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@Phyrohunter: Facing life squarely

@Phyrohunter’s biggest challenge after knowing his HIV-positive status was facing stigmatization and acceptance – and not just from others, but from himself. But he learned in time that “it is not other people’s words or actions that will hurt you most but your own subconscious voice radiating from your ignorance. If you listen to it, that’s when you sink into this black hole of self pity, which I realized later to be wrong.”

This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.

When @Phyrohunter took the HIV antibody test on May 31, 2012, “I just had this hunch (I’m HIV-positive) after an encounter with a guy I dated,” he recalled. “I had an unprotected sex with this guy.”

When he found out his HIV serostatus, “it was an ugly montage of confusion, self-pity and anger. I (also asked what I) think is the most common question: ‘Why me?’ I rarely go out and party, I was almost a borderline agoraphobic, I only slept with someone I met online once, and most of my previous encounters were men who I actually met in person like my school and office or gym. This, in my opinion back then, gave me better chance of knowing their backgrounds.”

@Phyrohunter recalled “crying every night for two weeks, I went both ballistic and berserk. I attended several counseling sessions and went on to see a psychiatrist and even a priest for a confession…”

Looking back, “now I laugh at how sordidly dramatic I was in those days,” @Phyrohunter said.

@Phyrohunter does not even blame the guy he believes infected him, claiming that “(putting) the blame on him is no longer an issue for me as I had forgiven him. All I want now is to focus on myself and my family, and the challenges ahead as a PLHIV.”

@Phyrohunter does not want to “be preachy and overly optimistic and say that this thing is a blessing, et cetera. I now want to face this issue in my life squarely as it is: a sickness. But like many sicknesses, it is manageable as long as you keep certain parameters and change your lifestyle, and that’s what I’m doing now.”

Since he tested HIV-positive, as far as his job and his family relations are concerned, “I guess nothing changed. I have kept my chin up despite all. Most of the changes I had come from within. I’m now more focused on myself and stand firmly on my foot. I try to be less worried about my future and give attention to what I am now: a healthy living person with eyes toward a wonderful world.”

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The biggest challenge @Phyrohunter believes he faced as an HIV-positive person is facing stigmatization and acceptance. “(I had to face) stigma not just from others but my own, as well as misconceptions about HIV. One of the biggest internal sources of PLHIV’s depression is our own ignorance about HIV. We think of it as a death sentence or God’s chastisement from our concupiscence.”

@Phyrohunter stressed: “It is not other people’s words or actions that will hurt you most but your own subconscious voice radiating from your ignorance. If you listen to it, that’s when you sink into this black hole of self pity, which I realized later to be wrong. When you pity yourself you begin to think of yourself as the center of creation, the only suffering victim in the world, which in fact is not true and unfair. Then you will be out of focus unconsciously, which make you have a less chance of facing the challenges ahead.”

@Phyrohunter added: “Trying to grasp the situation moved me into the search for acceptance. It all started to kick in when I received my initial CD4 count (581/55%), which basically states that I’m still okay. I started to research on how to deal with this sickness and eventually realized I’m not dying. I found out that there are people who were infected as early as 1980s who are still alive today as long as they kept up with the treatment. That short period somewhat gave me a spark of hope. Just (as stated in) the serenity prayer, I somehow realized that though there are things that I cannot change, there are still things that I can. Slowly, I tried to focus on the latter.”

@Phyrohunter believes he’s been lucky to have a best friend who was very understanding. This friend now offers him support. And then less than two months after he was diagnosed to be HIV-positive, he opened a Twitter account which he said opened doors for him to meet other PHLIV. “I think the simple yet profound benefit of this is it gave me an idea that I am not alone and that here are many people out there who are in the same struggle as I am. I guess that covers the very basic of human fear in every fight… to be alone.”

Six months after his initial CD4 count, the number of his CD4 cells went down to the level that necessitated for @Phyrohunter to start ART. He started with Lamivudine/Tenofovir/Efavirenz (“Which I jokingly call Kyemevudine, Chorlavir and Veklerenz”), and while he got from dizzy (initially) from Efavirenz, things went better from then on. “I guess the most dramatic part was when I suffered from immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome. An event inside my immune system began to recover, but then my body responded to a previously acquired opportunistic infection with an overwhelming inflammatory response. I had diarrhea and fever for two week, but eventually I recovered,” he recalled.

Even now, @Phyrohunter said he remains uncomfortable disclosing his HIV-positive status. “I only disclose it to people who I really need to disclose to, like close friends, and people I came frequently in contact with. Worse is that my company’s Medical Plan has a history of revoking medical coverage once they find out their client’s employee has HIV. My parents are also unaware of my status as both have heart problems; but in due time, I will tell them.”

As an HIV-positive person, the best lesson @Phyrohunter can teach others is to “learned to look for every essence of my actions and look for my ‘center’. Center in terms of what I really want to achieve and not what the world is leading me into. I learned to pause once in a while and ask whether my actions are worth it or not. Having experienced that deep sense of sorrow, I learned that every failure, missteps or adversity you meet brings you a spectacular opportunity to test your own moral and spiritual courage for you to become a stronger person because of it. We’d be better off taking the challenges that life sends us head on and regard them as lessons, since mortal life is a struggle against our own limitations, a test in preparation of our spirits for life in eternity with God,” @Phyrohunter ended.

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