HIV shook up my entire world. But it wasn’t just HIV. My health, my personal life, and even my identity was in crisis. Recognising my individuality, seeking support and planning for the journey ahead gave me the control and stability I so badly needed. My name is Darren. I’m a 52-year-old father of four from Salford, and this is my HIV story.
When I was diagnosed, HIV seemed the least of my problems. I was trying to cope with chronic fatigue syndrome and mental health issues. As my health began to deteriorate, so did the communication holding my marriage together. Eventually, I had a complete breakdown which led me to question everything, including my sexuality. As a straight man until that point, I found myself in a totally new world. Defining my new sexuality in the same way as others was impossible and I felt isolated. It was the toughest time of my life.
I fell into a vicious cycle, using sex as an escape. Shortly before my HIV diagnosis, I was living with a couple in an open relationship and slept with them both. One of them started to become very ill and was soon diagnosed with HIV. It wasn’t long before I was diagnosed too.
You don’t have to be a doctor to know that chronic fatigue syndrome, mental health and HIV isn’t a good combination. I was already aware of my local HIV support group, George House Trust, as I had been introduced to them when I was diagnosed. I realised I couldn’t carry on living this way, and returned to them to seek help.
This was one of the most important steps I took. I started receiving counselling and began to accept what was happening in my life.
The biggest lesson I learnt is that if I didn’t deal with my health, no one else would. I remembered the man who gave me HIV, and how scared his partner was to confront it. He had locked information leaflets and medical books in a cupboard where they would sit unread. That wasn’t going to be me.
The more I started to learn about my health and my future journey with HIV, the more I felt in control and the better I started to feel. I found out that certain HIV treatments affect your body in different ways, so I spoke to my doctor about my concerns. I also realised that planning ahead for HIV meant having a healthier lifestyle too.
I now work alongside George House Trust, supporting people living with HIV. I am all too aware that I have been fortunate enough not to suffer the stigma and abuse many others in the gay community have. I also want to help people who find themselves in difficult circumstances as I did after my marriage ended.
People with HIV still need to be heard. They need to speak to their doctor about their future with HIV, and speak up about their individual situation and what their health challenges might be. Having a positive vision of the future is not always easy, but once you start to work through your worries and plan ahead, all your problems seem a lot more manageable.