Shine On: Wade’s story

I’ve been living with HIV for over two years. I was diagnosed with HIV on 29 March 2017. I found out after a friend informed me that he had tested positive for HIV. I knew I would need to be tested too, and we rushed to the emergency rooms where a doctor used a rapid HIV test to determine my status.

I’ll never forget the day I was diagnosed. My heart was hitting my chest so hard I thought it would break my ribs. I saw those dreaded two lines appear right in front of me – I knew this meant I was HIV-positive. I remember feeling scared, I thought I was going to die. I never knew much about HIV/Aids and the doctor didn’t offer me any kind of post-test counselling. I went home and immediately started doing research and self-educating myself on this human condition.

Telling my mom that I am HIV-positive was probably the hardest part of this journey. I knew it would hurt her, I knew it would disappoint her; I am her only child. Coming out as HIV-positive [was] 100 times worse than coming out as gay. She went to bed and didn’t say much, she said she needed to process it. It took her a while to come to terms with my diagnosis. She felt guilty that she wasn’t able to protect me. I tried going into education mode, trying to tell her that I was still going to live a normal life, but at the time I still knew very little about HIV/Aids.

If you are HIV-positive and reading this; don’t give up! There is life after an HIV diagnosis.

I thought I was going to die then but people living with HIV who take their ARV treatment are expected to live normal, long and healthy lives. I also thought I would never find love or have a sex life again. But we now know that ‘U=U’ (undetectable = untransmittable) means that a person living with HIV, who takes ARVs and maintains an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the virus to their sexual partner(s). U=U is based on science and supported by many international medical organisations.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked on dating apps if I was “clean”, and how many times I’ve had to explain that although I am HIV-positive, I’m not “dirty”. It’s stigma and it simply refers to the negative attitudes and beliefs (often erroneous ones) about people living with HIV.

We have seen more awareness about HIV/Aids in the LGBTQ community, but I still think we need to do more. Despite our access to the internet, social media and numerous campaigns addressing HIV/Aids, we do not seem to be grasping basic concepts. In a country ranking first in the world for the prevalence of HIV/Aids, our health literacy efforts should be reviewed.

We need to encourage young sexually active adults to test for HIV regularly. HIV self-testing will open the door for many more people to know their HIV status and find out how to get ARV treatment. We also need to have more conversations about U=U. All people living with HIV have the right to meaningful and accurate information about their social, sexual and reproductive health.

If you are HIV-positive and reading this; don’t give up! There is life after an HIV diagnosis. I wish the best of luck to you and your healing process. Let go of the judgement. Continue to look after yourself and most importantly, forgive yourself and others. Remember to take your ARVs daily, it is lifesaving!

It’s easy, free and effective! Contact Engage Men’s Health for free HIV testing, treatment and ongoing support to make sure you continue to Shine On! Melville, Joburg: 010 500 0934 | Port Elizabeth: 010 534 8428 | East London: 010 534 8366