Friday, June 29, 2012

Manila, Manila... I keep coming home to Manila...

I'm already at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao and in a few short hours I'll be arriving at NAIA in Manila. I'm super excited, and I can't wait to see my family, my friends, and Red. I'm meeting Daisy, Pearl, and Sophie tomorrow afternoon when they have lunch at home. Red and I are going to the White Party in Malate on Saturday evening, though we're not going to spend the whole night out. Sometime on Sunday, I'm going to tell my family that I have HIV. Let's see how that goes.

See you soon, friends!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)"

In exactly 24 hours I'm going to be landing in Manila. I'll be back home, and I can't wait. Joy has been joking that my mind has been in Manila since Monday and it's only my body that's still here in Davao. I'm excited to see my family, I'm thrilled that I'll be in Manila for the White Party, and I'm beyond ecstatic that I'm going to see Red again. He's going to pick me up at the airport, just like my Mom. That'll be an interesting meeting, since they haven't seen each other since I brought Red back home to meet my family 7 years ago. Anyway, this song is for Red. I miss you, sweetie. Can't wait to hug you again.






"I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" 
Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet
 
 Like a warrior that fights and wins the battle 
I know the taste of victory 
Though I went through some nights consumed by the shadows 
I was crippled emotionally 
Somehow I made it through the heartache
Yes I did, I escaped
I found my way out of the darkness 
I kept my faith (I know you did), kept my faith 
 
When the river was deep, I didn't falter 
When the mountain was high, I still believed 
When the valley was low, it didn't stop me, no no 
I knew you were waiting
I knew you were waiting for me 

 With an endless desire I kept on searching 
Sure in time our eyes would meet 
Like the bridge is on fire, the hurt is over
One touch and you set me free 
I don't regret a single moment
No I don't, looking hack 
When I think of all those disappointments
 I just laugh (I know you do), I just laugh 

When the river was deep, I didn't falter 
When the mountain was high, I still believed 
When the valley was low, it didn't stop me, no no 
I knew you were waiting
I knew you were waiting for me 

So we were drawn together through destiny 
I know this love we shared was meant to be 
I knew you were waiting
Knew you were waiting 
I knew you were waiting
Knew you were waiting for me

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2 more days to go!

Only 2 more days and I'll be back in Manila!

I really should have written a longer blog entry today. I got home early and things weren't too hectic at work, but I was feeling lazy and I kept thinking I'll have more time to write when my vacation starts. I'm sleepy now. I'll sleep early today and write more tomorrow if things are still not too hectic at work.

Take care, everyone. Stay strong.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Back to Black

I've been busy at work so unfortunately I haven't had as much time to blog as I would like. Black texted Red today and it seems that he has adjusted a bit to having HIV, which is a good thing. They're planning to meet soon, which is fine. Red asked though if I was feeling jealous and I said no I'm not jealous because I know where I stand. Which means yes, I'm jealous haha. But it's ok. I'm a bit worried because Black's CD4 count is 90, which is lower than Red's, but he still hasn't been prescribed ARVs by his doctor at San Lazaro. OK fine, I get that he's still on meds for his TB, but don't ARVs trump any other medication especially if you've technically got AIDS? Hmm. Anyway. Red said we're still on for Saturday. I asked if Black is joining us. Red still hasn't replied.

Monday, June 25, 2012

In Manila, June 29 to July 16

I finally got my Western Blot results this morning. I'll write more about that tomorrow though. In the meantime, I just want to write a quick update that I'll be in Manila this Friday evening and I'll be there until July 16. I'm super thrilled because it's the White Party in Malate this Saturday and Red and I have planned to go out somewhere along Roxas Boulevard before we head over to Orosa Nakpil. 7 years ago I was the first person to bring Red to Malate, and he didn't even consider himself gay or bisexual even then. Now at times he even calls himself bading. Times have clearly changed.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wind, Waves, and White Sand

I ended my class early on Friday, so I spent sunset by the beach at the Queen Tuna Park. Since I had been planning to move back permanently to Manila, I wasn't sure when I'd be able to come back to Gensan again, so I wanted to enjoy my last few moments there. Though I was thinking about going back to Davao early, as you can tell from my last entry, the calm I felt that day was worth me staying.

In that moment, on impulse, I decided that I wanted to go visit Gumasa, Glan in the Sarangani province. The last time I went to Gumasa was in March just after Red first got sick. Gumasa is one of the most beautiful, less-known beaches in the Philippines. Everyone says that it's just like Boracay used to be before the crowds started piling in, and it truly is pristine. It's one of the best beaches I've traveled to, and I like how not a lot of people know that it exists.

I haven't been able to do a whole lot of travelling since Red started getting sick. I love going to remote places, and I especially love going on my own because when I'm alone I'm silent, and when I'm silent it's easier for me to feel spiritual. My favorite solo trip that I've ever taken is when I went to Kathmandu, Nepal on my own last year. I can't even begin to describe the sense of peace I felt on that trip. Just to be surrounded by the comforting sounds of bells in Buddhist temples and to see Mt Everest outside the window of the tiny plane I was in was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Everyone should be able to say they've done that at least once before they leave this world.

So anyway, yesterday morning I woke up at 5:00 am so I could take the first van ride to Glan from KCC Mall. The van left by 6:30 am, and we were in Glan an hour later. Going there was different this time because I had forgotten to bring my digicam, and the only camera I had was the one on my phone, so I couldn't take any high-resolution pics of the ride going to Glan. I usually take hundreds even thousands of pictures when I travel, starting from the journey going there. But rather than worry that I didn't have a camera, I decided to be happy that instead of looking for the perfect shot I could just focus on how beautiful the sights really are. In the end, photos, no matter how good they are, can't fully capture how awe-inspiring a place can be. You really have to be in a place sometimes for you to connect with its soul.

After a quick breakfast, I rode a tricycle and in 10 minutes I was at White Haven Beach. Again, words fail to express how at one with the universe you feel at a place like Gumasa, so let me express it through the few pictures I took.






