June 29, 2013
Want to share your own "Day One With HIV" story of finding out your diagnosis? Write out your story (1,000 words or fewer, please!), or film a YouTube video, and email it to email@example.com. In the coming months, we'll be posting readers' "Day One" stories here in our HIV/AIDS Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed. Read other stories in this series.
Rather than talk now about my Day One Story, I thought I would share my personal journal entry from that day:
April 18, 1988
The end of a long day. What else can I say about it? I turned 30 years old. It's supposed to be one of those traumatic experiences, right? People at work must have thought I was taking it particularly bad. Who could I talk to? Was there anyone who could understand -- when you get to the point that you feel your whole life had ended ... and the mere fact of turning 30 is the least important thing you can think of. I thought of postponing my appointment. Something about going to find the result of my HIV test on my birthday seemed a little bit too dramatic. It was like a bad television movie. If the results were negative, I knew it would open up the rest of my life to me. I felt like it might even be a new beginning.
When I went into Dr. Pagent's office, what did I expect? To be honest, I was prepared for the worst. I felt I knew my body, and the swollen lymph nodes I knew were indicative of a much larger problem. Still the hope was still there. Dr. Pagent had told me the week before that it was very unlikely that I had AIDS, especially that I would be showing symptoms already. I simply did not have the extent of the gay experience necessary for the usual exposure. Still I knew.
The answer came easy as I walked through the door. All it took was a simple quip on his part: "We do not have good news for modern man." And he again expressed his surprise that the test was positive ... but of course this was irrelevant. And the complications began to set in. How complicated my life would become. The big question of confidentiality. How to deal with insurance, with my job, with my family ... with the whole damn rest of my life. And the anger ... the anger I felt towards the people who had used me when I had first come out. The anger towards myself ... for letting myself and my family down. For my life being a failure. The ultimate failure, and I would die.
The thought of death does not bother me as much as the failure, and the loss of faith in the world around me and the people I had known in my life. And the sadness in my attempt of having some hope in a god which I had tried to believe in, and the anger towards him, first, for making me gay, and then for killing me for it. And the bottomless disappointment ... for living my whole life, and giving the ultimate sacrifice, my life, just for the chance of finding someone who could, who might love me, and having failed in this. And I did not want to live. There was a part of me which was glad that it was over. I had tried so hard, and I was tired. Perhaps it was time now to give up.
And that was just the beginning. How to describe for someone who has never been through this? For all of my life, even when things had seemed the most hopeless, even when I thought I had nothing left and even toyed with the idea of suicide, I still felt I had control. CONTROL. I could not find love, and sometimes not even friendship. I often failed at things I had attempted. But deep down inside, I felt I always had some control left. Now there is nothing left. I am totally alone, as I had been most of my life, but this time I do not even have myself to depend on. I have lost myself and all meaning and control over my existence. I've never been so helpless.
I went back to work, but of course I could not work. I would stare off into space, not even knowing where I was. Not caring. There was no place to go, and I could not even look to myself for support. Of course, I could reveal nothing to the people I worked with. I suppose they thought I was having a traumatic experience from turning 30. I wanted to tell someone, anyone. But totally alone. After work I went to the gym, trying to put some structure back into my life. But there is nothing to hang onto, and I am left alone. At home, in the relative safety of my aloneness, and the total aloneness of it, everything has broke loose. I lay in the grass of my backyard, yelling and screaming out of control. I've lost everything. Nothing is left. There is no hope, no life. Everything has conquered my being. There is no way to describe it. No way.
Now in retrospect, I can look back on the past 25 years of having HIV differently. I celebrated by spending my 55th birthday and 25 years of HIV on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal which I recorded in this video:
Greg lives in the Pacific Northwest where he volunteers for various HIV organizations and teaches a course in HIV self-management. He also enjoys hiking and climbing on and around the various Cascade volcanoes.