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Mel Byrd

January 2006

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Mel Byrd 

About Mel Byrd



Table of Contents

Personal Bio

Tell us a little about your life.

I live in Garland, a suburb of Dallas. It has that not-really-large-town feel that I was used to, growing up in West Texas, which is literally in the middle of nowhere. But it has access to the urban things that Dallas has to offer, and I like that as well. I live alone, I don't have a partner -- I never have had a partner, actually. That would be nice to change, but I don't know if it ever will. I work in the IT [information-technology] industry, doing support for one of the internal groups.

What did you want to be when you were a kid?

I always wanted to be a dad, but I never really thought about a vocation. I did well in school, so I just expected that I could take a natural progression, but I was never very ambitious.

What kinds of work have you done?

The job that I have now is my second "grown-up" job. The first, I worked in a community college setting as a counselor/adviser/financial aid officer type. It gave me an opportunity to get some experience under my belt, which I discovered was one of the things, every time I went for an interview, that people were asking for. So I worked in that environment, and had to learn a lot of the computer skills that allowed me to make the jump into the IT arena.

What work did your parents do?

My father was in highway construction and my mother had various jobs: a nursing aide, hairdressing, food services -- she was a jack-of-all-trades.

Who are the most influential people in your life?

I spend most of my time, and have always spent most of my time, alone. So there weren't very many people I even interacted with, let alone allowed myself to be influenced by. I spent too much time doing my best not to draw attention to myself.

There are people I've encountered in the field in which I worked who I was honored to have the chance to meet. And as much as I could, I tried to emulate their example, but it was more of an organic movement toward this and that. I never really felt that "influence."

What do you like to do in your spare time?

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I don't have any hobbies. I wanted pictures of my grandnieces and nephews, and they have youth sports, so I learned to use a video camera. And I make videos and DVDs with all the current desktop publishing and video-making programs out there.

Are you a religious or spiritual person? Do you attend a church?

I never thought of myself as such, no. I grew up in the tradition of a Baptist background, and that formed the basis of, "Here are the rules of how you're supposed to behave." But I never really bought into it, because I had far too many questions that I needed answered that I couldn't get from that. I haven't been to church since I was 13.

HIV Diagnosis

How did you find out you were HIV positive?

It was about a month before Princess Diana was killed in an accident. The glands in my cheek had started swelling, and I ignored it until I just couldn't ignore it anymore -- I waited till it got to crisis mode and then went to the doctor. And, thankfully, he immediately tested me.

I didn't know at the time that was what he was testing me for. He just said there was something he wanted to check. And then I got the call and that's when I found out.

He didn't use the word "HIV," he just said he wanted to test for something. He was probably fairly sure, but without knowing for certain, it's not the thing you want to drop on somebody.

What were your feelings?

I felt absolutely devastated. I took a couple of minutes to feel sad, then sucked it up, took a deep breath, and had to go back to work -- as if nothing had happened.

How did your feelings change over time?

Initially, I felt diminished by being infected. I was on this road of feeling sorry for myself and just waiting for whatever came to come. And then my truck broke down one day on my way home. There was no one to help me, so I had to push the truck out of the street and into the parking lot where I could get it towed back to my place, get it fixed. And having to push that truck by myself reminded me that in spite of the fact that I now have this new information about the state of my being, however I came to be that way, it did not suddenly unmake who I am. Something as simple as a breakdown of a mechanical device, and it kicked me in the pants.

How long do you think it takes to process a diagnosis?

The diagnosis took half a day to integrate into my psyche. The thing that still takes me a great deal of time and energy and effort is how do I integrate that into the wider aspect of my entire life? Do I want people to know? Do I tell my family? If I should find someone, do I want to bring this into a relationship if they aren't positive? If they are positive, how do I feel about that entire situation? All that is more of an issue than the actual diagnosis.

What advice would you offer someone who has just found out they are positive?

Take a deep breath, first of all, because it's going to hit you emotionally. And if you can get past the initial few moments, then you can get to the moments that follow that.

What conditions in your life put you at risk for getting infected with HIV?

Engaging in anonymous sex for most of my 20s.

When you look back, what would you have needed in order not to get infected?

If I had found a committed relationship and not engaged in the unsafe and unsavory actions I engaged in because I needed someone. Even my own psyche has its limits in terms of how much solitude I can take. And there were moments where I needed someone, even if it was only for a little while, to try and fill that -- whether it was right for me or not, I never stopped to consider.

It would have been a very different thing, I think, in my early 20s, if I had felt open enough to pursue a relationship with someone. That would've given me an opportunity to make better choices in the matter.

What is the first thing someone who has just found out they have HIV should do?

When I found out, the doctor said, "Well, here are the medical things that we need to do," and I understood the practical nature of that. But I never even wanted to address anything else about it because even the very fact that I was gay and was attracted to men was something I tried to not really address. If I didn't look at it too hard, maybe it wasn't so.

I felt somehow as if I needed to be further away from people because now I'm infected with HIV, and how would people feel if they knew they were sitting in the room with somebody who was infected? And what would the results of that be? And what would I do then? All this paranoia started to seep in. If I had addressed a lot of my personal issues before that, I don't think [dealing with my diagnosis] would have been nearly as paranoid as it was.

How has having HIV changed you?

Again, the medical issues obviously were something that had to be integrated into my day-to-day routine, so initially it just felt very alien. I never took a lot of medications or pills for anything, so now here I am, every day, having to do this. I had to learn to accept that: If you're going to hold onto the hope, the thought, the belief that you're not ready to die yet, then you have to do this.

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This article was provided by TheBody.com.

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