It was a feast for the senses. I could feel the wind brush against my skin and hum in my ear, and in just five minutes it blew away everything I had been worrying about for the past five months. The waves melodically crashed on the shore, and the sound made me drowsy. I lay in the cool, white sand and took a nap for a bit. I was in heaven. My body surrendered, and in spite of the virus replicating inside of me, I felt healed. I felt loved.

I spent the morning playing with the sand and splashing in the water like a 5 year-old. At first I didn't want to swim because I didn't bring a towel, but I'm glad I did because I found a 1,000 peso bill floating in the water.  I looked around to see if there was anyone who looked like they had lost money, but there wasn't. I kept the money and thanked God that this trip pretty much paid for itself. By noon the sky became darker and the clouds became thicker. For some reason I didn't want to see my paradise spoiled by the rain, so I left before it did. It was OK though. I didn't need to spend the whole day there. A few hours was all I needed to meditate and recharge. I was ready to get back to reality. A few hours later I was back in Davao.

I can't wait for my next trip. It'll probably be easier to travel once I've relocated to Manila because there are more travel promos and budget fares if you're coming from there. Hopefully Red can go with me, but if he can't I don't mind going solo again. Travelling alone is good for your soul, and you can never have too much of a good thing.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Life is Beautiful

I sat in silence at sunset, listening to the waves from the Sarangani Bay as they crashed on the Gensan shore. The wind was blowing through my hair and humming in my ears, and I felt calm and content as I stared out into the horizon. I looked at the expanse of sea before me and I was overwhelmed as I realized that my life is but a heartbeat in comparison to the eternity of the universe. I was in awe.

Life truly is Beautiful.

Friday, June 22, 2012

1st Monthsary

Yesterday it had been 1 month since I found out I had HIV, and today it has been 1 month since I started this blog. I started this blog because I wanted to document my new life as a person living with HIV, and I wanted to be as much help to people as the other bloggers were of help to me after I had just found out I was positive.

According to Google Analytics, in the 1 month since I started this blog, I've had 3,929 pageviews, 1,084 visits, and 584 unique visitors. Wow. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I think that moving forward I have to do a better job of adding more HIV-related information. I have a few other ideas as well, like adding more creative entries, or more introspective and reflective entries. I need to start adding more pictures too.

To celebrate my 1st monthsary, I'm going to Gumasa tomorrow. It's one of the best beaches in the Philippines and it's located in the Saranggani province around an hour away from Gensan. I was last there in April with Red and I've been wanting to go back for a while now. I decided on impulse earlier today that I was definitely going there this weekend. I'll be back in Manila by next week hopefully, and I'm really not sure when I'm going to be in Gensan again, so I'm grabbing this opportunity to go back to Gumasa while I can.


Happy weekend, folks. Stay safe, stay strong, and get tested if you haven't already.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Western Blot is in!

I just got a text message from the health clinic that my Western Blot results are in. I'm excited, and it's a weird emotion to have in my situation, I know, but still. Getting my results means that I can finally start planning my trip back to Manila to get all my other tests done. Things are starting to fall into place at the office and I feel comfortable leaving stuff behind even if only for a few weeks at first. This also means that I'll get to see Red again, and thank God for that because I really miss him.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

HIV/AIDS Medications

Red started taking ARVs today. The ARVs that Red is taking are Zidovudine and Lamivudine. I wanted to just write about what those 2 meds do, but as I was researching I got more and more fascinated by the science behind HIV and its medications. Some of the stuff that HIV meds do is amazing. I'm like how the hell did they even discover this stuff? HIV meds are truly modern day miracles, and the people who came up with them are geniuses.

For the benefit of my non-pozzie friends, and for my pozzie friends who aren't sure about our meds work, let's start with the basics. Here are a few key terms that you need to first understand in order to see how HIV meds work:

  1. HIV
    • HIV is short for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is named so because the virus attacks cells within our body that form part of our immune system, or the system in our body that helps us fight disease.
  2. CD4
    • CD4 T helper cells are a type of white blood cell (cells that fight disease) that HIV attacks. Increased HIV infection leads to lower CD4 counts. In the Philippines, HIV treatments start once your CD4 level drops to below 350. In most Western countries, HIV treatments can start at any time.
  3. AIDS
    • When your CD4 count falls below 200, you are officially considered to have AIDS, or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. This means you are considered to be more prone to opportunistic infections, or diseases that take advantage of your weakened immune system. With the help of HIV meds, your CD4 count can go back up. However, even if your CD4 count goes back above 200 you will still be considered as having AIDS.
  4. Viral load
    • This is a measure of how much of the virus you have in your system. It is expressed in parts per milliliter.
Medicines for HIV/AIDS are called Antiretrovirals or ARVs. They are called that because HIV is classified as a retrovirus. A retrovirus is a type of virus that replicates using the reverse transcriptase enzyme, or the enzyme that synthesizes DNA from RNA instead of the normal process of synthesizing RNA from DNA. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but this video explains in a simple enough manner how HIV replicates:





So in a nutshell, there are a whole lot of processes involved in the replication, of HIV. What ARVs try to do is prevent specific processes from happening, which is why a lot of the HIV meds are classified as inhibitors because they interfere with, block or suppress certain stages of the HIV replication process. We can't really call ARVs cures, because although they manage the presence of HIV in our bodies, they don't actually remove the virus -- they just prevent it from replicating.

ARVs are normally taken in combination with each other. This is called HAART, or Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy -- the idea being that in order to effectively fight HIV you need to prevent as many of the virus replication stages from happening as you can. Also, HIV easily mutates, which is why it is especially important for people with HIV to make sure that they take their meds on time and exactly as prescribed by their doctors because if they don't, the HIV strain they have might become resistant to the ARVs they are taking. In order to check if the ARVs are working, you need to get CD4 counts and viral load tests done as recommended by your doctor.

