The Importance of Finding Support
I was diagnosed with HIV in 1991. I went to get tested because I am a bisexual man and, up to that time, I had never been tested for HIV. I knew I had put myself at risk because I did not always use condoms with both men and women.
I left home in August of 1984 to attend Florida A & M University. While there, I had the opportunity to learn more about my sexual identity. Prior to leaving for college and even while there, I never received any information or messages about HIV.
Why I decided to get tested
I decided to get tested because I was dating a young woman who I shared that I was bisexual when we began dating. I had fallen in love with her and I wanted to ask her to marry me. I thought the responsible thing to do was to get tested for HIV. After the counselors told me my test confirmed I had contracted HIV, I don’t remember anything they said afterward. I left the county health department thinking, she will never marry me, and I will never have children.
Shame and sharing my HIV status
Besides sharing my status with the woman I was dating, would marry, and have a child, I didn’t share my status with anyone else. I did return to the county health department to enroll in care, but upon my arrival, I saw one of my MaDear’s best friends, who was a nurse. She was a neighbor of ours and I played with her three boys throughout my entire childhood. I was scared and ashamed, so I turned around and left. I didn’t seek treatment and I felt I couldn’t share my status with anyone else.
Isolation was taking a toll on my well-being
This went on for nearly four years. Now living in Newark, New Jersey, which is the hometown of my then-wife, I was in a very dark place, mentally and emotionally. I kept thinking that now I have returned my wife to her hometown where she has support, I can die. The isolation from not sharing my status with my MaDear, my sisters, and any of my best friends continued to take its toll on my overall well-being.
Support group for men living with HIV
Fortunately for me, a series of events took place which led me to an AIDS Service Organization (ASO). My health insurance through my new job had not yet started and I need a medication which was too expensive to pay out of pocket. I received the assistance to purchase the medication from that ASO and also found the opportunity to become a part of a new support group which would begin there in just a few weeks.
A support group specfically for gay and bisexual men
The support group was specific for gay and bisexual men who were living with HIV. We met every Tuesday for an entire year. During those two hours, I found friendship, my way out of that dark place of isolation, shame, and fear. I enrolled in treatment and disclosed my status to my MaDear, my sisters and a host of family and friends.
The support group saved my life
I found my voice for advocacy which has helped save my life. That support group saved my life. I only regret is that I didn’t seek out this kind of support was I first received my diagnosis. I encourage everyone living with HIV to find a support group which works for you.
How often does someone offer you unsolicited advice on your health?