Born and bred in Johannesburg, Wade Schaerer, was 25 years old when he contracted HIV. Wade admits he didn’t think it would ever happen to him because he thought that HIV had a certain ‘look’.
Have you always known about HIV?
In my first year of high school we had a week of sex education, this was the first time I really learned of HIV/AIDS, but at the time I wasn’t really interested in the topic since I was not sexually active.
When I became sexually active the last thing I thought of was condoms and HIV. The next couple of years I continued to have sex and remained HIV-negative. I felt invincible and never believed that HIV could happen to me. I come from a good background, I was having sex with good looking men, who looked healthy and came from good backgrounds too. I believed that HIV had a certain “look” – I was so ignorant.
The first time I was interested in what HIV means, was the day I got diagnosed with HIV. I remember seeing my positive result and I tried to recall what I did know about HIV. I tried rewinding back to that week of sex education in high school, but my mind was blank.
How did you find out about your status?
I had just landed back home in Johannesburg, I turned my phone on and saw 82 missed calls. I knew something was wrong. A friend who I had sex with, told me that he tested for HIV and his results came back positive. I clutched at my chest, hoping that my heart would stop racing.
I realised that I would need to be tested for HIV as well, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I asked him if he could accompany me, to which he agreed. I rushed over to his house, my palms were numb, and adrenaline had flooded my system, shutting down my ability to think logically. I felt like letting go of the steering wheel, wishing that it was just a bad dream.
I remember gazing at the cream hospital walls, as I waited for a nurse to take blood tests, it felt like the world was slowly disappearing in front of me. I sat in front of the HIV testing device, as I waited for my result. I saw 2 red lines develop on the testing device. In 15 minutes, my entire world changed.
What was the first thing that went through your mind when you found out?
Let me tell you, I could not breathe. I have held my breath under water before, this isn’t like that. It’s like having a gun to your head and being told not to let your heart beat .
How much did you know about HIV at that time?
I knew nothing about HIV, I couldn’t even believe that I had HIV – I did not think it was possible. When I got diagnosed I did believe that I was going to die, it was like a huge count down timer had just started and I was waiting for my soon to be death.
How has your attitude about HIV changed since then?
My diagnosis has forced me to love myself more. I take care of myself and know my boundaries and limits.
What is it that you know now that you wish you knew then about HIV?
When you find out suddenly that something is wrong with you, you immediately regret every single second you spent being ignorant and careless. I wish I knew that absolutely no one is immune to HIV.
What advice would you give someone who recently found out they’re HIV positive?
If you are HIV-positive and reading this; don’t give up. There is life after an HIV diagnosis. Let go of the judgement and most importantly, forgive yourself and the person who gave you HIV. Remember to take your ARVs daily, it is lifesaving!
Wade runs Positive Vibes, an organisation that is committed to reducing HIV-related stigma and educating society about living with HIV. For more info, please visit www.positivevibes.org.za