Which brings me back to the ARVs that Red is taking. Zidovudine is better known as Azidothymidine or AZT. It was the first approved treatment for HIV and it works by inhibiting the replication of HIV via the reverse transcriptase enzyme. The most common side-effects include upset stomach and acid reflux or heartburn, headache, cosmetic reduction in abdominal body fat, light sleeping, and occasional loss of appetite. Lamivudine does pretty much the same thing, and aside from treating HIV it is also used to treat hepatitis B.

Red hasn't texted me yet so I'm hoping that means he isn't experiencing any side effects. I seriously hopes he takes his meds on time. I'm seriously worried that he'll fall asleep and not take them on time. I'm so gonna be pissed off if that happens.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Red at RITM

Quick update: Red was at RITM earlier today and he had a good, productive day there. He was able to get all his tests done for free and he said he learned a lot from the counseling and training sessions. We finally found out that his CD4 level is 94, which sucks because it means that only does he have HIV but he technically has AIDS, but at least he is feeling good and isn't sick. He was advised to start his ARVs already and to rest for a bit, so we're planning for him to stay at home and not work until his CD4 level goes up. He wants to do online stuff which is great cuz at least he won't be totally inactive. Now I'm just really hoping that he doesn't experience really bad side effects. Honestly, Red has a very low threshold for pain and I'm worried that he'll either forget or refuse to take his meds on time, which he can't afford to do. Now I really can't wait to get my confirmatory test results so I can do all the tests too.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Back to Normal

Things are slowly getting back to normal at work. Most of the appraisals I had to do are done. My appraisal is done too, and even though it wasn't great, I got what I deserved. I'm actually looking forward to doing better at work now, which is weird since I'm planning to move back to Manila soon. I would honestly prefer to stay in my current company, but staying in my current city is kinda out of the question especially given how slow test results and treatments are.

It's been 4 weeks since I tested reactive for HIV antibodies and I still haven't received the results of my confirmatory test. I checked with Dr Jordana earlier today but she said the results weren't in yet. I haven't figured out when I'm going to go to Manila, but I've kinda decided to wait until I get the results of the Western Blot test first. I don't want to have to go through the whole testing thing in Manila again just to have to wait another 2 or 3 weeks.

When I get to Manila, I want to get the CD4 and the other baseline tests out of the way. Red is going to RITM tomorrow, so hopefully we'll have more details about the tests we need to take and how much everything is going to cost. I've read on a few websites that the initial CD4 test in RITM might be free and that the baseline tests are discounted at PGH, but we'll see what Red is able to find out tomorrow before we decide on what we're going to do and where we're going to get what done.

In the meantime, life goes on. 4 weeks into dealing with HIV and everything is going relatively smoothly. I'm just hoping that when I finally get my CD4 done that the results are good and I hope the rest of the baseline tests come out good as well. I hope it's that way for Red too.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Luha

In the Philippines, when someone cries very easily, we say that they are "mababa ang luha". Literally translated it means their "tears are low", or that it doesn't take a lot for them to cry. I was never really like that before. I would hardly ever, for example, cry even during the saddest movies. Even if I was going through something really depressing, I would have to feel extremely low before I would tear up. But since I found out that I had HIV, I can say that the term "mababa ang luha" definitely describes me.

I think that I've been pretty strong compared to how some other people are after they find out that they're HIV+. A lot of people have told me wow, it's been less than a month and you're already at the acceptance stage and trying to spread the word about prevention and testing. I guess I'm lucky that my coping skills are above average. But even now I still find that my voice breaks and I end up crying whenever I tell someone for the first time that I have HIV. I sometimes cry as well whenever I read about all the things I'll need to do to deal with HIV, like taking meds and dealing with all the side effects, or what might happen if the meds don't work or if I don't take care of myself like I should. I can say that most of the time I feel strong, but sometimes I cry when I'm reminded of how fragile I really am and how much time I may or may not have.

This morning, my "mababa ang luha" attribute was in full force. Red moved back to Manila earlier today, just like I had talked about in my last entry. We spent last night, Red's last night in Davao, watching a movie by the extremely funny Eugene Domingo, "Kimmy Dora and the Temple of Kiyeme", and by having dinner at Yellow Fin restaurant. I had wanted to have dinner at Jack's Ridge, the hilltop restaurant overlooking Davao city, but it was late and Red didn't want to splurge. When we got home we cuddled for a bit (yes, only cuddled) and slept.

I was all groggy and sentimental when I woke up, which generally isn't really a good combination for me. Red, on the other hand, was all bubbly and happy about moving back to Manila. He had been excited for some time, and couldn't wait to get back home. Yes, we've been planning to still live with each other when I get back to Manila too, but that may or may not happen because it all depends on where I'm going to find work, or where my company is going to relocate me if my bosses are able to figure something out for me. Aside from that, Red has a completely different life when he's in Manila, and he has way more friends and would have very little time for me. So regardless of whether or not we would live together, things would change between me and Red, and that's what was making me sad.

As Red was checking his stuff to make sure everything was packed, I was soaking up the last few moments we would have together in Davao. This was truly our place, the one place I had with him that I didn't share with any other of his exes. Red agreed to move here with me because he wanted to make up for the crap we went through in the past, and though our time here together wasn't always smooth sailing, we both did the best we could. I was also thinking about how this would be the 3rd time that Red and I said goodbye to each other. The last two times weren't exactly happy occasions. This time, we would be separating as friends, and we'd only be separating temporarily because I'd be following him to Manila as soon as I possibly could.

