I was diagnosed as HIV positive in December 2015. As a newly diagnosed person you don’t have any idea where to go, or what to do once you’ve received what seems to be, at that stage, a death sentence. All I could do was try and find answers on Google. Two good picks were the Ian Charleson Clinic at the Royal Free Hospital, and the Gay Men’s Group (GMG).
I had my first consultation at Royal Free, I was quickly summoned back, my prognosis was critical, viral load in the millions and CD count below 30. Not that I understood any of this, I did not realise the severity. I was already scheduled to go abroad for the holiday period. That holiday saw my mental health deteriorate rapidly to the extent that it reached suicidal levels. My HIV status diagnosis brought to the surface the underlying career burnout that was dormant until that stage. In essence everything that was me felt compromised, and imploded all at once. Once back in the UK, I started medical treatment mid January.
I also heard back from the Gay Men’s Group (GMG), and attended my first session towards the end of January. This literally saved my life in the following ways:
You were among people that were living with HIV, some in excess of 30 years. They were alive, they were healthy, their lives did not end with HIV. In fact they were just people with a chronic disease living a normal life.
Hope: Yes you could love again and have sex and have a relationship. Through the groups’ boldness and courage you learn how to deal with perceived stigma. That in return helps to give you strength and knowledge to be equipped when you land in similar situations. You accept yourself as an individual with a disease, you are not the disease.
There is so much knowledge, much gained through sheer and difficult experiences. The members were prepared to discuss any topic, sensitive or not, and not just HIV related and advise accordingly. The basics is what you needed to know.
Physically my medicine was working, my viral load dropped dramatically to less and CD4 count increased to 454. The critical area was mental. Transforming from being HIV negative, which you have lived as all your life, instantly to someone who is HIV positive, and seeing what happens.
Being among others just like you, hearing their stories, which in most cases could be far worse than your own, provided that light in the tunnel. I was able to identify with these individuals, the future was not that uncertain anymore. I learned to manage and eventually erase the paranoia. From the group you consciously pick the personalities that you consider as role models. Some of those became dear friends, friendships that will last a lifetime.
Those suicidal thoughts started to disappear. I started picking up the pieces of my life and remodel into a ‘new you’, based on the experiences of others who had already been able to do so. The group provided me with the tools that were needed to continue this life in a positive proactive manner.
I consider myself as extremely fortunate to firstly being diagnosed in this country with the excellent NHS services and secondly by picking the Gay Men’s Group (GMG) that helped to make me whole again, and in some aspects a better human again on a mental level.
In every life there are critical influences. Medicine can fix you on a physiological level but in this instance the psychiatric healing was facilitated through the souls that were much further down the road than where you found yourself. The Gay Men’s Group (GMG) made this possible by bringing those souls together, and I will be eternally grateful for this. It literally saved my life.