It was a tense, 10-minute wait for his HIV test results. He had been tested a few times before, but this time he was worried.
“I knew something was wrong,” said Marc*, a 23-year-old Temple student, who did not want his real name used. “I never waited that long for results.”
After the 10 minutes came and went, the doctor came and told Marc that he was HIV positive. His entire world was shattered. In a matter of seconds, his greatest concerns shifted from classes, a part-time job and his social life, to viral loads, protease inhibitors and T-cell counts.
“I freaked out,” said Marc.
It took nearly an hour for counselors to bring him back from the hysteria that this new reality threw him.
“I cried and cried. I was a mess. I just couldn’t believe it was happening,” Marc said.
What do you do next? How do you live with this? What about love? What about life?
For Marc, the weeks that followed were a mix of depression and thoughts of suicide.
“I didn’t want to get out of bed. I would just lie there.” Marc said. “I thought I was going to die.”
Depressed from the immense emotional weight of an HIV reality, Marc made alcohol a refuge.
“I drank a lot,” he said. “Which was so bad, because that’s when I usually thought of suicide.”
His family didn’t offer much support either.
“When I told them, they said they expected it, since I’m gay,” he said. “And then they told me not to tell anyone. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Earlier this year Marc started testing negative for HIV, an important psychological marker that improved his outlook. The three-drug combination of Epivir, Zerit and Viracept has been working. Fortunately, Marc feels no side effects from his current treatment.
Today, a year after the hearing the news, the shock has worn off, but life for Marc is still a battle for optimism.
“It’s up and down, you know? Sometimes I think I can handle it, but other times, it’s just too much,” he said.
Marc’s love life has taken the hardest hit.
“It’s so hard to get into a relationship,” he said. After telling someone his status, Marc said they usually hang around for a month or so before bailing.
“They say they’re fine with it. Then later, all of the sudden they’re not ready for a relationship,” he said.
Despite the trials that HIV have brought to his life, Marc continues to move forward. Even right after his results came back, he maintained a full time class load and a part-time job.
“I work 30 hours a week between two jobs, plus my full-time internship,” Marc said. “I keep going. I have to.”
* Names have been changed due to confidentiality