After being told I was HIV positive, for me it was a no-brainer. I started medications right away; when I say right away, it was more like three months, because I needed lab work to determine what my counts were and if I was resistant to any medications already on the market.
I was fortunate, my counts were low and I was not resistant to any medication. I had thought long and hard for the three months and read a lot of articles on HIV. The one topic that always seems to come to surface was achieving an undetectable viral load. If a person was able to achieve an undetectable viral load, he/she was less at risk of passing on this virus to others.
I started Atripla [efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC] and my only pet peeve about the pill was that doctors and nurses kept making the comparison, "You have nothing to worry about; it is just like controlling diabetes." I believe, if I was told I had diabetes, my mind-set would be a lot different.
My doctor explained to me the side effects, but also told me I must adhere to the regimen and if I could make the commitment, then she would start me on Atripla.
I stood in front of the sink with water in hand and the pill in the other and wondered how this pill was going to change my life. Let me say it did change; it started with dreams so vivid I would wake up in the middle of the night and it would take me a few moments to try to figure out where I was, what was happening. I once found myself in the closet crying with my favorite sweater in hand, crying because I believed it was infested with bedbugs and I would have to throw it out. I actually washed it afterwards so I would be able to calm down and able to return to sleep. By the way, the sweater is doing just fine.
I became very tired. I slept whenever I was able to. It was because of the so many interrupted and sleepless nights.
After three months, it was time for blood work. My CD4 count was up to 1,200 and my viral load was 165 parts per million. I was so happy, but did not reach my goal yet.
I continued the regimen, and my vivid dreams lessened in occurrence. My energy improved with the help of a vitamin supplement that gave me a couple of complete nights of sleep.
Three more months go by, and I sat in my doctor's office thinking, "I will never be able to get to undetectable." So she speaks with a huge smile on her face and says, "Mike, you have an undetectable viral load and your CD4 count is 1,600." At first, I heard nothing; she sounded more like blah blah blah, because I was so focused on being told the complete opposite. When it sunk in, I was so happy.
That was three years ago and I still retain an undetectable viral load and my CD4 count stays between 1,600 and 1,700. When I speak to people who have low CD4 counts, they basically tell me I'm one of the lucky ones, but I don't really feel lucky -- more like responsibility. I was hit with a brick wall and decided right there and then that I would break through.
I hope my story will be encouragement for others who find themselves in a similar situation. I also know there can be side effects down the road because of the drug itself, but I have decided I will deal with those problems when they arise and just enjoy the feeling of being alive and be glad I was diagnosed now and not in the 80s when it was basically a death sentence for anyone who contracted this virus.
Finally, I would just like to say get tested regularly, because if you know your status, you can make informed choices. You also have an opportunity to let others make a choice when you disclose your status before engaging in sex.
Want to share your "Other Sides of HIV" story about dealing with side effects, good or bad? 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' "Other Sides" stories here in our Resource Center on Keeping Up With Your HIV Meds.
Read other stories in this series.