I should start with when I was diagnosed. I found out August 2015. I had spent the early morning with my daughter and my very new “boyfriend” running around the fountains in my city centre. It was only the second occasion he had met her. He had an appointment to attend at the local sexual health clinic. She was just 2 and wouldn’t realise where we were, or what we were doing, I figured we wouldn’t be long. He had been contacted by a previous partner that they had gonorrhoea and he should be tested.
But I suppose my story really starts a few weeks before when I met him. D was like no one I’d been with before. I used to joke and call him my teenage dream (like the Katy Perry song) and deep in intimate moments I’d reiterate that sentiment to him. I was completely drunk with love since the moment I met him. I’ve never been more attracted to anyone before. I loved fucking him. It was the best thing. I loved it so much I couldn’t think straight. It bled into my entire life but I’m getting off topic, back to the diagnosis.
I was two weeks into the summer holidays and I felt like utter shit. I’d had the flu since the weekend after we broke up. It’s very common for teachers to get sick in the first couple of weeks of the holidays so I hadn’t thought much about it. I was also running myself ragged. Looking after my toddler daughter, dealing with my ex-husband (with whom I had split from 6 months previously) and spending almost every free moment driving to another city to see my new man and staying up all night fucking, that or staying up late to chat to him.
Because of the news D relayed to me about the gonorrhoea I had been for my tests the previous Thursday it had come back all clean. But just to be safe they were sending cultures off because I was on antibiotics for an ear infection. I’d never had a sexual health check up before, id my my ex husband at 18. They tested me for everything, they said it’s procedure.
When the Dr was going through my sexual health check, running through all the usual questions (I don’t embarrass easily so I had no trouble answering them all) she reprimanded me for having un-protected sex with my out of city man. She said warning signs were there, he had sex with men as well as women, he was from a foreign country. When I saw her again immediately after my diagnosis I wondered if she knew then, in that first appointment, before any tests had been done, in the clinic that would become my second home for the next year of my life, I wonder if she knew what was coming. I’ve refused to see her since. But not because of those wonderings, she seemed to disapprove of me. After my diagnosis she told me I should’ve used a condom (yeah no shit!). I remember thinking that she should really be less shocked by the things I was talking about in her line of work.
As a side note I just want to say that at the same clinic, since then I have felt nothing but love, caring and support from all members of staff I have come across, particularly from my Dr whom I love.
As I said I got the all clear, a clean bill of health on that day of initial tests; apart from the standard HIV blood test that they sent off. I remember, so clearly the nurse taking my blood telling me how slim all the chances were of contracting HIV. Even if I’d had unprotected sex with a HIV positive person the chances are so small for transmission I shouldn’t worry. Alone that night I googled symptoms of HIV transmission and put it to the back of my mind that I had a lot of them. I put it down to a coincidence.
Back to diagnosis day, while in the waiting room, I got a phone call asking me to come in and see them. They said this might happen. I figured they had got the cultures back and I had gonorrhoea and they wanted to give me the antibiotics. This woman whom I’d never met before took me into a room. My daughter was with me, playing on a game. My new fancy man in his appointment. And she told me. With my daughter sat on my knee. I hated her for that. I’ll never forget that. My first thought was, ‘how could you tell me that now?’. I’d still be HIV positive the next day. Why tell me now, knowing how I’d probably react? Knowing that I had her sat on my knee.
I think I wailed. A reflex. It hurt deep deep in my chest that I’d done this to myself. I remember thinking I was now dead. Not like a death sentence but something inside me had died. I would never be the same person I would never be someone of value again. I looked out the window. I looked at her. I repeated no a lot. I sobbed that it wasn’t fair. My daughter came over to me and hugged me and wiped some tears away, she didn’t understand. I tried to smile for her and say it was ok. I sat on the floor and cried.
Then I told him. They brought him in. I was in pieces. I told him and I don’t really remember his reaction. To be honest in that moment I didn’t care. I was far too wrapped up in myself. How would I take care of my daughter? How could I carry on? How would I tell my ex-husband, or anyone? Late on, when our relationship was at breaking point he told me that he thought that I shouldn’t have told him like that. like I had some control over what I said in that moment! I knew I’d contracted it off him. I’d had a HIV test during my pregnancy and he was the only person I had condom-less sex with. There was no one else it could’ve been. And like the Dr said to me the previous Thursday. The warning signs were there.
D went back to have a test to confirm his diagnosis. They took me and my daughter down some back stairs to what I felt like was a suffocating basement room and I waited. They told me a lot that day. None of which I took in or remembered properly. They brought my daughter some lunch because I had none. I had figured I’d be home in less than an hour. I remember asking a nurse to come and sit with me because I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t talk to the nurse I just sat on the floor with my daughter, playing and crying. But I’m glad he stayed there silent with me.
I drove us home in a daze. I put her down for a nap. I went to my bedroom. And with him lay next to me I sobbed. I wailed and cried harder than I ever had. I desperately wanted to be alone but couldn’t bear to be alone either. I don’t remember what he said. But I remember saying to him “don’t you dare leave me in this. Don’t disappear on me”
I honestly don’t know what I did that afternoon, it’s a complete blur. I hope my daughter was happy playing and watching her favourite film. I called my friend, a close friend who was also going through a divorce and begged her to come around after my daughter had gone down for the night. I couldn’t tell her why. I am endlessly grateful for her coming around that evening. For not questioning why on the phone and for listening and taking everything in.
When she arrived I wouldn’t let her hug me, I felt dirty. My friend is a nurse and although I felt like I wouldn’t be judged by her I couldn’t bring myself to be touched. She has relayed to me since that it broke her heart to see me so damaged that I wouldn’t accept comfort from her. That I said I was scared that to hold and kiss my daughter in case I would somehow endanger her. I was uneducated at the time, I now know that my fears were completely ungrounded. But she didn’t question me, she listened, commented when she needed to and sat in silence with me long into the night. Another moment among many that day that I will never forget. She was a complete rock of support through those first few weeks; I would not have survived without her.
My main feeling after being diagnosed was that of feeling like I was being punished for my choices. That I wasn’t allowed to have fun. That someone like me wasn’t allowed to be happy. I’d been unhappy in my relationship with my ex-husband for years then just as I was finding my self-confidence and just when I was finding some freedom I felt like it had all been taken away from me. I felt like having HIV had taken all my freedom away from me.