Before we left the house, Red and I gave each a big, long, and tight hug. I was breathing his scent in, and I seriously didn't want to let go. In the cab on the way to the airport, I reached for his hand and held it close to my heart with both of mine. Red doesn't usually let me do stuff like that in public, but today he did. While I held his hand, I was staring out of the window because if I looked at him I would just cry. Not that it helped, because I cried anyway. It was just a few tears at first. Red said hey don't look at the sun, it's making your eyes tear up. I just nodded. I couldn't speak anymore because the idea that this was the end of our time in Davao together was overwhelming me. The tears just kept dropping, and soon I was weeping silently. Red was surprised and said hey, why are you crying, stop please. I still couldn't speak so I just shook my head and continued staring out of the window, wiping my tears away every now and then. We just sat there in the back of the cab in silence. When we got to the airport, I was smiling already -- still crying, but with less tears. We hugged again before he went in to the departure area. As we went through the entrance I was chuckling at how excited he was, so the last thing he saw was me laughing even though my eyes were red and moist.

As I walked to the taxi stand, I started crying again. I had to sit for a while in one of the waiting sheds because I didn't want to have to walk past all the people waiting while I wept. When I got back home, Red called and we talked for a bit. Even when while we were laughing I still had tears in my eyes. It was still early in the morning so I went back to sleep for a bit. It was the first time I had cried myself to sleep in years. I was crying even while I was laughing on the phone with Pearl and Daisy, and I'm crying as I write this entry now. The last time I had cried this much was the day after I found out I had HIV.

I really, really miss Red. I know he needed to get back to Manila as soon as possible because he has been getting sick and need to get all his tests done, but I wish we didn't have to be apart. I hope I can get to Manila soon. When I get there, I'm going to give Red a big, tight hug, and this time I'm not going to let go.

I love you, Red.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Red's Last Night in Davao

Tonight is Red's last night in Davao. He'll be back in Manila for good tomorrow. Even though I'll be moving back to Manila sometime soon too, I'll still miss him while we're apart. Here we spend most of our time together. In Manila we will busy with other stuff. Things won't be the same anymore.

Red, thank you for the 7 months we spent together. I know we're planning to live together still if possible, but in case that doesn't happen it's OK. We will still be together for our treatments, and if you ever get sick, I will still be the one to take care of you.

I love you.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mission Accomplished

I did it. I completed all 17 remaining appraisals in less than 24 hours. Damn. I tried to be as fair as I could, and so far the ones I've completed haven't complained about the ratings I gave them. I've already told my team that I'm planning to move back to Manila. Some of them were ok, some have asked me to stay. One of my teammates cried and said she never felt as connected to a manager as she did with me. We hugged and without telling her exactly what I had, I said that if our city only had the same level and speed of treatment as Manila, maybe I wouldn't have gone home. All in all, today was a very productive day; my first honest to goodness productive day since I found out I was HIV+. I'm getting my groove back I think. If I do leave my current company, I think I'll be leaving them on a positive note. If I don't leave my current company, at the very least I won't be leaving my current city with that much baggage. Thank God for that.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sleepy...

Tomorrow is deadline for performance appraisals at work. I'm behind schedule so I had to come back to the office late last night and I was back again really early this morning. I'm super sleepy and I'm irritated because the appraisals are not coming out the way I would like them too. I know that I really shouldn't tire myself out in my condition, but I don't really have a choice at the moment. I'm really, really waiting for the weekend so I can sleep for hours and hours and hours...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Dream Job

Now that I have HIV, my dream job is to become a full-time HIV peer counselor, educator, spokesperson, poster boy and all that jazz. I would so do that if I didn't have to worry about money. In the meantime, I'm helping out in my own way. Every now and then someone messages me while I'm online on PR and we talk about the importance of getting tested or other stuff. I've started a thread on PinoyExchange titled "I am HIV+" and hopefully it'll inspire more people to get tested and educate themselves about HIV. Then there's this blog too, of course. I'm taking baby steps towards my dream job. It'll take a while, and I really don't think I'll be able to do it full-time, but it'll be a whole lot more fulfilling than anything else I've ever done.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Numbers Sometimes Lie

I was chatting with someone from PlanetRomeo last night and something he said bothered me.

"The Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia without true HIV numbers. They say there are only 9,000 people with HIV in the Philippines. Thailand has 53,000 with HIV with a population of 63,000,000. Vietnam has 280,000 with HIV with a population of 77,000,000. Malaysia has 100,000 with HIV with a population of 24,000,000. Cambodia has 63,000 with HIV with a population of 14,000,000. The Philippines has a population of 98,000,000 so the true number is over 100,000."

What he said bothered me because I actually think he's right. I think the numbers are small for the Philippines because not enough people are getting tested. Dr Jordana made me think about that when I got my test results. I was telling her that I knew that Davao had one of the highest numbers of HIV+ people in the country, and she said that it's probably because the Davao hub maybe does more outreach projects so more people get tested. It doesn't make sense for Davao to have more people infected than people in Metro Manila just based off the sheer difference in population.

Get tested, people. Yes, it's scary taking the test, but it's scarier to not know that you have HIV when you really do. As much as I really pray that there really are not a whole of us with HIV in the Philippines, I also pray that those who really are know that they are so that they can get treated as needed.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Blame Game

It doesn't matter what the situation is, spending time trying to find out who to blame for something is never productive. It is especially destructive when you're trying to figure out who gave you HIV. It's one thing to try to find out who gave it to you so they can get tested and stay healthy too, but it's a completely different thing if you're trying to figure out who gave it to you so you can tell them how they ruined your life.

First of all, you agreed to do it without protection, and even if you were only doing it with your lover you clearly were still putting yourself at risk. Second, placing the blame on someone else makes it look like you were helpless and were forced to do something you didn't want to do, and for most people they weren't. Lastly, isn't it more important to focus on taking care of yourself and staying healthy? We don't really have much time as it is, and to waste it on trying to blame someone just doesn't make sense.

The truth is, you can never really tell who gave it to you unless you have only a limited number of partners you had unprotected sex with. Even then, it's still hard to tell because the incubation period for HIV is anywhere from 2 months to 2 years, sometimes even up to 5 years (?) according to one doctor we spoke with. Even if you're absolutely 100% sure who gave it to you, isn't it bad enough that the guy has to go through the same shit you're going through, and maybe even worse?

