Why does this seem so surprising? Perhaps it’s the inference that my happiness has directly led from my HIV positivity? Yes, the pun is intended. I love puns. Puns makes me happy. The layers of meaning sandwiched together, fighting for space. It’s a bit like happiness. Back to that, though. Would it be surprising to state ‘I have diabetes, and I’m happy’? I somehow think that the causality of diabetes to happiness isn’t really inferred here. Somehow we see HIV as a reason to cause unhappiness, as a blocker to a life filled with meaning. I can understand that – getting HIV is a big deal for a person and we all deal with the diagnosis in our own way. And that’s okay. For me, it was important that I came out as HIV Positive. For others it is something they keep mostly private. But having HIV doesn’t equal unhappiness. In fact, I’ve spoken to many people who ascribe a new found happiness to getting HIV. The journey may have been hard but they’ve been inspired by their status to be the best person they can be – whether that’s getting fit and healthy, or just a realisation that life is short.
So, why am I happy? Well, I’m going to go all hippy on your ass here, sorry. I’m happy because I choose to be. I’ve got many reasons to be unhappy, but I also have many to be happy. And the awesome thing is many of the reasons to be happy are constant. Immutable. Unchangeable. Sure, some hang off the delicate precipice that is the lifestyle I’ve created for myself. I could lose my job at any moment and be flung into poverty. But that doesn’t change one thing – I’m alive. That’s the core tenet of my happiness. It’s bloody fantastic to be alive. To be me. No, I’m not full of myself. I see myself the same as I see all humans – beautifully tragic portraits questioning our existence with every fibre of our being. I’m just goddam happy to be here. Like, I could have turned out different. I think my nose is a bit big, I think a lovely tan would be nice and I think this whole approach of having to discover my own way with my own glorious mistakes is a bit trying. But if I were different, I wouldn’t be me. I’d be, well, another me. And he wouldn’t be here writing down these words on a Sunday in only sweatpants. He’d probably be a bit more fabulous and be in a skirt or something. What the hell, however he wants to live that makes him happy is fine by me. Oh, wait, he’s fictional. Probably.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’ve known depression – it has been my uneasy friend for a long time now. In fact, I’ve been provisionally diagnosed as Bipolar. In the same week I found out I had HIV, by chance. But, when depression gets me down, when I seem to lose the ability to enjoy anything anymore…I’m still happy. The balance of chemicals in my brain might be way out, and I may be crying, wishing that I could feel anything but this fear that I will never feel anything else again…but underneath it all I’m happy. Happy in the sense that I’m alive and with the knowledge that the fear is unfounded – as powerful as it seems. In psychology they say we have two modes of happiness – the moment-by-moment kind and the way we describe our life as a whole. I can recall one time, one of my lowest moments, where I was vomiting because I felt this immense fear that I would kill myself. And what brought me out of it was this sudden realisation that the depression I felt was my life in that moment only. It was a snapshot. And something, I don’t remember what, something insignificant made me laugh. And I laughed, and I laughed. My tears became tears of absurdity.
What am I trying to say? When I found out I was HIV Positive I wasn’t, frankly, surprised. I had been making stupid choices, and those stupid choices had possible consequences that I was well aware of. Yet, I made those choices anyway. Because, fuck it, I’m human. When I saw the little underwhelming strip produce the indicative red lines I knew it was true. I had HIV. Immediately my mind sought for a way to integrate this into who I was. I needed to integrate it into my identity – I’ve never been good at denial. And I’ve never been good at being silent. So, there I was. Jarad Peter Higgins: HIV Positive. My first thought was about my ability to have kids. But, I knew you could get your sperm washed for a certain price. And I did plan on being rich, after all (well, that’s the plan, anyway). I left a little in a haze. Frankly, armed with only a follow up appointment at another clinic altogether, I was damn lucky I knew a lot about what it meant to have HIV. Not everyone takes an interest in things like that. I can only imagine how horrible it must be to discover you are HIV Positive and not even be given a brochure to guide you into this new identity.
Sure, I have to, and want to, disclose my status to sexual and romantic partners. Which can be a hard thing to do, especially when you’re interested in someone romantically. But, honestly, I’ve never wanted to date someone closed minded enough to react in an offensive way to my status anyway. It’s a handy filter. And most guys, the ones that matter anyway, really try hard to understand what it means for me to be HIV Positive. Sometimes I act as teacher, other times as lecturer (if necessary) and other times as advisor. All these modes I take in my stride, because, frankly, I think if I’m not going to talk about it as a HIV Positive person I don’t think most HIV Negative people are going to.
So, I’m HIV Positive. And I’m happy. And I think you should be happy too. Of course, it is okay to be unhappy. I don’t think we can truly recognise happiness from unhappiness unless we experience both sometimes. I think life is like a painting – unhappiness will colour some parts, happiness others. But you’re always left with this in-progress painting. You’ll never know it finished. And you’ll never know the palette dry, either.
If you need help with understanding and accepting what it means to be HIV Positive there are fabulous free workshops delivered across the nation by Positive Organisations. You can find a handy list of many of these here.