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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

It's my birthday next Monday. 47. Amazing. When I was 27 and in London and newly HIV+ I was told I had about 2 years left to live. And then when I was 35 or so, back here in Auckland, I was told I had a year to live.

Either the Drs got it wrong, or you are reading the writings from beyond the grave - my advice - don't listen to Drs when they tell you how long you have left. Or maybe we're all stuck in an episode of "The Ghost Whisperer" or something equally crappy.

But they meant well when they did say that to me, and they were basing it on their not inconsiderable experience of what the typical trajectory of HIV infection meant in those days. In fact, back in 95 I was so sick everyone thought I was on the way out, me included. I am bloody lucky - there is no other reason I'm still here but blind luck. I don't think I'm special. I was lucky enough to somehow hold on till the new drugs came through. I know so many guys who didn't make it.

But I confess at times I still find it hard to really plan for the future, and to believe I have one. You'd think I'd have moved beyond that by now, and to some extent I have, but still there at the back of my mind is the little niggling thought that it could all suddenly be pulled away from under me and I'll end up back in hospital, wasting away, delerious, scabby, feverish and unable to get out of bed in time to get to the toilet.

In fact, most of us who have HIV today are able to get on and lead normal lives. It's such a bizarre turn around from what it was. As a certain AIDS activist in Sydney said, the elephant in the room is that having HIV today just isn't that bad. And it isn't, on the medical level anyhow. If you take your meds, and do what your Drs tell you, you'll probably chug along quite nicely. My GP said to me the other month she is more concerned about her patients who smoke than those who are HIV+, so long as we take our meds.

And the only people I know who have gotten sick and died lately are those who have found it difficult to take their meds properly. And that's something I've struggled with at times as well. It is hard. But it's worth it.

The social side of having HIV - that's entirely different from the medical, and that is far harder to manage. We still live with stigma, ignorance, fear and intolerance, not least of all from the wonderfully supportive "gay community". The fear and intolerance HIV+ men can meet from other gay men is startling at times. Luckily not always, but enough to be off-putting unless you're a pretty stroppy bastard, like me. But I know for many others living with HIV is incredibly hard, not so much medically, but on the emotional and social level. Even though we're basically healthy, busy, working, going to the gym, going out, other gay men can be such bastards in how they treat us - largely I think because of what they fear for themselves, because of what we represent and remind them of - their own weaknesses, and their own mortality.

But it's my birthday, so I want to be cheerful and happy. And in general I am. I have a fantastic family, large, sprawling and covering four generations and in both hemispheres, and I know they love me and care for me. I have an incredible set of friends here and around the globe who make me laugh and make me think and don't treat me any different just because my blood happens to have a virus in it. I have work which challenges me and rewards me, involves me with interesting people and pays the bills. I have a roof over my head and food on my table. Having HIV, it's just part of the mix now, it doesn't define me in the way it once did.

And I'm still alive! I can't quite believe I'm going to be 47 on Monday. I can't believe I've kept going this long after being told twice that I'd be dead "soon" because of this virus.

47 - that's like 90 in gay years. Man I'm old...but I'm not complaining.