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the first thing that HIV makes you feel is scared. The next thing it makes you feel is lonely. Isolating yourself from people is seriously not going to help. If someone close to you is the one who gave it to you, then it's all the more reason to stick together because the first few steps of dealing with HIV are not easy, and it's better not to go through them alone. Thank God I have Red. Neither of us cares who gave what to who, and we're really focusing on supporting each other. Hopefully our other partners can see that too.

That means you, Mr Black. I realize you only found out last Friday and these first few days are going to be painful for you, but you said that you didn't care who gave it to you, that you loved Red too, but please stop with the blame game because it's not helping anyone. You have no idea how much Red loves you. He loves you more than he loves me, which though hard to admit is the truth. If he did give it to you, which clearly we'll never really know, then he didn't mean to. No one means to give it to anyone expect for really twisted people who I wanna punch in the face. You'll get through this, Mr Black. Forgive and move on. You, me and Red will get treated together, we'll fight HIV together, and we will live long lives. Just make sure that if Red and I ever live together that the two of you don't fuck in our place because I'm so gonna burn the house down. Hehe.

Peace.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pay It Forward

One of the things I appreciate about the HIV+ community in the Philippines is that everyone tries to help everyone else out. One of the things that having HIV makes you feel is lonely, but that's only at the start. Once you start reading about how people are dealing with having HIV, and once you start interacting with others who also have HIV, it definitely gets better.

Aside from setting up this blog, I eventually plan to help out as an HIV+ counselor. Soxie's ex-bf is a counselor with the Love Yourself Project, and he was saying how the group needs more HIV+ counselors. If someone tells you that everything is going to be OK, it has a little more weight when the person telling you has the same thing that you do or if they are going through the same thing that you are. I'll only be able to start training as a counselor though when I get back to Manila permanently.

In the meantime, I set up a new PlanetRomeo account. I was inspired by HIV_Reactive who also created a PR account just so that he could spread the word about HIV prevention and testing to the LGBT community. PR really is the place where most gay and bisexual men go to find partners, so it makes a lot of sense to spread the word on that site. The more people come out as HIV on the site, the more people will hopefully think twice before having unprotected sex.

Within 2 hours of setting up my PR account, I had already had a few meaningful conversations with other members. One guy said that he was really scared of taking the HIV test because he had contracted another STD a few years ago and has been terrified since. He is not out to anyone and is so scared that he doesn't want to take the test alone. I said if I was in Manila I would go with him and I gave him my number. I really hope he takes the test soon, just for his own peace of mind, but if he doesn't then I can go with him to the health center as soon as I get to Manila.

Another guy who lives in Manila, but is actually from the city I live in, said that he had a partner who he took care of for 6 months before his partner passed away due to AIDS. I said wow you're an amazing friend, I wish there were more people like you in the world. I asked if he was HIV+ too and he didn't answer, which I completely understand. He was super supportive of me, and we texted for a bit. Hopefully we'll meet each other either when I get to Manila or when he comes home to my current city.

There were a few more people who messaged, and thankfully all of them have been good experiences. I haven't had to deal with any assholes yet, and hopefully I won't have to. I may have done a lot of crappy things in my life, but I'm hoping to make up for it by helping others out. Eventually I hope I can do so using my own name and not just my pseudonym.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Coming Out to My Bosses

Most people have a hard time coming out to their families, let alone to people at work. A lot of people living with HIV are scared about how others will perceive them or will react to the news that they have HIV. In my case, there have only been a few instances when I've cared what people think of me, and when I do care it never really works out to my benefit.

The day I found out I had HIV was also the same day that my 2nd boss (2nd because there's someone else I directly report to) and the VP of our department were arriving from Manila. There were supposed to be in the city for department reviews, and I knew I'd get fucked because my team wasn't doing so well. I guess one of the reasons I wanted to tell them right away was because I hadn't fully recovered from the shock of finding out I was HIV+ and I didn't have the energy to put up with their yelling, but the main reason was because I had to tell them that I wanted to move back to Manila as soon as possible. I had decided that I wanted to spend as much time with my family as I could, and treatments and tests are more readily available in Manila anyway, so I needed to tell my bosses that I wanted to move back because since I am handling a whole team at work, they would need to know right away that they had to find someone to replace me.

I decided to tell them that I had HIV and not give some generic "medical reasons" as to why I needed to go back to Manila because to be honest even I think it's bullshit when someone says that they're leaving their job for "medical reasons". "Medical reasons" usually just means that they've found a higher paying job at another company and don't want to be caught violating the non-compete clause of their contract. I needed to tell them specifically that I had HIV so that there would be no questions about the "medical reasons", and so they wouldn't ask for a medical certificate, and so that they wouldn't try to stop me if I needed to leave. Honestly really is the best policy, and even though my bosses aren't the easiest people to work with, my health was more important than their opinion of me.

The first person I talked to was my 2nd boss. When I walked into his cabin he was sitting at his laptop looking pissed, and I knew he was about to scream at me over my team's performance. He didn't even look up at first, but whatever. I started by saying OK, I wanna talk about something personal that I know shouldn't affect work but it probably will. He chuckled like OK here we go again, then I told him. I have HIV. He stopped typing and looked up. He was shocked. I said, I found out just today cuz I got tested, and I haven't even told my Mom yet (at this point I started crying and my voice was breaking), but I wanted to tell you because I've decided to go back to Manila to be closer to my family. I don't know when I need to be back, I haven't had the chance to completely think things through, but I wanted to tell you as soon as I found out earlier. I'm going to tell our VP later too.

