February 27th 2014 will always be a day that I’ll never forget. It was a Friday and I had an appointment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham to pick up my blood-work results after asking for blood tests as I had been feeling very tired in recent weeks. I had also been suffering from headaches, pain in my liver and my urine was smelling vile.
As soon as I arrived, one of the nurses who I have known at the clinic since I’d been a patient informed me I had hepatitis C. “What?” I thought, not me? I was shell-shocked.
I left the hospital and collapsed, feeling scared of what was going to happen and asking myself questions, which I did not know the answers to. How was I going to cope? Why me? How would I tell everyone? Will I live? Will I ever find a man now?
I didn’t know the answers to the questions I was asking myself, but I knew I had done well since I was diagnosed with HIV in 2005. Yes I was now co-infected and had the virus everyone is scared of, and no one talks about!
I am a 32 year old gay man from Birmingham, England and felt I had my third coming out the closet moment in store, My first coming out was being honest about my sexuality, the second was my HIV diagnosis and now I was about to come out as being hepatitis C positive.
Over the next couple of weeks I informed my closest friends that I had contracted a blood- borne virus, before telling my family. Everyone was so supportive and did research and even came to hospital appointments with me and yes, they had questions to ask about whether I’d done drugs and if I was having unsafe sex.
I wasn’t going to lie. I was going to be honest. Yes I’d done drugs. Yes I’d been having unsafe sex.
I was feeling I had disappointed everyone. I was ashamed and I felt dirty and knew that the journey of people judging me had begun. I had not disappointed anyone and I should not have been disappointed in myself. I was being honest with everyone and people recognized that and I gained respect.
I continued to try and live my life. I started drinking alone to block out the pain I was experiencing. Yes I did not want to accept this mental, emotional and physical pain I was experiencing. People started commenting that they knew something was wrong, but I was in denial.
My blood-work numbers were getting worse and I kept blaming myself. I hated the person I had become and felt so empty and isolated. I was crying all day and all night.
Finally I picked up the courage and informed all my sexual partners. Some people were supportive and did not blame me, but others gave me verbal abuse. I understood they were scared – and so was I.
I noticed a small number of people started to withdraw from me
and I would watch everyone else continue with their lives from a distance; people started to not contact me, or delete me from Facebook or even ignore me.
Knowing that I was becoming the subject of gossip and continuing to get abuse, I asked myself, “did I deserve all this?” No, I had been honest and because of that I was being victimised.
I knew I wasn’t in control anymore and everyone had become judge, jury and informer. I hoped that people would still see me and not this virus, but I had become the virus; people were now scared of me and didn’t want to be associated with me or even touch me. I still tried to be strong, however, and continued using my twitter account to voice my feelings.
Despite all this, I had a lot of friends express their support and made our friendships much more stronger than they were originally.
I sought support and guidance from Terrence Higgins Trust as well as Birmingham LGBT Centre, who helped me feel I was not alone by offering guidance and knowledge. My blood numbers had become worse and I was informed I needed to go on treatment. Now this virus had become reality.
I had to start having an injection in my stomach once a week and take five tablets a day to help fight this virus which had taken over my body and mind. Several hours after my injection I started developing flu-like symptoms and felt sick and could not sleep. I began crying into my pillow, which by the end felt like a wet sponge. Throughout my treatment I suffered insomnia, tiredness, headaches, aches and pains. I still need to have tests to see if I have cleared the virus. This month I had the test to see if the virus has gone (known as the SVR 12). I cleared it. I have realised whilst my body has become weak,
I have become a stronger and more motivated individual.
But the stigma towards the virus and myself is a bigger battle. I have realised that some people are ill-informed about the virus; there is a lack of knowledge out there and many scare stories as well as the belief that this virus means the end. Being called dirty and isolated by people, some of whom I thought were friends, has been difficultand very emotional. But I have had many friends who have stood shoulder to shoulder with me and have supported me and I am eternally grateful for that.