Unexpected Tribulations: How HIV Changed Everything

Josh's tattoo

The moment I heard the words that I thought I wouldn't hear in a million years, "You are HIV Positive," time itself seemed to have stopped.

Thoughts raced through my mind as my whole body shut down going into a state of shock that I can best describe as a thick fog. The words of my health care professional seemed to go in one ear and out the other. It was if I wasn't there.

My physical appearance tried with all its might to stay strong; but despite its best efforts the crumbling interior eventually took over and the flood of emotions ensued.

That was June of 2012, when I was initially diagnosed with HIV.

My journey with health issues began in 2010 after cutting my foot on coral in the Pacific Ocean. I ended up contracting necrotizing fasciitis, the flesh eating bacteria, that has a reputation of being rare and killing quickly. After undergoing emergency surgery my body went into a septic shock where my kidneys began to shut down and my blood pressure was in the 20s.

As I looked death in the eye, an inner strength developed in me like never before, one of survival.

After being in the ICU for a couple weeks and completing an almost three-week hospital stay I was released. What I thought would be the end of my troubles had only just began a time of my life that would be plagued with hospitalizations. I was hospitalized more than thirty times throughout the next several years for recurring staph and MRSA infections in my left leg. I went from having no health issues to a mounting plethora of health problems within a matter of no time.

At the time I was dating a girl I had fell in love with down in Tijuana through doing orphanage work with my church. I thought it was the picket fence relationship, it ended up being quite the opposite.

What started as a beautiful connection between the both of us went down hill when I found out she had cheated the first time. I had never been faced with this sort of situation and through my own inexperience I tried to "fix" and "save" the relationship that had already been broken. Even though I would go down to see her on a weekly basis, sometimes multiple times a week, in all reality it was a long distance relationship which comes with its own unique obstacles. I began to think that if we had a kid together that would solve our problems in some way, obviously misguided thinking, but that's how my risk began to surmise.

When I found out she had cheated the second time, that was it, I called it off. However even though I knew breaking up was the right thing to do, I didn't know how to handle it. I began to go out and party much more than I ever had before, putting myself in several situations where one night stands became the norm. Using protection really didn't cross my mind, especially when alcohol was involved.

I was regularly getting tested for HIV and other STDs so I should be fine I told myself, right?

Wrong ...

Testing is great, however I was playing the luck of the draw when I wasn't doing anything to change my risk.

I found out my status by coincidence I say, not expecting to receive the HIV test results when I did. I went in for a routine checkup with my infectious disease specialist regarding my leg but since my primary care physician is within the same network, my result from a prior HIV test the week before, became the subject of discussion. I was faced with the choice and two different paths of where my life was headed and I determined I would not let HIV define my life but rather use my experience to help others in hopes of preventing new infections.

I know I am not the typical story you are thinking right; I don't fit that "category" that unfortunately this condition has been stereotyped with for far too long. I am a heterosexual male, a born-again Christian, someone who grew up in a rather conservative home, and not the typical party boy that lived my life going with a different girl every night of the week or using IV drugs.

I was simply someone who put myself in a period of high risk where my personal health did not matter to me to the extent that it should have. I am not 100 percent sure if I got HIV from my ex-girlfriend or relations after; however to me that doesn't matter, what matters to me isn't so much the past but the present and future.

After being diagnosed and overcoming the initial shock I began to tell everyone in my life. I told my parents, co-workers, and friends. I was very fortunate to receive nothing but love and support. I reached out to find others living with HIV online and found several HIV activists who now have become great friends. My desire to learn more about the new enemy I was facing engulfed me as I began to reach out for support and study more about HIV/AIDS.

Shortly after, I began HIV treatment and within a month of commencing ARV therapy, reached undetectable levels of the virus which I maintain to this day. My faith and spirituality have also grown as I battle something bigger than myself.

I began to educate my peers, speak out on social media, and play my part ensuring HIV stops with me. I help moderate a large international online Facebook support group both in English and Spanish with tens of thousands of members fighting the battle every day. Through my love of writing and passion for HIV prevention/awareness I started my personal blog pozitivehope.com.

My story serves as a reminder that this virus does not discriminate and neither should we. Regardless of how we reached this point in our lives we are all brothers and sisters in this battle. HIV is simply a small part of my life as I have many other passions including learning new languages/cultures, aviation, and law. I've been through a lot for someone only 25 years old but that's okay because it has been a blessing in disguise and formed me into the man I am today.

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