All I was taught as a kid was to fear STIs. I was taught HIV was a death sentence and that it was really abundant in the gay world.
Around June 2012 I started to see a rash on my chest. At first I tried to tell myself it was just a heat rash from the shower and that it would go away. Day after day it was still there. Like leopard spots. I did some research and of course the first thing the internet said (among other things) was HIV. I was terrified.
Every summer I spend a week at the cottage with my family. I spent that week in July 2012 smiling while inside I was dying. I got night sweats because all I could think about was how I was going to die. I had to try not to cry because I honestly believed it was my last summer with my family. I have never been so scared of anything ever in my entire life.
I had to accept my own death. I had to face the fact that I might have something that would kill me before I could even go to get tested. That took me until October.
I finally got the courage to hear the words “you have HIV” and I went to the clinic to get tested. I waited in the clinic for hours; they wanted to test me for everything. Before they gave me the quick HIV test they asked, “If you found out you had HIV today, would you be able to handle that?”. I said, “Yes. That’s why I’m here.”
In a few minutes, my test came back negative. I almost cried. I was so relieved. I felt like I was given a second chance at life. I’ve never felt so liberated. The nurses asked me why it took me so long to get help and I said because I’ve been taught so much fear around STIs and HIV that I needed to accept I was going to die before I could hear you say I was HIV positive.
It turned out that I had syphilis. It’s 100% curable. A shot of penicillin to each butt cheek and I was completely fine within 24 hours.
The focus of education on STIs doesn’t need to be fear.
Fear didn’t stop me from getting the STI, but it stopped me from getting help and it probably stops other people too.
*Photo credit: Davi Ozolin, Distress, flickr creative commons.