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This Positive Life: Newly Living With HIV, Josh Robbins Is "Still Josh" -- and Still an Advocate

March 25, 2013

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Josh Robbins

Josh Robbins

How did you find your HIV physician?

The vaccine program that I've been talking about at Vanderbilt, they're really connected with Nashville CARES. As a small business owner, I'd really supported all the events that the organization does every year; I've always been involved in that. I didn't ever think that I'd be a client.

I went over there, and they gave me a list of people; and then I just called around. And I found a doctor. It's been amazing. I think that the physician is kind, is warm, and is also very knowledgeable.

Little things: They said that there's more studies going on about just the neuroscience kind of stuff that goes on with your brain right after you get HIV. I remember during that amount of time, through January and half of February, that there were times I couldn't even remember conversations that I just had. And so there was a short-term memory kind of loss. My physician was able to talk to me about that. Because that's an area where more research is being done. She's always traveling to these conferences, and that sort of thing.

It's been awesome. I have a fantastic doctor! She's understanding, patient, informative, motivating and the best choice for me for treatment. At one of the visits -- you know, when I got to 550 -- I was really aching to discuss treatment. Based on the current numbers, I have made the personal decision not to begin medication -- however, I am also involved in a couple clinical trials that allow me to have access monthly to my viral load and CD4 numbers. Based on this participation and the volume of real-time numbers, I am comfortable making the decision to choose a path that is right for me.

But my hope is that they come out with like a once-a-week kind of pill at some point, because I'm absolutely terrible, even about taking a multivitamin every day. So I've been trying to do better. My physician has given me an exercise, to try to take a multivitamin every day at the same time. She's trying to prep me for when I have to start taking meds. But I'm just hoping that the longer that we wait, as long as my health is OK, or stable, that something new will come out.


How do you think you'll deal with adherence, once you do start treatment?

One thing that I have been real honest about, with all my physicians, is that I am a drinker. I like to have drinks when I go out a couple times a week. I've always been nervous that if I'm supposed to take a pill at 11 and I'm out till 3, whether I'm going to remember when I get home, or when that has to happen. I know there's tons of different little options, and different ways to do it.

But it's just going to be a commitment, once I'm at a position where I need to take medication. I've always been like that. I've never wanted to take any kind of medicine unless I just absolutely had to. But once I'm at that point that I'm going to have to, then it's just going to be a change of priorities. Then I'm just going to make it happen. So I'll probably use every one of those tools.

What do you do to keep healthy?

I eat healthy. I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. I've really cut back those. I'm not like a Nazi about it, where I won't ever have a cigarette. I'll have one if I'm out with somebody. But that was really an important discussion with my physician -- that I needed to quit smoking. So that was something that I did. And we discussed openly about me and my drinking. Then they were looking at my blood, and my liver, and making sure everything with that is fine.

"There were times that, within that six-month period [after becoming positive], I was just kind of tired, and worn out from life. Before I was infected, I would just keep going and keep going. I wouldn't really take care of myself in that way. Now … if I can't do something, or if I just don't feel like it, for whatever reason, then it's a no."

Also, knowing when to say no. If I'm tired -- and there were times that, within that six-month period, I was just kind of tired, and worn out from life. Before I was infected, I would just keep going and keep going. I wouldn't really take care of myself in that way. Now I've really learned how to say no. So if I can't do something, or if I just don't feel like it, for whatever reason, then it's a no.

I know everyone says exercising is important. But I'm not someone that is ever going to go to a gym; it's just always awkward for me to go to a gym. So I'll run. Or it's little things. Like, I live on the fifth floor of my condo, and so I don't take the elevator. I do the stairs.

I don't know if that answers your question. But there's no magic thing, I guess. That's what I'm doing. And I feel good. So . . .

That's good. Little tips here and there always help.

Well, I also think that a lot of what I've gone through is mental, you know? I decided how I was going to attack this disease. I decided how I was going to tell people. And I did it on my terms. Little things used to really bother me. I'm one of those people where everything can bother me. But since January 2012 I just don't let that stuff bother me, you know? If I can't change it then I can't worry about it. So I think that's part of it, too.

I've stayed really connected with things that really encourage me. I love Steve Jobs, so I was reading his book and his quotes. Getting involved with other people online through social media, just talking to them or checking up on them, and that sort of thing -- kind of investing, virtually through the Internet, in some other people's lives, to just check up on them and see how they're doing. It kind of took the focus a little bit off me and made it more about, you know, this is a crusade for everyone that is going through this.

A large part of the reason why I feel I'm doing OK is the way that I just decided to think about things and be positive. I've always laughed when everybody says, "Stay positive," because I'm always, like "Well, I am positive." But now I just said it!

Let's talk about your work. What kind of work do you do?

I'm a talent agent. I own a talent agency in Nashville. I deal with actors and hosts, children and their parents, for television, film, commercials, music videos, print jobs, that kind of thing.

How did you become involved in HIV? You mentioned doing prevention work before your diagnosis. How did you become involved in HIV activism?

Someone doing outreach about the HIV vaccine program approached me at an event at a bar. I really wanted to do it. Before that, there was a well-known female impersonator in town that passed away, and her name was Bianca. Mark Middleton was his name, and the personality was Bianca.

But she was HIV positive and she was very, very vocal about prevention and the disease. When she passed away, I got my company involved with her memorial. Doing that really got me connected with people that were very sincere and honest and hardworking, when it came to activism and awareness. That's kind of how it started.

And then at one of those events, I saw information about the vaccine study. They said that they needed HIV-negative people that had sex with guys. And in my way, I was thinking, oh, this is so fantastic. This is my way to give back. So I got involved with the study.

"With the HIV vaccine being studied, obviously, it's not a live virus. There's zero chance to get HIV from the vaccine. The way that I got HIV, even though I was in the vaccine study, was because I was exposed to it."

From there I started doing some outreaches with them, looking for other volunteers. But I'm actually really glad that I got involved with the vaccine. I want to say this, because some people may wonder: With the HIV vaccine being studied, obviously, it's not a live virus. There's zero chance to get HIV from the vaccine. The way that I got HIV, even though I was in the vaccine study, was because I was exposed to it.

But once I got involved with that, and then Nashville CARES, and helping them raise funds and that sort of thing, I really fell in love with it. Whether people think that it's God or another power or whatever, I really think that it was orchestrated at the right time. Because I really got passionate about it at the same time that it happened to me.

I'd thought I was invincible. Other people have told me that, specifically: "Josh, we never thought this would happen to you. If it can happen to you, then it can happen to me." And that's kind of been their attitude -- which was surprising at first. But when I sat back and thought about it, it's absolutely true. I felt invincible. And so all of that year that I was involved in prevention and activism and that kind of stuff, it really prepared me to be able to tell my story and, now, raise money.

The last couple months I've been involved with some amazing fundraising people. And I'm proud. We've raised a lot of money in the past couple months for Nashville CARES.

Do you ever get sick of thinking or talking about HIV, or do you think you will?

I think I did. I went through a month in the beginning, to be honest, where every week I was doing something related to HIV or awareness or a doctor's office or something. And so in May of last year I kind of got a little tired. And so I just kind of stepped back a little bit. I didn't post any blog, and kind of stayed off Twitter, and even my Facebook.

Now, looking back at that, it was fine for me. It was a little selfish, I guess. What I'm doing is -- and what we're talking about, all of us -- is so much bigger than any individual person or any of our individual stories. We've just got to keep going and keep talking about it. Because the more we talk about it, the easier it becomes to be talked about.

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This article was provided by TheBody. It is a part of the publication This Positive Life.


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