I've honestly never really liked my 2nd boss. He's your typical aggressive frat boy who doesn't care what people think of him. During my first meeting after I had told him I was looking forward to working with someone who would help guide my team, he said I'm not going to be on your side, I'm going to be the one who'll kick your ass until things get done. Clearly it wasn't a good start, so I wasn't expecting him to focus on anything other than work after I had told him my news. I was not expecting him to react in the way he actually did, which was surprisingly compassionate and human. He asked how I was doing, he told me not to worry about work because the issues were around before I was and they would get fixed anyway, and he said that yeah of course you should be in Manila to be closer to your family and to get the best treatments. He said hey man, don't worry too much because HIV is not what it used to be, and God wouldn't give you any problems that you can't handle, let us know how we can help you and try not to stress out to much. In the end I think I was more shocked at how supportive his reaction was than how shocked he was at my news.

Later that evening I told my VP. Now, my VP is an Indian, and since their culture is more conservative I wasn't quite sure how he would handle the news. He was very stoic when I told him. His first question was how did I want him to act. Should he act as if he knew that I was HIV+ or should he act as if he didn't. I didn't really know how to respond, so I said can I have time to think about it. He said he wanted to ask in case it came up later. Then he asked if I was required to report my status to the company and I said no because Philippine law is very strict when it comes to the confidentiality of HIV patients. In the back of my mind I was also thinking if you ever tell anyone I'm so fucking suing this company. Then we focused on the timeline of when I was planning to go back to Manila, and I said I wasn't sure yet because I only found out today and I haven't had time to think. After all the work related stuff he asked how I was doing mentally, and I said I think I'm OK. He thanked me for telling him and I left his office.

After I left I felt that the meeting was a bit awkward, but I told myself that I can't expect everyone to be all cuddly and warm after telling them I had HIV, especially at the office. My VP texted a few minutes later saying he hoped I would be OK, and I said thanks. We didn't talk again until around a week later when he asked how I was doing and if I had already made plans around moving back to Manila. I said I'm fine, no I haven't made up my mind yet but I really hope to move back soon. He said hmmm, let me think. Maybe there's a way for us to help you move to Manila without you leaving the company. We have sites in Carmona and Cubao that need to be managed, and we have a project with the HR team that you could oversee. Would that be OK with you? Would that be far from where you live? Please don't leave just yet, wait for me to work something out for you.

I was shocked. I said wow, I really appreciate you doing this for me. He said, hey no problem buddy. Then he gave me a huge list of work-related stuff that he wanted from me. As soon as I put the phone done I was like wow, I thought my VP didn't care but he went out of his way, which he didn't have to do, just for me stay in the company and still be able to move back to Manila. At that point I had also been worrying financially because my current job pays me really well, and if I lost my job it would really hurt me especially now that insurance won't cover any of my illnesses moving forward. The idea of being able to keep my salary and still move back was more than I could ever ask for. Even if my VP eventually wouldn't be able to have me move to the other sites, the fact that he even considered trying to help me out was overwhelming. I was crying at my work station for a few minutes after that call.

It is very difficult to tell people that you have HIV, especially at first. Yes it's true, you can never really tell how people will react. But at the same time, you shouldn't always assume that they will react in a negative manner. You would be surprised at how compassionate people can actually be. There's a whole lot of bad out in the world, but the good always outweighs it. Don't deprive people the chance to show that they're human too.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Coming Out to Friends

I don't think I ever really had to come out of the closet. I mean yeah, for the first year in college I never really talked about it with my friends, but they all kinda knew and it wasn't a big deal when I finally acknowledged it. I sorta came out to my Mom once by telling her I thought I was going to have a boyfriend soon, and she said it was fine as long as it didn't affect my work. No shock or surprises. Clearly, I'm not used to coming out, cuz I've never really had to. People just knew. So it was a brand new experience having to come out and tell people that I have HIV.

The first people to know, aside from Red and his closest ex-bf, were my college friends, Pearl and Daisy, and my closest friend here in the city, Joy. I had told the 3 of them a few days before I even took my HIV test. I think I told Joy just before Red got his 2nd HIV test results, and I told Pearl and Daisy the weekend before I got mine. Pearl was really sweet. Like I mentioned in a previous post, she actually volunteered to come fly to where I live and be with me for the test. Daisy was the more emotional one and we cried over the phone when I was telling her the news. She was still a bit of denial and was hoping that the test was a false-positive, but through my tears I was telling her I'm really sorry Dear but it's impossible for me to be negative if Red is positive, and I'm really sorry that I had to bring them this kind of pain. She said what are you talking about, it's not your fault and I love you no matter what. We managed to laugh afterwards about how much we were crying considering that Pearl is usually the one who tears up real quick over emotional news and yet this time she was the strong one.

Joy was very supportive too but was also in a bit of denial at first. Like Daisy, she was also really hoping that the test was a false-positive. She said that it only struck her that I really did have HIV after I started talking about the CD4 and viral load tests that I would have to go through and while I was talking about all the things I had researched about HIV. She started tearing up and asked if I was planning to tell anyone else soon because she needed to talk with someone about my news. I said oops sorry I assumed that you would have already told your husband which I'm fine with, but yes you can talk with Michelle, Divine and Soxie, who by that point I had already also told.

Michelle, Divine and Soxie were among my closest friends from my last company, and though I really didn't want to have to tell people over the phone or through text that I had HIV, I thought that this time the news was too important to delay especially for people as important to me as them. Michelle actually told me during my last trip to Manila that she had had a premonition that Red would get me sick, and I really thought that she was talking about the time when Red caught pneumonia. It took her a while to adjust to the news, and she still doesn't like me talking about death. She asked me one time to tell our other close friends as soon as possible because she thought the news couldn't wait and I replied by saying that it's OK it can wait because I have no plans of dying anytime soon. She snapped back by saying fuck you no talking about death, you can't die until I get my dream wedding and that's not happening anytime soon so no dying you fucker. Hehehe. Divine was more calm and said I should tell our other friend Soxie because his ex-bf was an HIV counselor now. I talked to Soxie soon after and he was very supportive, even though he wondered why of all the times I could have chosen to tell him why did I have to tell him while he was listening to Amy Winehouse. Haha.

