Sean, Age 25 – when I needed help myself, I felt like I had no one to talk to.

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

I felt like a hypocrite. I felt ashamed. How am I gonna be an HIV educator, teach someone about safer sex, tell them to use condoms, and then not do it myself? What’s the point in working here if I can’t practice what I preach?

It’s hard, because you have to set an example but you have to live your own life too. I’m know I’m not perfect. Still, it feels like that’s what people expect. How am I gonna go to work and be honest with people, and not tell them I’m doing the same things we’re telling our clients not to do?

A little while ago, I messed up. I met this guy, we got a rapport around each other and it felt like a great friendship. At first I didn’t want to take it further than that, but eventually we did hook up. There were condoms right there but I wasn’t thinking about it. We were friends and I let my guard down.

Right after we finished he started giving this weird vibe, like there was something up with him. Something told me to ask him if he’d been tested. Oh yeah, he told me, 6 months ago. I was negative.

Then he starts avoiding me, not calling me back, not answering my texts. I couldn’t figure out what was up. A few months later, we ran into each other on the street. I asked him what was up and he tells me yeah, he’s positive. He said he didn’t tell me earlier cause he was afraid I wouldn’t be into him. I knew I had to get tested, but I was scared.

It’s weird, I work in HIV, but when I needed help myself, I felt like I had no one to talk to. I’m looking at it all day, hearing about it, listening to cases…and then I’m secretly a possible case. How do you deal with that?

I got depressed, lost a lot of weight, slept all the time…basically gave up on everything. I started to drink a lot and I’m not usually a big drinker. I stayed in my apartment most of the time. During the day, I would just come to work, try to do my job and not think about stuff too much, then go right home and start over again.

I know we’re supposed to be these experts, but in the back of my head I still couldn’t face it that I might be positive. My older brother died of HIV and it was this big family secret. No one talked about it but everyone kinda knew what had happened.

Somewhere inside me, I felt like if I was positive I wouldn’t be able to finish school, or have kids, or spend time with my family, and no one was gonna want to be around me. I would be another “family secret.”

What really helped me get over it was this kid I met while I was working. I gave him some condoms and we started talking. He was the same age as me. He had just found out he was positive, and what really surprised me was his attitude. He was saying, oh yeah, I’m on medication, the doctor told me I’d be fine.

He had friends with him, he worked a job, he was leading a normal life. You hear it from websites and stuff, but when you actually see someone doing it, and you see that they’re living well, and you see they still have plans and friends and that they’re happy, it’s different.

After talking to him, I started changing my mind a little about what it would be like to be positive. I was still scared, but I knew I could make it through. That’s what it finally took for me to get tested…to think okay, I think I might be positive and if so, that’s not the end of my life. I can do this.

I went to get tested and came back negative, which was a huge relief. I remember I cried a lot, I was so happy. Afterwards, I started realizing exactly how much pressure I’d been under those past few months, and how much of it was because of the expectations on me. Just because I worked in HIV, it wasn’t any easier to think that I might be positive myself, and it wasn’t any less scary to get tested.

I do feel more educated because of this job, but I’m also more understanding than I used to be. I can see why someone might not get tested even if they know they should. I can see why people in this field are still turning positive, and I understand the guilt they feel when they’re out there being imperfect people.

It’s not always about how many HIV facts you know, and it’s not a “family secret” that HIV workers still have their own lives and mess up sometimes. But I don’t think we all have to be perfect. It’s good enough to try to understand someone and be sympathetic…to be a person.

Sean, 25

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