NEVER FORGET THE OPTION OF CHANGE
It’s hard not to think about HIV without stumbling onto the subject of medication. As we know, the days of misunderstood and often risky doses of drugs such as AZT are long behind us, and the days where there were no medication at all thankfully even further. But with new medicinal advances arising so frequently, it really is amazing how far medical science has come.
I’ve heard of people living with HIV, delaying their treatment so they could live without side effects for as long as possible. ‘Are they mad?’ I would think. How could you choose that? I always considered a decision like that somewhat reckless and fearful. But now, I can see their side completely. For the last year, I’ve been taking a single tablet regimen that, overall, has worked very well in suppressing the HIV in my body – but this has come at a price. Despite a few unpleasant and sometimes unexpected side effects within the first months of treatment, I eventually climbed out of the darkness and started to feel better again after, thankfully, a relatively short amount of time. I went about my year with a driven, happy and energetic stride. I achieved a lot and, overall, I felt healthy.
This started to diminish over the summer months. I had noticed myself change into someone so apparently hopeless and close to the edge of a breakdown. I remember feeling down and upset on some days, then most days, then every day. The change in character was in no doubt horrible, but at the same time I tolerated it in the best way that I could. It seems that my character was ‘suppressed’ so much that the ability to look up and shout, ‘this isn’t me’ never came. My ability to recognise myself, or my former self, had vanished completely.
Visiting friends in London on Halloween became the point where I finally realised how potently detrimental medication could be if the regimen in question doesn’t agree with you. I was halfway through a three-week waiting time to change drugs, it was my decision that 21 days of vile sideeffects would be painfully worth the rarely-prescribed brand new combination pill that the US was raving about – but indeed, I’d have to wait. I remember having some of the most disturbing dreams of my life, which somehow convinced me I was psychic and had the gift of precognition – something that was so ‘real’ to me at the time, I still have to convince myself it didn’t happen the way I saw it then.
I remember crying my eyes out if a friend left the London apartment without saying goodbye. ‘They hate me,’ I’d think. ‘What am I doing here?’
The final straw came when I left; walking to the tube I broke down in tears on a busy high street in South London. All I wanted to do was to throw myself in front of a bus – I’d barely eaten, barely slept out of fear of my dreams, and I’d never felt more alone and lost in my life.
The three weeks came early when I could mentally cope no longer. Apparently, calling up your clinic and telling them you can’t live another day on this medication speeds up the process. Three days after switching, I was back. I could sleep properly, smile again, and have all the energy in the world to do everything I needed to. My family and friends were amazed at how fast I snapped out of it, and so was I.
My new medication now causes no side effects, not even anything small. My horrific experiences of chronic depression and anxiety has taught me the dark side of medicine, but also the brilliant, light side in the event of feeling ‘normal’ again. HIV medication is vital to the world, to me, and maybe even to you – but remember how many regimens are available in 2015, despite the fact they work well, there’s still undoubtedly a far way to go.
But at least for now, we have the option of change – a change that for me put an amazing end to a very turbulent and emotional year.
All I wanted to do was throw myself in front of a bus – I’d barely eaten, barely slept out of fear of my dreams, and I’d never felt more alone and lost in my life