As I was growing up, my feeling of distance from the reality of AIDS was typical of the sheltered, middle-class world I lived in. I went to an elite Catholic boys’ school where I remained on the straight and narrow until the later years when I realised I was gay. Going to university opened me up to new ideas and ways of being. By the time I travelled to India at 19 in early 2000, I was sympathising with radical political views and disowning my conservative background. The trip was life-altering because of what it forced me to learn about myself and the world. It was also dramatic, due to a passionate affair I had with a 22-year old American man and the subsequent illness I experienced, the sickest I’d ever felt. During our brief relationship we had a couple of instances of unsafe sex. It wasn’t until I returned to Australia that I considered that it might be HIV. I was diagnosed 2 months later.
As for many people, the trauma of the diagnosis turned my inner world upside down, but I tried to go on in the outer world as if nothing much had happened. I channelled my grief and frustration into radical political activism. Through this work I learnt a lot about working with people and I also did some public speaking. But it completely took over my life and burnt me out within a year. I was then forced to try and deal with having HIV and looking after myself better. So I became obsessed with my health and with avoiding going on HIV medication, resulting in a total aversion to Western medicine. I started experimenting with natural therapies and lifestyle changes, first quitting my job and then dropping out of uni. With a lot of self-doubt and no focus except my health, I started travelling in search of the perfect healing environment.
After two years of travel in Australia, South-East Asia, India and Nepal I was again burnt out and none the healthier. Hitting rock bottom had made me reassess what made life worth living. I hadn’t found my Shangri-La but had realised instead that family and friends at home mattered most to me. I came home with my confidence still low but with a growing determination to rebuild. Slowly I opened up to Western medicine again but maintained my fear of HIV meds. I went through a phase of intense questioning influenced by dissident theories of HIV. It was not until a friend was hospitalised in 2006 with HIV-related pneumonia that I truly realised the risk I was taking. I had my blood tested for the first time in more than 4 years to discover I had only 35 T-cells. I started on medication immediately.
At about this time I started doing some voluntary work. I hadn’t done any work, paid or voluntary, for nearly 5 years so this was a big step. It required a significant boost in confidence through many months of counselling and self-inquiry. Voluntary work taught me interpersonal skills in listening, empathising and counselling. In 2007, I finally finished my Bachelor of Arts degree, which was a great boost to my self-belief. I then started paid work in 2008, as a community worker in mental health. Having made these steps, I finally felt ready to begin following my calling to work as a holistic counsellor and healer. I’ll soon complete an introductory diploma in Transpersonal Counselling and look forward to embarking on this career in the coming years. This course has helped me to grow and to reframe my own life experience more deeply than ever before. My next step is to reinvigorate my creative self through singing and performance. This journey will continue to be enriched by my work as a speaker with the Positive Speakers Bureau.