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Op-Ed

Meeting Jake…

Meet 26-year-old Jake, a registered nurse who is a person living with HIV, as he shares his life stories via Outrage Magazine.

My name is Jake.
I am 26 years old.
I am a registered nurse.
And I am a person living with HIV.

It all started when I left my hometown, Iloilo City, to go to Metro Manila to look for a job related to my profession. I didn’t get job offers in spite of the dozens of applications that I submitted to the different hospitals all over Manila and its neighboring districts, so I eventually gave up applying to a hospital, deciding to apply instead for a job in a BPO company.  It was, for me, the easiest job to have; I worked there for almost nine months.

During my stay in Manila was also when I was very sexually active. I tried a lot of things – one on one sex, threesomes, orgies, et cetera.  I was aware that HIV is here in the Philippines, but I was very confident that I won’t get infected since I’m a nurse and thus equipped with knowledge on how not to get infected.  In truth, though, I was driven by my sexual urges, with all that knowledge set aside/thrown away in exchange of LUST.

I got tested for HIV by accident. Prior to the test, I had a sexually transmitted infection that I kept to myself for nearly six months until I couldn’t take it anymore as it caused some minor discomforts that prompted me to finally see a doctor. After a consultation in a private hospital, the attending doctor immediately asked me to get tested for HIV. I followed his request and took the test the same day.

Without the STI, I think that until now I would still have been unaware of my HIV status.

Within a week, the medical technologist informed me that the initial screening turned out positive, and she told me that they will be forwarding it to another hospital ( San Lazaro) for the confirmatory/Western Blot test. I waited for two to three weeks before the result was released.

I can still remember the day when the medical technologist sent me an SMS, saying that I can pick up my HIV result. Hearing her say that made me nervous, but I managed to stay calm and composed as I fixed myself to go and pick-up my test result.  I arrived in the place and she greeted me with a smile – one that seemed to assure me that everything is going to be okay. She asked me something before she handed me the result, sealed in an envelope.

“What would your reaction be if it turns out positive?” she asked.

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“I seriously don’t know,” I answered.

She discussed several things before she handed me the envelope.
I took hold of it and opened it….
It said REACTIVE for HIV.

I looked at her and handed the result back to her. She explained the test result further. I tried to listen, but I wasn’t, couldn’t. I was just looking at her, nodding but hardly understanding what she was saying. She asked me what I am feeling then. I replied that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. She patted me on my back, telling me it’s not too late for me yet. She informed me of support groups and also stressed out my need to see an infectious disease doctor for my health evaluation. I told her I’ll do it, and said my goodbye.

On my way out of the hospital I called my best friend. He was anxiously waiting for my result, and as soon as he answered my call, he asked me right away what the result was. I said, “yes, it is POSITIVE; I am HIV positive”.  Upon hearing that, he burst into tears, and just as suddenly, tears started to fall from my eyes. Hearing him cry made me so emotional. I was walking along PGH around 2.00PM and I was crying, but I tried to just bend my head to conceal what I was going through from the people around me. I took the MRT to go home, standing there lost to myself, and I was talking to myself that this thing couldn’t be happening, that this could not be possible. Tears started to fall again, but I tried to stop them and just plugged in my earphones to listen to some lively music. It did help a little, I was relieved but still random thoughts about what’s going to happen still run in my head. When I entered my uncle’s house, I went straight to my room and just laid down. I didn’t notice the time even if I was awake, with my mind stuck somewhere else. I wasn’t able to sleep that night and went straight to work. IT WAS THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE.

Even though I was still not emotionally stable at that time, I was able to send an SMS to the guys that I slept with and informed them of my HIV Status. Then, I had two fuck buddies with whom I didn’t use any protection, but there were other guys I slept with, though with protection used. I focused on the two guys, informing them of my status, which put my conscience at ease. Sad to say, that I didn’t get any response from them – if they got themselves tested, or if they have it already, they just didn’t tell me. But for me, what was important was me informing them about my status. HIV testing in the Philippines is voluntary, so I couldn’t force them to take the test.

My family found out about my status several weeks after I was diagnosed. My mother is fond of doing random inspections with my things (she even caught me one time keeping condoms, and she was shocked), and when she inspected my belongings, she saw my confirmatory test result.  She then cornered me, asking me to explain what she saw. So I disclosed my status, at the same time that I disclosed to my parents that I am a homosexual.

They had a lot of questions, and I was able to answer them as honestly as I could.  They were, I supposed, shocked by my answers.

My mother was the most affected. I saw her cry several times for a week. It was too much for her to take, which may be  why she really couldn’t contain her feelings and vented her emotions out to some of my relatives who also knew of my HIV status. With my father, there was not really much of a reaction; I think my dad was very understanding and he knew that there was no place for giving me sermons, so he just kept quiet. Yet,  even though I haven’t heard a thing from him, he still showed compassion and his love of me, since he was the only one who accompanied me during weekends at my apartment.

With regards to stigma and discrimination, I did have several experiences. There was a time when my mother bought me my own plate, spoon and fork, and glass.  There was a time when it was suggested that I use the restroom of the maid’s quarters. Also, by the time my relatives knew that I tested positive, they were afraid that I might pass the infection to their children, and so they decided to transfer me to an apartment. I stayed there for two months all by myself, with my dad sleeping over on weekends (it became our bonding time, watching movie and also stroll around the malls together).

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At first I was angry at them because I thought I didn’t deserve that kind of treatment. But acceptance is a process and you can’t expect everyone to accept you right away knowing your status and the stigma that is attached with it.

Eventually they were able to accept me.

My experiences as a person living with HIV was very challenging because there were a lot of things running in my head, and there were times when I couldn’t sleep and so sometimes just cry because I don’t know what to do.

It took a while before I realized that I have to accept my condition and move on with my life. And ever since then, I became very optimistic in life.

I also started to disclose my status with friends whom I know I can trust, and so far I haven’t got any negative feedback from them. They accepted my condition wholeheartedly, and ever since we became closer.

With the community, I am starting to disclose my status through testimonials. But before that, I make sure that an HIV 101 lecture was done and they were provided with the right information. And right after I tell my story, I entertain their questions and answer them direct to the point and with the facts. I do receive a lot of commendations for speaking out and telling my story, and I feel the warmth of them accepting me for who I am as a person living with HIV.

With regards to disclosing to the community, I believe that through my testimonials, people will be aware that HIV is here and it’s not going anywhere unless we do our part. Education is the most powerful weapon that we have; it’s just not been used properly. With education, we could correct the common misconceptions that contribute to the rise of stigma and discrimination. With consistent advocacy accompanied with people stepping out to share their stories, people will be influenced to create change to themselves and to their communities.

It has been very hard and the pain may have been incomparable at times. But depression is normal; what is important is we have someone who we can hang on to, to share how/what we feel and to just vent out all the emotions that we keep and stored for a long time. You are never alone, there are support groups and people who offer the care and support that we need the most.

Life goes on; we must not dwell long in our past because it would restrain us from reaching our goals in life. It is never too late to achieve those goals, and the impossible are still possible if we have trust in ourselves.

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Denying or pretending that nothing is wrong would only lead to complications and even death. Treatment is available, accessible, and most services are free and they help prolong your life.  Paired with healthy lifestyle, frequent visits to your doctor, and a positive outlook, you can live a normal life and will even live long.

Disclosure still depends on the person. We should not rush them; instead we give them time to think. Also we can refer them to a licensed HIV counselor that could help them out in disclosing to their parents and other significant people if they want to.

Acceptance starts within you. Learn to accept yourself first before disclosing your HIV status. You should always be strong and full of optimism.

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