12 Years and Still Going Strong

Part of the Series Day One With HIV

Matt Lowe
Matt Lowe

I was diagnosed on Sept. 1, 2002. I remember being at the hospital to get my results. I was advised to give a false name just in case the result was negative. It wasn't!!

I remember being given my results by the doctor, and I said, "Thank you." I was then given counseling and told by the nurse lots of times that being HIV positive wouldn't kill me. I was numb when I got home and had a cup of tea and a glass of wine. I locked myself in my room and then this thick, black cloud came into my room.

I have never been so frightened in my whole life. I called home and my dad answered the phone. I remember having no voice and then I became hysterical, swearing down the phone that I was going to die and shaking. My dad (a very strong man) said to me that we both had something in common: He knew I still had a faith even though I didn't go to church anymore. He prayed the Lord's Prayer, and invited the Holy Spirit to comfort me. I am afraid I couldn't say anything because I was too shocked. Thankfully, the hysteria passed. My dad put the phone down and broke down -- and he never cries. My sister told me about this years later.

I then had to cope with waiting. I was not able to eat much and my mum thought I was going to die because I was so thin and grey. She kindly taught me how to cook properly from scratch to help me get better, for good nutrition, etc.

I used to faint every time I had my bloods done. Luckily, that doesn't happen anymore!

My first drugs were Combivir and nevirapine (I had to take them every 12 hours) and under no circumstances could I go near recreational drugs. I was at least nauseous (sometimes sick) every morning, but I got through it. My legs ached as did my stomach. My skin felt horribly heavy and my knees hurt.

Fortunately, I got moved from that combination and was then given Truvada and nevirapine. I was a bit better on this one. I think I stayed on that one for a number of years. Then, eventually, my nurse persuaded me to look at Atripla.

I knew that it would be tough changing the combination, but I was willing to give it a go.

I changed and within 24 hours I was in a mess -- cold sweats, hot sweats -- soaking the bed with night sweats and my heart pounding, I felt sick. My veins puffed up. I slept very badly. I emailed my nurse and asked what was in Atripla, and he said that it was Sustiva and Truvada. We discussed a plan and ordered a month's supply of Sustiva and Truvada and I took them separately. Fortunately, I was between jobs as I couldn't have worked due to being so ill.

Eventually, I was taking them all at the same time and everything started to work better. So I went onto Atripla. I gained about a stone (about 14 lbs, or 6 kgs). Things started to be a bit more stable and I haven't looked back since.

It is worth noting several things, especially how HIV changed me. I was incredibly lost before 2002. I didn't know the real me at all anymore. My family and I were estranged and very strained. Deep dark place to be -- probably depressed.

Now, almost 12 years later, I am able to hold down a successful job, I have my faith back, I got involved in my church playing music and, more importantly, I am happy knowing the real me again. I am now 40 and healthy -- non-smoker, non-drug taker. I chose not to be with anyone; however, I have great friends and family around me.

I honestly don't think I would be here now if it wasn't for me being diagnosed. I was running away, partying and terribly lost from circumstances in my past. I was angry at the world for my lot.

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 editor@thebody.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.