This year marks, for me, 33 years of living with HIV/AIDS…though now it is just HIV. I consider it a landmark, as back in 1996 I was admitted to Prince Henry hospital with chronic CMV retinitis, chronic candida, chronic anaemia, wasting syndrome (48 kg and going down), 10 CD 4 cells, and no immune system, and was not supposed to leave…at least not under my own steam. I did, thanks to advances in medications at that time, very aggressive treatment and a lot of will power. I don’t give a fuck how negative many HIV+ guys are about life with HIV. For me, this was the great singular event of my life, a pivotal point that resulted in life-altering decisions, a mental overhaul, and the knowledge that there was a hell of a lot more to life than HIV. It altered the course of my life, and for better or worse I have never looked back.
I was a speaker for the Positive Speakers Bureau for 12 years before realising that when you continually tell a story you start doing it by rote. The time came to opt out before it becomes totally meaningless. I have also written for “Talkabout” magazine (the flag ship publication of Positive Life NSW – formally PLWHA NSW Inc) for 15 years, as a features writer and a columnist. I also spent many years on the Publications Working Group. As a writer I see my role as not only to inform people, but to provoke debate, at times to be opinionated, to raise questions, to address abuses and unfairness and to be, when required, controversial. Unfortunately, my time with “Talkabout” taught me that to get published in a HIV publication you need to walk the safe road. To be controversial is to be tolling your own death knell. Mind you, this censorship has nothing to do with the editors who, in my experience, have been nothing but supportive. Community Health and a certain AIDS council provide funding to the magazine, so to poke your nose into sensitive areas will ensure your censure and non-publication.
As a HIV+ person writing about HIV issues I have always found my hands tied. I have written two extremely controversial articles on HIV Issues over the years. One, on Options Employment Services using HIV clients as a free work force in the guise of “work experience” was so watered down after threats of suing PLWHA, the editor and myself (I truly wish they had) that by the time of publication was a mere shadow of its original fiery tirade…despite the fact that I had evidence of this going on.The manager even took me aside and “suggested” that I quieten down my opinions as they were providing a service to the HIV community. Shortly after, they went broke and disappeared. The second article was amongst the best pieces I have ever written, and covered the controversial area of bug-chasing (HIV- guys who deliberately have unprotected sex with HIV+ guys in the hope of contracting HIV). The magazines working group deemed that by writing about bug-chasing I may have been promoting it amongst a certain sector of the community. Considering that the practice is well documented, is acknowledged and exists I failed to see how being informative about it was in any way promoting it…oh shit! I forgot that community health and certain HIV organisations wanted to keep their heads buried in the sand about the issue…and they held the purse-strings. Censorship is alive and well within the HIV community and always has been. Want to tell the truth about what is going on or want to expose something? Not on their watch!
But despite this I continue to write, though I keep it to the more nondescript these days. I do enjoy being published! Since moving to Brisbane I have been phasing out my writing for “Talkabout” (which after 15 years of being published in pretty well every issue, has gone unacknowledged by the organisation itself, though not by the editors), and have started writing for QPP “Alive”, the magazine of Queensland Positive People. Same story, different place as far as funding goes, I’m afraid. Nothing controversial will be coming out of here either.
33 years ago at the start of the HIV shit fight, people never questioned anything about treatments, definitions, philosophies, or courses-of-action. We were in crisis mode and anything was better than nothing. We let a lot happen that in more sane times, in more accountable times, would never have been allowed to happen. This far down the line it is time to start asking questions, time to demand investigations and redefinition into many aspects of treatment, time to look back at some of the historical record and say “we were wrong”, and set the record straight. I no longer allow my doctor, or the HIV establishment, or the drug companies to dictate my path to health for me. I follow my own path, which is dictated to by knowledge and experience. 11 years ago I made a decision to halve my daily medications, and dose myself once a day only. Considering the negative impacts of huge amounts of HIV medication on the body I decided to take a risk. Well, this far down the line my health has never been better (though diet and exercise also contribute to that), my viral load has remained at undetectable, and not only has my CD4 count remained stable, it has in fact risen considerably. In fact, on my blood tests all other readings – except CD4/CD8 – are within range. Considering the recent emphasis on drug regime “compliance”, and considering my own circumstances, I am forced to ask – controversially, naturally – if the compliance issue is being driven by HIV specialists, or by the drug companies who stand to make a fortune out of HIV drugs. I will leave that question in the air for you to mull over and answer for yourself. This is a personal opinion, and one I am entitled to.
