Thinking about taking an HIV test? Be brave

Taking a test to know if you’ve been infected with HIV is one of the scariest things you’re going to do in your life. So at this time, perhaps more than any other, you have to be brave.

Whether you test negatively or positively for the virus, your life and how you live it is going to change. If you’re really anxious, even just reading this letter might make you more nervous. You, with the fast heartbeat and the gloomy thoughts, breathe. Bring yourself out of your own thoughts for a few minutes and take a moment to listen to someone who’s gone through it.

Like you, it took me ages to even get myself to realize that the test was something I should be doing, as a general part of adult life. Work, pay the bills, guard your sexual health. Are you completely sure that you’re safe? Are you completely sure that your partner, or partners, are safe? Can you be giving it to others?

As long as these questions are making you think, there’s no question that you have to take the test. And you have to stop calling it, “it.” Let’s name the beast and know it – the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

It makes sense to think about HIV as something that’s far away from your life, especially if you’re heterosexual and you don’t do drugs. But the news is, if you’re having sex at all, there’s just as much a chance you could get infected as any other person. A broken condom, a cheating partner, a one-time loss of control, oral sex, procedures in sketchy clinics – absolutely all of these could lead to infection.

The moment I decided I wanted to take the test, I rushed to get it over with right away and visited the nearest clinic available. I asked the medical technician if we could make it fast – instead he sat me down and said, “This is a big test.” Before any HIV testing, a counselor is going to talk you through what’s going to happen and what could happen.

Take it as an opportunity to bring the fear down to something you can control. Yes this is a huge deal, but you don’t have to make HIV into a big monster no one can defeat.

My medical technician and counselor said that 50% of all the people he’s ever tested came out positive for the virus. And they’re people you would never think had HIV just by looking at them: mothers, wives, seemingly upstanding young men and women, older adults.

If you think you’re safe because you’ve only had one partner or you always have protected sexual encounters, know that these people might have thought exactly the same thing. The idea that HIV and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) belong to the realm of homosexuals and the very promiscuous is a stereotype that helps absolutely no one.

There’s no better decision than the one you’re making now to get tested. The earlier HIV is detected, the better it is for you. Having HIV doesn’t mean you have AIDS. People living with HIV do exactly that – they live healthy, full lives even with the virus, as long as they continue to take care of themselves and get treatment.

A simple search on the Internet will tell you there are many people all over the world living with it for years and years. Not only do they live to chase their dreams, be with their loved ones and meet new loves – they also live to assist and enrich communities of people experiencing the same thing.

A great example is the Philippines’ Laurindo Garcia. He’s been openly living with HIV for over 10 years now and he’s founded the B-Change Foundation, a group that uses technology to support LGBT people in Asia and raise awareness about HIV and sexual health. Just like it’s been for him and for all of us, there’s life after the test. There’s life after HIV.

But one of the most important things to realize is that, you will always be yourself.

Leading up to my decision to take the test were weeks of endless worrying. If I had HIV, how would I continue my profession? If I had HIV, how would I tell my friends? If I had HIV, would I even be strong enough to tell my family? If I had HIV, how long would I live for?

Death, isolation, and discrimination presented themselves to me as very real fears that up until then, I was lucky enough to be blissfully oblivious about.

I tried to mentally prepare myself by thinking ahead. I imagined what people would look like when I told them. I saw fear in their eyes, pity, shame, disgust – and I felt all of it reflected in myself. I was ashamed and disgusted of this thing I wasn’t even sure I had. Right before I got the test, I asked a friend who took the test with me how he would take it if I ended up infected. He said, it wouldn’t change anything because I wouldn’t change. And he’s right.

Whatever happens, I will always still be myself. You will always be yourself. You are not dirty. You are not depraved. You are not a grenade that will kill everyone in your sight. You are not disgusting. You are not someone other people should be ashamed of.

You are still the beautiful, worthy person you always have been, except now there’s another challenge to help you find your strength.

This test is important and it’s reasonable to feel fear. But just think about everyone else who’s taken the test, like me, and know that we all feel the same way. Fear makes HIV and AIDS more real but more importantly, even if we test negatively, the fear teaches us that people who live with HIV and AIDS are just like us. We’re all the same.

So take the test. There are communities and clinics that make the procedure free so that it becomes easily available. If you want peace of mind and if you want to take care of yourself, take the test. You’re not alone.

Negative or positive, you will thank yourself for taking this step. Negative or positive, you are loved.

P.S. I've taken the test and lived. I am thankful for testing negative. Rappler.com

Image of blood sample for HIV testing taken from Shutterstock