July 2002: I was diagnosed as HIV-positive at age 28. I remember clearly when the nurse at the Hassle Free Clinic in Toronto asked me how I was feeling after he spoke the words. I replied, “Shocked. Yeah, shocked.” I knew that I had been with a positive partner in the past and that not all of our sexual practices had been safe. I had sincerely hoped not to keep a souvenir from that relationship.
I was terrified, and within an hour of leaving the clinic I found myself in the fetal position on a downtown sidewalk — in broad daylight — sobbing. Strangers stopped to see if I was all right, but their kind faces from that day remain an emotional blur in my consciousness.
I eventually met my now ex-husband. He entered our relationship HIV-negative and remained so for the time we were together.
Four years ago, my doctor informed me that it was time to begin antiretroviral treatment. I became angry and resentful, not wanting to admit to myself that I would now be reliant on drugs to survive. I didn’t take his advice and later contracted an AIDS-related form of pneumonia that nearly killed me.
December 2012: I’m living vibrantly with HIV. The virus is certainly a part of my life, but it in no way defines who I am. I’m now divorced; my ex-husband could not ultimately negotiate this “thing” living inside of me.
I date casually, though I occasionally struggle with disclosure issues and potential rejection with HIV-negative men. But, in all honesty, I walk each day with the intention of finding the positive in being positive.
Living with HIV can certainly be complicated, but I have learned that even the most seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome. Yes, there have been health casualties and relationship losses along the way. But there has also been a great deal of strength and insight that I have learned from my journey.
Ultimately, HIV and its presence in my life, has led me to a much deeper and richer understanding of myself and the world in which I live.
– Christopher Wilson is the writer-composer of the new musical drama Living With Henry, which explores his life experiences and seeks to educate, inform and inspire others. It premiered at this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival. A new production will be staged at the Next Stage Festival from Jan. 4-15 at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. livingwithhenry.com