Words by Jamie Stewart - @jimthevic

2011 had been a shit and crazy year.

A break-up in Edinburgh and my dad dying of cancer back home in the Liverpool area. At the end of August 2011, I had met this amazing and beautiful guy who lived in Paris, and we fell in love within days. September kept us apart, but the first week of October saw me flying over there and I had the happiest week of my life.

As soon as I got back, I took myself off to the clinic for my regular three month check-up, as you should as a sexually active gay man, also knowing there had been a couple of times this year I’d gone bareback.

But I had topped and it was just a couple of times, and I thought that surely everything was OK. I hated hospitals so thank God that now I had a steady boyfriend I would have no more need of going to these clinics.

They kindly took me into a side room and gave me the news without any sugar-coating. I was HIV-positive. They could tell me when the infection period must have been due to my regular attendance. I could work out exactly where and when I must have connected with the virus.

The blood drained from my head and I felt faint, exhausted, but most of all, so humiliated. Everyone knows how you get it and I had done that very thing. How stupid and short sighted I felt.

The team immediately told me about viral loads and CD4 counts, but not much went in, except that the words ‘undetectable’, ‘manageable’, and ‘liveable’ stuck.

The thing I remember them saying was that (like diabetes) it was now a chronic condition I had to keep an eye on, and that I would die with it, not of it, and frankly my prognosis was BETTER than diabetes, and thanks to being caught so early the virus would do little or no damage to me.

I drove around for a while, numb and scared.

How was I to tell my new boyfriend? Within a few hours, I plucked up the courage to go and visit a friend who had worked with people with all sorts of needs and deprivations. He was fantastic. Very kind, caring, but also pragmatic. He was there while I made that awful phone call to Paris.

The next few weeks were a blur. I felt numb and was waiting for my boyfriend’s response after he had asked for space to think about it. Slowly I realised that ‘the worst thing possible’ had happened to me, and I was not only still here, but the virus would not have the chance to do any real damage to me.

And then he phoned. He had processed it; we would be careful, but his love was strong enough to carry us into the future. He wanted to come and visit me and carry on our relationship.

Now, years on, that relationship is over due to distance and different life stages. NOT the intervention of HIV.

And I am now on meds, which mean that I became ‘undetectable’ within a couple of months, and CANNOT pass it on to anyone. After years of keeping my status to myself, I am now trying to be more vocal in order to demystify living with HIV; I advocate for mental and sexual health online, and volunteer locally. By speaking about it, ignorance is reduced, and stigma is starved out.

Obviously HIV is a complication in life to be avoided, but I honestly feel it is one of the least problematic areas of my life: I have bigger problems to manage and bigger hopes and dreams to pursue.