Column: The surreal disease

I am HIV-positive. At least I imagined I was. The day before I got results from a STD test, this was a thought that persisted in my mind. It was also a thought that had every possibility of being a reality. In the past I have had unprotected sex.

In thinking about what the reality of my life would be as an HIV-positive person, I considered many different things. First, I thought about how I would react. As someone who knows a lot about the virus, I was able to imagine myself reacting calmly to the news that I was living with it. However, as my imagination persisted to make the idea more tangible, I knew the knowledge that I was living with HIV would be enough to send me over the edge, if not an edge.

After thinking about how I would react became too unbearable, I started wondering how the people I am close to would react to the news of my HIV status. Instead of imagining their reaction, though, I knew I could gauge it immediately by simply asking them. The first person I asked was my boyfriend.

He gave an honest account of the reaction he would have. His initial response was that he would want me to leave his life. After two years of being in some sort of a relationship with him, this shocked me. I did not know his love toward me was based on certain conditions. He made clear that he would not stop loving me, but that he just could not bear to see me slowly deteriorate as the disease progressed in my blood. He has his limits. I think he is selfish.

When I told my mother that I had taken an STD test, her response was quite blunt. Instead of supporting me while I waited for the test results, she became judgmental about my taking a test in the first place. I entertained the notion that she was concerned for me, but her frantic interrogation regarding my sexual history over the phone annoyed me and forced me to hang up on her. I needed comforting and self-assurance that she would care for me no matter what I could be living with. I did not need a cross-examination.

Since the two people from whom I seek comfort the most disappointed me immensely with their reactions, I decided to stop asking people how they would react to me being HIV-positive. It became pretty obvious from my point of view that living with HIV would be pretty lonely.

While I pictured myself living lonely and possibly angry with HIV, I knew that I would not blame anyone for his or her reaction to my having the virus. Indeed, the reactions I did get were genuine and natural. I alone would be responsible for contracting HIV. I could not be bitter toward anyone for turning his or her back on me, I could only be saddened that the love people feel for me could be overtaken by a disease that apparently attacks more than blood.

If anything, the idea that I would be alone because of my HIV status simply frustrates me. While it is only a hypothetical situation for me, I know that it is a reality for others. People who disclose their HIV status can face very harsh reactions from their friends and family, and they can be much worse than the hypothetical ones that I experienced.

Even with the education we have on the disease today, clearly much more needs to be done. We all make mistakes, and it is true that those of us who have sex are all susceptible to the virus. It is beneficial to everyone to work to continue the efforts of making people understand HIV and how to live with it, and how to help those who have it live. And no matter how scary it can be, we must all take the responsibility to get tested for our own sake and for the health of those whom we love and care for.

No one should be left stranded with this disease.

-The writer, a junior majoring in human services, is a Hatchet columnist.

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