Among the other people I told was Freedom, my friend who lived with me in Country X. I wanted to tell him as soon as possible because before I found out that ARVs are free in the Philippines, I knew that they were much cheaper to buy in Country X, and I needed Freedom to get me the cheaper meds if I needed to start taking meds. He was so shocked by my news that he said he was literally shaking. He couldn't sleep that day and had to miss work just to recover. The day after I told him he called me and said OK, are you gonna take back the joke now? Are you gonna tell me you're not really positive? Hehe I laughed, sorry sweetie but I really am. He said OK so as soon as I get back to the Philippines I'm going to hug you and then slap you in the face for sleeping with Rameses (my ex-bf from Country X) bareback. Then we talked for a bit and I was laughing at some of Freedom's questions. He said that during the time that they went swimming with Rameses do I think it was possible that Rameses spread HIV in the pool water and got him infected and I was like uhm no Dear that wouldn't have been possible. I mean, Freedom is one of the smartest people I know but I guess knowing one of your close friends has HIV is enough to freak anyone out, so I totally understood where he was coming from. Plus he hadn't had much sleep before we talked hehehe.

People's reactions have been varied. Like it probably is for people when they come out as gay, coming out as HIV+ is emotional during the first few times you do it, and then eventually it becomes less of a big deal and people accept as just another thing about you that you're opening up to them. I have yet to tell anyone from my family. That will definitely be a much more emotional experience, and I plan to tell them the next time I'm in Manila which will hopefully be soon. I'm planning to tell my sister first, my cousin next, brother after, then my Mom and Dad. I'm not too worried about my family rejecting me because I know that they won't, but I am worried about how hurt they will be. In fact, the day after I found out I was HIV+, the reason I had to take a day off work was because I had an emotional breakdown just imagining what it would be like to tell my Mom. Still, the process of telling my friends has somewhat allowed me to prepare mentally to tell my family, so I'm not as scared of doing that as I was 2 weeks ago.

My hope is that eventually I can tell anyone and everyone without being afraid of what they think of me, because in the end what they think of me is of little importance. What's more important is that the word gets spread that everyone truly needs to take better care of themselves, and that includes protecting themselves and their loved ones from HIV. I'll end this entry by shocking you and letting you know that even before I've told my family that I have HIV, I've actually already told my bosses at work. That's a story for another entry though, and I'll hopefully be able to tell that story by either tonight or tomorrow when the weekend officially starts.

Take care, everyone. Stay safe.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Patience is a virtue

I'll be honest. I'm panicking a bit about how slow everything is in terms of the test results and the whole process of waiting for stuff to happen before I can figure out if I need to start taking meds. Red has been trying to calm me down and my impatience has been getting on his nerves. Sorry, Red. On a good note, Red is going to start blogging soon. He's apparently working on a new entry now. I can't wait to read it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Red is confirmed

Yesterday Red got the results of his western blot test. As soon as he got the envelope with the results he texted and said he was feeling scared all of a sudden about opening the results. I texted back that I'd go meet him right away so we could open the envelope together.

For a second I was wondering why he got scared because I thought we were both at the acceptance stage already. But then I immediately realized that he was scared because a part of him was hoping that the confirmatory test turned out false positive. A part of him was still hoping that he didn't really have HIV, so I needed to be there for him because I don't ever want Red to feel alone when he's dealing with stuff like that.

I met him at the KFC near the hospital and he opened the envelope. He was confirmed for HIV 1 but not for HIV 2. I told him that from what I read (though I may be wrong) that it was a good thing because HIV 1 is the less active strain of the virus. He took the news OK. He admitted that yeah a part of him was hoping that the test turned out to be false positive, but that he was also at the acceptance stage and wanted to focus on getting the rest of the tests done.

We had previously discussed Red serving a 30-day notice period before moving back to Manila so he could get his CD4 and viral load tests done there, but now we aren't so sure if we should wait that long. I haven't even got my western blot results and I'm freaking out about how long everything is taking. I've read forums on poz.com and some people in Western countries get all their tests done within a few weeks and start meds if needed shortly after. Meanwhile in our city, each test takes weeks to process because the blood samples always have to get sent to Manila for analysis.

Today, Red and I will go meet his infectious diseases doctor. It will be my first meeting with a doctor since I found out that I had HIV. Hopefully I can move back to Manila soon so I can find a permanent doctor and so that I won't have to wait weeks and weeks for each test result to come back.

Monday, June 4, 2012

2 weeks

It's been 2 weeks since I tested positive for HIV. I'm still waiting for the results of the Western Blot test. I hope I get the results soon so I can already schedule myself for the CD4 and Viral Load tests. Red is still waiting for his test results too and he had his blood samples taken almost a month ago now. Things are really slow here in our city and that's kinda why we wanna move back to Manila.

Still, life is good. I've been doing really well considering all that has happened. I have a few things I want to write about in the next few days, and hopefully I'll have time to write it all in spite of all the stuff I need to do at work. I'm really grateful to all my friends and I couldn't have asked for a better support system. Thank you to everyone online that has been helping me through this too. You are all angels.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Test Results

So here's my first educational entry. My last entry was about the day I got tested and found out I had HIV. This is a scanned copy of my test results.


I've blacked out my personal details. You can technically take the test anonymously but I thought whatever I'll just put my real name. The important part of this page is the bottom section with the screening test results. If I was HIV-, the words "HIV Antibody Test" would have been there and results column would have been "Nonreactive". Since all that is written there was the Syphilis Antibody Test results, that means that I tested reactive to the HIV antibodies and they needed to send my sample to San Lazaro hospital in Manila for the confirmatory test before I can officially say that I'm HIV+.

I hope this helps someone.

Testing 1, 2, 3

OK. No more excuses. It's time I wrote a long entry. It's a Sunday and I have no other plans, and Red is still asleep. I have a load of laundry that's still in the washing machine, but I don't really have to watch over it that much.

