HIV then, and HIV now are two very different things.
That fact is intertwined with my own experience and mental progress in processing what I have gone through because of the very fact that I “bought” into the then on what HIV was and what it meant rather than the now.
The history is HIV is dramatic and scary. People were dying without explanation. Really healthy people without any proper reason were too quickly deteriorating and dying. When we established what this disease was, and developed some harsh, what we’d see now as quite crude medications but life expectancy was thought to be low. To be honest, we really didn’t know enough. Scary advert campaigns villainised the disease still further, leaving even more stereotypical opinions on what it is to have the disease.
For example, and I had been guilty of this too, if someone told you they were HIV+ you would naturally assume they must be gay. In fact, new cases are in the highest % in heterosexuals. But yet, if I were to tell someone I was HIV+, I still even now feel this is also telling them of my sexuality.
HIV was also treated like a severe terminal illness that meant being paid off sick permanently and just waiting to die. This is not the reality at all. I certainly aim to live the length of life I would have anyway, doing all the things (and then some, as we have explored) I would normally do.
My own battle has been with these very prejudices and my early days really dwelled on the death sentence the diagnosis meant. I really do acknowledge the fact that there is a disparity between the western world advantages of treatment and management and those less fortunate in developing countries. For them, higher levels of untreated cases must increase mortality directly from the disease but even there, worldwide advances on the distribution of medication is really helping. What I have come to terms with, and what everyone should come to terms with, and certainly if you are reading this and you have just been diagnosed yourself and are going through all the mental anguish I went though, should come to terms with, is that the HIV now is a managed ailment that means you can carry on with life, you can do the things you wanted to do and the ignorance of the few who, just like I did before I had the disease myself, would shuffle a little further away to get their own clean air is, ironically, an ailing dying idea itself.
And there I am on the tube, standing crowded around other people. I have been HIV for 15 years now. I don’t look bad at all. I even get the occasional sly “You are attractive to me” glances. I definitely don’t look HIV. What does HIV look like nowadays? No-one would ever know I had this disease and really I’m getting to the point where I really don’t care if they know or not. But even more importantly, I suspect other people care a little less than they did before if they knew I was. For me, that’s progress personally but socially too and its lovely to see.