My first pill was accompanied by a whirlwind of emotions: anger, depression, frustration, happiness, denial and sadness. I was diagnosed in April 2014, so I found out fairly recently, but the months that followed took me on a ride that no amount of support, information or prior knowledge could ever have prepared me for. I was a victim of a sexual assault about three years ago; the test that I took was contaminated and thus gave a false reading of being negative.
I remember, in October 2013, I began to have major health issues. It started with me discovering I had 500+ gallstones, while my weight was steadily declining. Since then, my health has been in a downward spiral. In the short time from October 2013 to the present day, I have had seven surgeries, six procedures and way more doctor's appointments than I would like to have at the young age of 25.
When my doctor told me about my diagnosis, I remember an immediate feeling of emptiness. It was 10:03 a.m. and I went in to work and actually finished my week without recognizing anything was different. That changed that Saturday morning. I got up and looked at the results and the bottle of pills that stood by it. The idea that, before this, I had never taken any pills other than over-the-counter medicines took me so long to get over. I remember telling myself that I didn't have to take the medicines if I didn't want to, although I knew deep down I had to. I didn't have the privilege of having my family around me to support me and I was too ashamed to tell any of my friends, so I was facing this monster of a battle all by myself.
What felt like hours of me holding the bottles in my hand and slowly debating which side of the coin I would be on, I lost it. My life was slowly crumbling under me and I had nothing to do with it. "What did I do to deserve this?" was the only thing I managed to repeatedly ask myself. I called my doctor and told her that I was having problems with taking the pills. She assured me that I would be OK and that my numbers were not the best due to the years of not knowing -- so my body had a lot of catching up to do (my viral load was 101,500 and I had a CD4 count of 51). In the meantime, I was battling the gallstones, appendicitis, tonsillitis, HPV (human papillomavirus), a hiatal hernia, gastritis, depression and thrush.
Before taking my first pill, I had mentally defeated myself into believing that I was just delaying the inevitable. After hours of fighting I managed to take my medicine. I was placed on Isentress (raltegravir) twice a day and Truvada (tenofovir/FTC) once a day. For the first hour I felt normal, then things changed. I felt an immense pain in my stomach, followed by nausea, dizziness, headaches, hallucinations and a loss of my short-term memory. I remember waking up on the bathroom floor in an attempt to flush my face with water that I never got a chance to complete.
Several breakdowns later, I realized that I couldn't handle this on my own. I called family and told friends to help encourage me, and I was able to make it through the weekend until my doctor could prescribe something to help with the side effects. Unfortunately, due to the number of operations I was having, my body never had a chance to recover or gain enough strength to deal with anything. I soon lost my job, had to drop school and I was constantly in the hospital. Six months later and I am still battling the side effects of my medicine, but reading the excerpts on TheBody.com consoles me that one day it won't be as difficult. I wish I was one of the lucky ones who didn't have any side effects, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. For anyone who's having trouble with their meds, it's an inner battle. Don't give up. Don't give in. If I can continue to look forward with hopeful eyes, it will get better!
What was your first pill? Whether it was AZT or Atripla, we want you to tell your story! Write out your story (between 200 and 1,000 words, please!) or film a YouTube video, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be posting readers' My First Pill stories here in our Resource Center on Starting HIV Treatment.
Read other stories in this series.