I've already touched on this in my story about the treatment, but I really want to develop on the notion of undetectability here and especially tell you about the impact it had on me psychologically, especially when I was in a relationship.
When I learned that I had the virus, my relationship with my body had completely changed. I was afraid of everything, the slightest cold, and the threat of any bacteria around me. Even the simple fact of having to take the underground paralysed me, given the quantity of microbes that circulate in it. I had become phobic of everything, It was self-preservation. I also had my own beliefs about HIV, which have evolved since then, but at the time I didn't know about my illness and I had to learn to live with it and learn about it simultaneously.
I started treatment as soon as I found out I was infected. My viral load was immediately undetectable and it has never changed since. My immune system is very lazy, but it's slowly coming back. I've really learned to listen to my body over the last ten years. I don't force myself to do anything anymore. If I don't have the energy to do something, I don't do it. This is not frowned upon by those around me.
When I first learned that HIV was part of my life, I was with D. I will always remember the first time we made love after I learned the news. I didn't realise yet that I was entitled to it too.
D was in medical school, so he reassured me about the sexual aspect from the start. I told myself that if he allowed himself to do this with the knowledge he had on the subject, it meant that we were not taking any risks and that I should stop being afraid of transmitting the virus.
I think that's part of the journey of an HIV-positive person, to understand that you're not going to transmit the virus, as long as you take your treatment.
I feel very lucky to have met D at this point in my life. I don't think he knows it, but I'm very grateful to him because he really helped me to keep my head above water and to regain my confidence. Throughout our relationship we used condoms. We didn't have any problems with it. We were not going to lie to ourselves, there were changes, but at the time it was very reassuring to me and there were no other options in my mind.
We split up after two years of relationship, and after a long break, in 2012, I met N.
For the record, when I talked to him about HIV I didn't hear from him again for six months, until he texted me to get back in touch: "Hi it's N"... I was happy to reply "N who?". It was my own little revenge.
We were together for four years, so maybe those six months of reflection were worth it after all, even if it affected me a lot at the time.
Then came the time when I went to the hospital for my six-monthly appointment. And that’s my doctor once again found that my viral load was still undetectable. This had been the case for four years, and she told me about : U=U (undetectable=untransmissible). She explained to me, for the first real time since my infection, that since I am taking my treatment properly, that everything is fine, I am no longer transmitting the virus. I look at her and say: "But that means even without a condom?”.
She never encouraged me not to use a condom, she just made me understand that if I had a steady partner I would not risk anything (being sure of his fidelity, because yes, another thing, the condom is also used to protect oneself from other STDs and STIs). It's a couple's decision of course, but it's possible. I must admit that this information was quite liberating and a real relief.
N and I decided together not to use condoms after a certain period of time, because unfortunately wearing a condom was rather complicated for us. I think some people won't understand, but I trusted N and vice versa. From then on we had nothing to fear from each other.
The condition was that N had to be tested every six months to make sure everything was okay.
From the moment he decided, after that long period of reflection, to come back to me and get into a relationship, HIV was never a concern for N. I'm very proud of us for that, for the trust we had in each other.
I've had two great romances since I've been HIV positive and if there's anything positive I can take from them, it's that with those two boys, we loved each other unconditionally, and even though HIV can make a relationship more complicated, once you find the right partner, it's also more intense and true. A person who doesn't run away from your HIV status chooses you for your whole being, not for some representation of you and love.
I think I'm lucky.
PS: I don't make any propaganda other than that of love. The choice to stop using a condom with N was made by both of us. For all other types of relationships that are not based on mutual trust, protection is obviously a wise choice and if you have any questions, talk to your doctor. Nevertheless, it is important to be informed about this "U=U", because it is a very important factor in the quality of life of HIV-positive people and in the possible guilt we may feel at the idea of transmitting the virus which, once undetectable, is no longer possible.