With the release of the brilliant “Dallas Buyers Club” the truth about AZT is finally out there. Pressured by my doctor to go on it in the latter part of the 80s, it is the one decision of my HIV care that I regret. I had read the report from the “Concorde” study in France, I knew it was described as “Human Ratsac”, yet I still finally gave in, and witnessed the immediate decline of my health as it bashed my immune system into submission. Needless to say, the long-term affects are disabling, and were not worth the risk. I still hear those who work in the HIV “Industry” – as indeed it was and still is – banging on about how it kept the wolf from the door – it didn’t! It poisoned and destroyed our immune systems, and left us vulnerable to opportunistic infection! It effectively killed many of us. As a drug to assist with maintaining CD4 counts it was a total and complete failure! And I am not the only one to say so! Ask any one who survived AIDS their opinion on AZT! Minor control of HIV did not start AZT situation. How the FDA in America handled the AZT situation and allowed wed the drug companies to dictate treatment options, block other drugs put out by rival companies, and chose to ignore or acknowledge research from overseas was a disgrace.
Even now in 2014 ignorance lives on. I continually hear, read and see HIV being described as AIDS! It is NOT AIDS – it Is HIV or HIV+! For fuck sake get your facts right! HIV is a viral infection, and AIDS are as the initials infer – Acquired IMMUNE Deficiency Syndrome! They are infections contracted by a breakdown of the immune system! The two do not necessarily go hand in hand, and you can have one without having the other. People undergoing aggressive cancer treatments which knock the immune system around are left vulnerable to the same infections triggered by AIDS in the plague years. Drug addicts also.
There are – and I am not being unkind nor ungrateful – those who have worked in the HIV Industry for too long. They are burnt out, and out of touch. If you only wander in HIV circles, you will only know that singular perspective. These people are indoctrinated, lacking in vision, and single-minded in their approaches to HIV and its management. They are blinkered, and only ever spiel forth statistics and the same information that we have heard for the last 30-odd years. They seem incapable of acknowledging different perspectives, new ideas, or revisiting and re-evaluating the old philosophies and education. Without an insurgence of new blood, HIV is in danger of stagnating and just at a dead end. Their current publicity of “Ending HIV” is a fantasy, and they know it. As long as HIV is in Africa, and in countries like Russia and China where education is almost non-existent or played down, HIV will never end. Empty words to seem to appear to be doing something, is just a waste of money. The HIV Industry seems to be very good at this. Always about 2-years behind actual need – just look at the employment needs of AIDS survivors in 1997/98 – when services were introduced they were way off course. You can only have so many programs that teach you how to write a resume, or attend an employment interview. Every single return-to-work session I went to do talks at had the same people in them. They just moved from one group to another, never putting the teaching into action. Where was the advice for people who wanted to be re-educated, or start a business, or upgrade a hobby,or buy into a franchise? It was non-existent. These people were the ones who fell through the cracks for lack of support and services. This has always been an ongoing problem. Naturally, the lack of funding is always blamed – though enough money to pay huge salaries – when really it is a lack of foresight, and imagination. Of course, everything is now wrapped up under the umbrella of Community Health, so any hope of imaginative thinking is now out the window. Those who hold the purse-strings control everything. It is a sad state of affairs. Groups like “Positive Life” no longer acknowledge their roots, nor do they move in the directions set down by the original founders. They are out of touch with their memberships, are indeed losing them. In the race to save money they are dropping resources that keep everyone active within the group. Even Positive Speakers Bureau inductees are now told what to talk about, and bang on about the same old messages and sprout the same old statistics. The trouble is…no one gets sick any more, so there is nothing to talk about for an hour. Perhaps it has outlived its use.
If one has to be totally frank, service delivery, information and services are no better now than they were 20 years ago! In many cases, they are worse. One friend of mine complains of the lack if easy access to HIV meds, and he has to spend a lot of time travelling to obtain them. He also comments on how he and his partner feel isolated and-reclusive due to no social groups to mingle with, and the constant heed to continually go through your medical record every time you change providers. Pretty sad state of affairs considering he only lives in Canberra.
Being my 33rd anniversary of life with HIV, and with World AIDS Day approaching I have written a personal retrospective of that period hopefully for publication around that time. It is 2,500 words long…not a lot of words for 33 years. If you are interested, follow the link. Not quite as controversial as this!
For information on the Concorde Trial – http://aidsinfo.nih.gov/news/5/concorde-trial