was about men who have sex with men. Part of the requirements of the study was that participants take an HIV test afterwards. As I got ready this morning, I mentally prepared myself for the test. I went through both scenarios in my head, both equally exhausting. What if it was negative? What would that feel like?
The reality was, I already knew the test would not be negative. There was no coincidence in me planning this study today because four years ago to the day, I was sitting in a clinic just like the one I would be in. I can still recall the look in the nurse's eyes and the tone in her voice when she told me that I was HIV positive. I don't think it's something I will ever be able to erase from my memory. I already knew what the results of my test today would be, but I still needed to go through the process. Maybe it's because I knew this time I would be mentally prepared for the news unlike the first time when it hit me like a freight train head on. Maybe I just needed a new version of my diagnosis day, one that I knew for a fact wouldn't be as traumatizing. Is that selfish?
I'm never going to be able to fully forget that day when my life came to a halt, but with time, I'm hoping this day will come and go just like every other day. But for now, I still take the day to myself to do what I need to do, whether that's crying, or taking myself to a movie or even getting an HIV test for selfish reasons. It's important to grieve and reflect on what has happened since finding out. For me, in four years, I have come to a place in my life where I am open about my status, I have no shame and I do what I can for my community. It's a long ways from where I was in year 1. But those are my personal accomplishments and victories.
I'll most likely never have that negative test result experience, but for the time being, I am thrilled each time my labs come back and show that I am undetectable. For me, that's as close as I can get to it. Just that word alone; undetectable -it feels so good saying it. For those of us who are HIV positive, achieving an undetectable status should be top priority--and it's really not hard to achieve anymore. Starting on a treatment and adhering to it can rapidly decrease the viral load.
Killing the shame and stigma surrounding HIV is the first step to getting everyone tested and on medication to then ultimately have the majority of infected individuals at undetectable levels. The transmission rates at undetectable levels are so low that essentially, if everyone who was positive was undetectable, this virus could be contained--ensuring that others wont have to be punched in the face with bad news from the nurse after their HIV test.
So I might have taken a day to be selfish and do what makes me feel better, but in the end, it's not a sad day. It's a day of reflection, a day of remembrance, and a day to be thankful for all the good.
Follow David Duran on Twitter: www.twitter.com/theemuki