December 21st, 2015 — I was laying in the guest room of my grandmother’s house, feeling a streak of sweat running down my spine. And fear. I was having a moment of an overwhelming suspicion taking over; accepting a fate that I hadn’t seen coming. The next few days were a delirium of fever and actions that seemed out of my control – and the family Christmas dinner was awkward for a whole new set of reasons.
Coming the new year, all the physical symptoms had vanished, but I was still overpowered by crippling anxiety. I was running the events of the last six months in my head; all the sober and alcohol-amplified interactions, misgiven trust and decisions in the spur of the moment. Everything added up to make that hunch a certainty.
Mid-January, I found myself in a white room, simply – almost clinically – designed, with a friendly face sitting across. “What would it mean for you if it comes up positive?”, he said. “I, I don’t know.”. And I really didn’t. I was well informed before I found myself in this predicament. But I hadn’t, up until then, really thought about what changes in your life, what emotions you are faced with.
Then a tear – singular. The last one. At least, I hoped.
Overnight, I packed my stuff, left my mother’s house and moved to Athens — nothing resembling a runaway child or an act of rebellion, as I was 26. I had taken the decision to stand up and take care of myself – the physical, mental and social self. For the most part of it, I honestly thought I did and that my diagnosis hadn’t affected – and wouldn’t affect – my life. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You see, HIV came at a time in my life when I hadn’t figured out almost anything about myself. I had the inner child on the wheel of my adult decision. And since I was 20 years old, when I found out what sex is, sex became the driving factor and key mechanism of being and acquiring a sense of belonging, acceptance and self-esteem. But it also resembled the dark side of me, which I had learned to express with fake ease and shamelessness.
Naturally, I sought confirmation that HIV had not brought me down through sex and relationships. I needed to know – subconsciously at that point – that I hadn’t condemned myself to a loveless life of loneliness and isolation; which are also almost encrypted in the DNA of my family. Between proving to someone who doesn’t live with HIV that I am still worthy and fighting for relationships with people who do, as my last resort for love, happiness and finding a “home”, I ended up hurt in ways unimaginable to me until then, losing touch with what makes me, well, me.
On December 21st, 2021, early in the morning, I was in my HIV clinic for my regular visit to pick up my monthly medication. My doctor also had the results of my latest blood work.
It was the best I’ve ever looked on paper! Undetectable, still, and my immune system at its best. I honestly felt ecstatic in, what seemed to be, a full-circle moment.
Later that day I also had the most empowering session with my therapist of three years now. I was able to articulate things about who I am in a way that I haven’t been able before that day. It was a 45-minute acid trip, without the acid, from which I left sobbing in redemption – my own redemption – for hours.
After the most intense year of my life, both emotionally and physically – COVID-19, a bad break-up, stressful work environment and all – I keep getting signs that, somehow, I came out of it stronger.
And – I’ll be honest with you – 10 kilos heavier.
Recounting my blessings and curses, I give to anyone these days, this piece of privileged and unsolicited advice: find those things in your life right now, no matter how big or how small, that are proof you made it through it all.
And claim your superpower.
We all have one.