This Positive Life: An Interview With Henry Ocampo
November 9, 2010
Welcome to This Positive Life! We have with us Henry Ocampo. Henry, who was freshly out of college, had a good job, a loving relationship with his boyfriend and a new sense of freedom. But at the age of 23, he was diagnosed with HIV and told his CD4 count was perilously low. This news came as a shock: Not only did he work in HIV prevention, but he and his then-boyfriend, who was positive, always played it safe. Henry talks to us about living with HIV for the past 15 years; the stigma around being Filipino, gay and positive; and letting go of the fear of dying early.
So let's start from the beginning. Describe how you found out you were HIV positive.
I first found out when I was 23 years old, over 15 years ago. I was dating someone who was positive for three years. We were playing safe. We were using condoms. And I went to get my regular testing and it came out positive.
So what was your reaction?
Shocked. Numb. I felt very scared, disappointed. If you remember one of those peanuts, Snoopy TV shows, where you don't really hear the adults. Kind of go, "Wah wah wah wah." When I walked into the testing counselors to get my test results, after he told me that the test came back positive, it was just like a peanuts TV show. "Wah wah wah wah," for like the next half hour. I just remember them giving me a packet of information of referrals. And I just waited for my partner to pick me up and then we just went to the park and just cried all afternoon. That was pretty much the day of when I found out.
How quickly after you were diagnosed did you seek treatment?
One of the things I was really good at was being active in my health. I was able to get really good services: getting access to case management, getting to support groups, finding a doctor. I was really active in my first year, even though I was still reeling over finding out my diagnosis. But it took me a little while to actually just accept it in myself, even though I was actively pursuing support and services. It took me about a year even just to say I had HIV.
Like you said, you were shocked. It took you a while. What were you thinking? Were you thinking, "I'm going to die"?
Of course. It was basically, I was 23. It was the start of my new life, adventuring into adulthood. I finished up my undergrad, found a job. I'm living on my own, no parental support. I was finally in a relationship that I was very much in love. And I thought that this was the start of my life. And all of a sudden getting this diagnosis, it just felt like all of it was just gone. One of the things as well was that when I first got my blood work done, because my partner was already positive and we were playing sex, I would have expected to have been infected in the last six months or so. So I thought my -- I still had -- my diagnosis was kind of early. I wasn't one of those late testers, per se. But when it came back, I was just right above the 200 range for an AIDS diagnosis. I'm like, "This is going by really quickly." So at that point, I thought, "Well, if I've only been infected within the last six months or so, and it's going this fast, I don't have that much time left." So in my mind, I rationalized, I gave myself a limit somehow. I wasn't going to make it to my 25th birthday.
That's a lot for a 23-year-old to have to deal with.
It was. That's when I really sought services. I was able to get -- and that's one of the things I was really good at, getting to support groups. I was able to find mental health services for free.
"I had a partner that was positive but we used condoms all the time and so I don't know what happened. I still don't know what happened. It took me a while just to let it go, but we had to change the way we talked about prevention because of what I had to go through."
What state do you live in?
California. I was in San Francisco. Services were really excellent. The people were very caring, but it really took me to actively go out there and seek services myself.
So you said in the first year you were positive it was really hard for you to admit that you were positive.
Did you disclose to anyone the first year?
I disclosed to friends, close friends. I disclosed to my work as well.
What were you doing at the time?
I was actually working for an AIDS organization, doing prevention work. So it was one of those things where it was also part of where the shame came from. Part of it was like, "Well, I'm an educator. I was doing prevention work, yet I became positive. What was going on?" That was one of the things where I felt betrayed as well because I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do. I had a partner that was positive but we used condoms all the time and so I don't know what happened. I still don't know what happened. It took me a while just to let it go, but we had to change the way we talked about prevention because of what I had to go through.
This article was provided by TheBody.