My last long entry was about Red, and I ended the entry saying that I tested positive on May 21, 2012. It was a Monday, and I hadn't had a whole lot of sleep that weekend. Even though I still hadn't confirmed if I had HIV, I was already mentally preparing myself for all the things I'd need to do if I did have it, so I spent as much time as I could reading about HIV online. I went to the free health clinic at 8am. It was one of those government clinics that does HIV testing for free, and when I got there they still hadn't fully opened. There were lots of women around because it was technically a reproductive health clinic and I was pretty much the only guy there. It was around 30 minutes before I finally got asked to sit with the counselor to begin the testing process.

The counselor's name was Ken and he was really nice. We talked for a bit and it turns out we had worked for the same BPO before. Then he started asking the usual HIV test questions. Why was I taking the HIV test? Because my partner tested positive last Friday and I want to see I have HIV or not, though I'm pretty sure I do have it. Have you been tested before? Yes, before I moved to Country X for work. Were you sexually active in Country X? Yes, I had a boyfriend there, and I didn't use condoms with him. Do you use drugs or have you shared needles with other people? No. Have you had vaginal intercourse with female partners? Eww, definitely not. Hehe.

Ken asked me if I had any questions I wanted to ask before they took my blood sample. I told him I knew that ARVs were provided free by the Philippine government but I wanted to know how that worked. He said that free meds are provided through PhilHealth, which is why although you're allowed to take the test anonymously, if you need to start ARVs you really do have to declare your real name on the forms otherwise you could run into delays. Ken said not to worry though, there are a lot of ways to ensure that everything was confidential, and they could even ensure that I could pick up my meds privately. Personally I didn't mind putting my real name on the test forms, but I started to wonder how Red would react to finding out about having to declare his status to PhilHealth, especially knowing how much he wanted to keep his status a secret.

Then they took my blood. The test tube did not have my name on it, and I was given a slip with my test number -- # 429. They said to come back after an hour, so I went home for a bit and changed clothes because I needed to go to the office early. Red texted and asked if I had taken the test already. I said yes had and I was just waiting for the results. He said that whatever the results were I should just accept it, and if I did test positive then we should just focus on what we needed to do to deal with the disease. My college friends texted as well cuz I had told them over the weekend that Red was positive and I was pretty sure I was too. My friend -- let's call her Pearl -- was really sweet and said she had seriously thought about buying a plane ticket to my city just so that I wouldn't be alone while I was getting tested. My best friend here in my city -- let's call her Joy -- texted too and said I shouldn't worry regardless of whatever the results were.

Ken texted that the lab had the test results already so I went back to the clinic. Ken wasn't there, so a woman asked if it was OK if she gave the results instead. I said yes, and then we went into her room. The nameplate on the door was Dr. Jordana, and I figured she was in charge of the clinic. She asked some of the same questions that Ken had asked earlier, and she asked a few more questions about Red. I told her that Red had been in the hospital twice this year, and the 2nd time around the doctors had recommended that he get tested for HIV and the results were positive. She asked if I had worked abroad and I said yes I worked in Country X. Ah ok, she said, so it's possible that you if you are indeed HIV+ that you got infected there and then gave it to your partner even though he's the one who has been getting sick lately. I said yes, it's possible. That stung a bit because over the weekend I was really, really hoping that I wasn't the one who gave Red the virus, and now it was becoming clear that it was highly possible I was most likely the one who got Red sick. Fuck.

Then we opened the results. Dr Jordana had explained that if I had tested non-reactive to the HIV antibodies, or in other words HIV-, then it would say so. If I had tested reactive, then there would not actually be any results indicated because they would have to forward the test to Manila for the confirmatory test. I looked at the results and for a brief moment I was happy because I saw the words "non-reactive", but then I read it again and saw that I was non-reactive for syphilis. I showed Dr Jordana the results and said I'm sorry but can you explain this to me. She said since there was no result indicated for the HIV test then it means that I tested reactive to the HIV antibodies and they needed to send the results to Manila for the confirmatory test.

Even before I took the test I knew it was highly possible I had HIV, though I did hope a bit that I didn't have it. Dr Jordana, like most of the people in the clinic, was very nice and reassuring. She was saying that it was definitely possible to live a very normal life, though maybe not as long as people without HIV, as long as I followed medical advice. She asked if I had already started seeing an infectious diseases doctor and I said no but I'll probably see the same one as Red. She took my number down and said that as soon as they had the results from the confirmatory test she would call me. I had to wait a few weeks though because they would have to wait until other people tested positive too so that they could send the samples in one batch. It was a government clinic after all, and it would be expensive to send the samples individually.

Dr Jordana asked if I needed to join a support group, and I said that I would have to think about that first because Red is extremely careful about anyone finding out about our situation. She said she understood. Since the community of people living with HIV in our city is quite small, word gets around fast when someone new is infected, and if I want privacy I really should think before joining a group. Good thing I have friends like Pearl and Joy so maybe a support group isn't that necessary. At least I have Red, too.

I left the clinic and met Joy at the mall for lunch. I told her I was positive. I was pretty calm and didn't start crying until I said that I wasn't sure how I would tell my Mom. Joy said my Mom would be fine, and I should wait until I got the results of the confirmatory test before doing anything. We went to the office and my day continued like normal. I wouldn't feel the full impact of the test results until the following day.

I'm hungry. I'm just going to grab a bite to eat and then maybe write another entry. Red is still asleep beside me on the bed. I'm so happy he's back.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Bad Blogger

I feel bad because I haven't written nearly as many educational entries as I would have liked to by now.  Hopefully I will be able to add more stuff by tomorrow while Red is still asleep in the morning. I'll be going to the airport in a bit to pick him up. He still hasn't left Manila cuz the weather is bad. I can't wait for him to get back. I miss him terribly.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Missing Red

Red is coming back home tomorrow. Thank God. I miss him a lot. We will hopefully move permanently back to Manila sometime soon and we plan to live together there as well too. I can't wait to hug him tight. I think I'll go to the airport really early tomorrow. Haha.