Luke Alexan­der



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

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