I was in a rush. I walked briskly around the main building and up the modern ramp leading to the STI clinic. I was on my lunch break from work. I wanted Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), which can be administered within 72 hours of exposure to HIV to prevent transmission. They did an on the spot HIV test. Half an hour later came the shocking news that I was already HIV positive. I had tested the previous spring for HIV and the result had come back negative. This was January 2010 and I was 24 years old.
Fast forward 10 months. I am about to hold a dinner party and await my guests' arrival at 7.30 pm. They were kind at work, letting me leave at 5 pm, so that I could get ready. This is an important night for me. I have arranged a dinner for fourteen people as part of Terrence Higgins Trust Supper Club. The purpose of the dinner is to raise funds and awareness for Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK's largest HIV charity. I am hosting the dinner at the One Aldwych Hotel, in a private room. Before the dinner we are doing drinks in the Axis Bar. I have invited my closest friends, who have supported me through this difficult time.
Joe, Luke, Anthony and Francis are all here. Joe was the first person I told about my HIV diagnosis. I thought my world was about to cave in. I called him, on the evening of the day of my initial diagnosis, after I returned from the gym. He was reassuring, telling me that everything would be ok. He pointed out that there are incredible treatments, meaning that HIV is not a death sentence. We spoke on the phone for about an hour. I went to bed feeling more composed. I called Anthony to tell him about my HIV. Anthony has a number of friends who are HIV positive. I did not know any HIV positive people myself. He told me that my life would not change that much. Later that day, Luke and Anthony chatted, Anthony agreeing that he would come to my first appointment at the HIV clinic with me. Francis was amazing. We sat in a restaurant, a few days after my initial diagnosis and he said that he would also introduce me to some of his HIV positive friends. He said he would always be there for me. I could not have got through this period in my life without my friends.
National HIV Testing Week runs from 19 to 25 November. Testing for HIV is the responsible thing to do and is easy and confidential. The sooner you know your status the better. There are approximately 17,000 people in the UK who do not know their HIV status. If you are HIV positive and do not know, your health could be compromised. Two-fifths of HIV positive people in the UK are diagnosed late. By testing negative you put an end to any doubts that you may have about your HIV status. Test positive and you can start treatment, thereby ensuring you remain healthy. I tested twice a year, before my diagnosis as HIV positive. You can, for example, get tested at STI clinics nationally, ask your GP for an HIV test, or you can even get tested at home with the new home testing kits.
Looking back at the glossy photos from my Supper Club in 2010, one of which is framed on my bedside table, it is hard to grasp the fear that I was experiencing during my first year as HIV positive. It took me a number of years to come to terms with my HIV diagnosis. I am now a healthy, happy and POSITIVE young gay man. My advice to you this HIV Testing Week is to get tested for HIV.
This #HIVTestWeek, spread the message: #ImTesting. Knowing your HIV status is important, empowering and puts you in control.