Member stories: Michaels story “When My Life Changed”

Michael became a member in november, here he tells his story, a reflection of  change, living with hiv since 1985 and how he ended up in Malmö.

It was 1985, AIDS had only just begun to be discussed and I remember sitting around with friends and talking about how horrible it would be to contract this disease. A few months later, after weeks of diarrhoea, I was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 25 – wasn’t called HIV back then, it was AIDS – the killing disease, the Gay killing disease.

My world ended. I expected to die the next week. We knew nothing about Aids except that it always killed you. I remember sitting in a clinic waiting room with other newly diagnosed guys – no one spoke, we’d all seen each other out and about but, in that room, that ‘death’ room, we were all silent and wallowing in our own grief.

It took me months to realise that I wasn’t going to die right away. I had so much trouble sleeping, working and even socialising. I thought it wasn’t fair, why am I going to die and all these people around me are so carefree, no troubles in the world and enjoying themselves so much. I couldn’t enjoy anything. I became bitter and angry. I started smoking weed, daily and this was the only thing that could help me forget what was going to happen to me one day.

Weeks turned into months, turned into years, and the longer I survived the more I realised that nothing was going to happen to me straight away. After 12 months I started to live my life again, started to enjoy doing things and not expecting death at any minute. 

Fast forward to 1999, I was still HIV positive, on no treatment with good T cells and low viral load. I almost forgot about living with HIV. I was asked to join a peer support program at the Melbourne Positive Living Centre. I resisted at first, I didn’t want to be reminded that I was sick and could still die from it one day. However, I went along to that first peer Support group and it changed me. Here were other guys who had all gone through the same experience as me. Some were long termers like me but many were newly diagnosed. I felt good about myself for the first time in years, and I was overwhelmed by the feelings of support and encouragement I received from other poz guys in the group. Plus, my story helped many newbies come to understand that it’s not all useless and doomsday these days and we can still manage to live a relatively normal life. 

In 2004, I stared anti-viral meds and have been perfectly healthy since then. I consider myself lucky, many friends died back in the darks times of the late 1980’s but nowadays there is a much more optimistic feel, it’s not the end of the world. Sure, it’s still an adjustment but there is so much support and care available now that it really helps the newly diagnosed avoid the feelings of isolation and utter fear that was the 1980’s. I always used to wish that I could just grow old like everyone else and not have to worry about AIDS. Well, with good healthcare, meds and support, I no longer worry about AIDS, just getting older —LOL! I have control of my life again and have done some amazing things in my life since then such as, jumped out of an airplane and saw the Berlin Wall before it was dismantled.

Being HIV hasn’t stopped me having relationships either. Once I got to know a guy well enough, I would tell him that I was HIV. By this stage I knew them pretty well and felt trust between us and in all cases, they were accepting and wanted to continue our relationship. One for 12 years (OMG, a lifetime in the gay world!) and another for 5 years, both with HIV negative guys who accepted and understood my condition. HIV was never an issue between us.

In 2012, I made a life changing decision. I’d always remembered how I used to think I was going to die any day, I wanted to continue to enjoy my life, not just live it. I made some changes to my life that would only snowball a few years later. 

I sold my business of 30 years and bought a caravan and travelled around Australia for 2 years just with my dogs, working in different cities for up to a month at a time. How awesome was this! I could go anywhere in my country and receive the same good health care, access to my medications etc. It was the beginning of even more changes ahead.

I then lived for 2 years in subtropical North Queensland next to a beach with the Great Barrier Reef at my doorstep. Met a guy from Brazil, a lot younger than me but hey, what the heck! We lived together for 2 years and then moved to Brazil where we lived for 18 months. No problem with health care there, I was able to access medications for free as a resident of Brazil. Next came Italy for two and a half years and now finally, I’m in Malmö which brought me to contact the Positiva Gruppen Syd to find out about any support groups here that I can access or maybe even help out with in the future. 

Of course, we have new challenges around today. Living through the pandemic reminds me a little of living with HIV in the beginning, although I don’t think the stigma of COVID really compares to the stigma of AIDS – AIDS was always the worst! Now we are suddenly being careful not to shake hands with people or even to meet them at all let alone kiss them…or more. I think COVID, however, has an end in sight, perhaps next year, a vaccine that may allow us to return to our normal ways whereas Aids medications took some time to develop and I remember thinking back in the 1980’s, “What? 10 years before we have a cure? I’ll be dead by then!” Now, of course, we have some outstanding treatments that can keep us alive indefinitely.

I now control my HIV, it no longer controls me.