Yes, I'm gay. I probably was since the day I was born. On my 21st birthday, I sort of had my debut. I came out to my parents. A little drama from mom, and some indifference from dad. An above-average coming out. Almost perfect.

Nine years later, two weeks before my 30th birthday, I found out... I'M HIV POSITIVE.

And so my story begins... I'm BACK IN THE CLOSET.

The HIV Life

Is it possible for someone with HIV to stay healthy?

Yes, it is! In the Philippines alone, thousands of people are presently living with HIV or AIDS. And a good many are leading full, happy, and productive lives. With your doctor’s help, it will be up to you to optimize and maintain your health.

How does someone with HIV stay healthy?

Staying healthy with HIV won’t really involve anything new. You’ve heard it all before. Eat healthy. Drink plenty of water. Exercise moderately. Get enough sleep and rest. Visit your doctor and dentist regularly. Follow your doctor's instructions. Practice safe sex. Don’t smoke or use recreational drugs. Avoid drinking too much alcohol… I should stop before I start sounding like your mother.

What does eating healthy involve?

As with anyone, a balanced diet will keep you healthy, and help your body protect itself. Choose the right kinds of food that will give you enough vitamins and minerals to keep your body strong, enough calories to maintain a healthy body weight, and enough proteins to keep your body built up and repair any damage it may have.

Recently, many experts recommend that you fill up with protein, as it is known to be fuel for the immune system. So please…kick the vanity and stop that bizarre diet you read about in some lifestyle magazine. This is not the right time for that! You need to eat well so you can live well.

Now, what you really need to be more watchful of are germs and bacteria. Proper food preparation is extremely important. Germs in food or water can cause diarrheal diseases (i.e. cholera, amoeba) and other infections (i.e. hepatitis A, typhoid fever) while bacteria, like Salmonella and Listeria, can cause conditions such as vomiting, nausea, fever, or meningitis, all of which become more difficult to treat in people with HIV.

Washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly and cooking food to the proper temperature will do the trick. Make sure pork, beef, and chicken are not raw, undercooked, or spoiled. Eggs should be cooked through, which means no sunny-side-ups and runny eggs. Also, avoid foods that may contain raw eggs, such as Caesar’s salads or hollandaise sauce. Fish should also be well done, so avoid raw or lightly steamed fish and shellfish, such as oysters, clams and mussels. That means goodbye to sushi and sashimi. That’s not too much to handle, is it? Come on! A healthier, longer life is well worth the sacrifice.

Oh, and make sure the water you drink is clean and safe, too. Come to think of it, this is so “Living Healthy for Dummies”.

Will supplements help?

Keeping in mind that pills do not make up for not eating right, it is said to be a good idea to take a daily multi-vitamin and mineral pill. Some vitamins that may be deficient in people with HIV include vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, and Folate. Anti-oxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E, may also be beneficial to someone with HIV.

They say that the amino-acid Carnitine, more popularly known here as L-Carnitine (an ingredient in some of the latest fat-burning juices and supplements), helps prevent wasting, helps in fatty acid oxidation, and helps prevent CD4 and CD8 cell death.

But because the need for supplementation of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and trace elements may vary from case to case, make sure to discuss it with your doctor.

Do vaccines help?

Because some illnesses become more difficult to treat in people with HIV, vaccines help the immune system by getting the body ready with an army to fight off an infection before it strikes. And now that HIV has become a chronic illness, as opposed to a rapid killer, getting these vaccines will definitely have long-term benefits.

The most common vaccines given to HIV-infected people are those for the Flu, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Pneumonia and Tetanus. Most vaccinations are good for a lifetime, only requiring regular boosters to sustain their effectiveness. The Flu vaccine, however, is administered yearly. Pretty soon, there may just be a vaccine for everything out there, even HIV!

Here’s something ironic: a great number of uninformed people feel they should avoid HIV-positive people for fear of infection. When, truth is, it should be the other way around. It’s the positive person that needs to avoid contact with sniffling and coughing people.

Will my pets be a problem?

Sorry, Dr. Doolittle, but you are advised to stay away from reptiles such as snakes, lizards, and turtles, exotic pets such as monkeys, and ferrets, and wild animals such as raccoons, lions, bats, and skunks.

The problem specific to reptiles is that they commonly thrive in moist environments and have moist skin, serving as the perfect breeding ground for germs, which can be a cause for infections. In addition, the underlying problem among reptiles, exotic pets and wild animals is that they are not usually covered by a standard health protocol. When it comes to dogs, cats and other common domestic animals, veterinarians have already mapped out a number of customary ways to make them less of a risk to humans, through regular vaccination and other health maintenance practices.

So unless they’re the bizarre or unusual sort, there’s no real reason for you to give up your pets. In fact, pets could even be beneficial for you because being loved by them can help you feel psychologically and even physically better. Just make sure you take care of them and keep them clean.

Here are a few tips to keep a healthy pet-ful life:

1. Always wash your hands after playing with them, especially before eating, handling food, drinking or tending to wounds.

2. Avoid contact with your pet’s poop and other bodily fluids since these are where infection-causing germs and bacteria may lie.

3. Do not feed your pet raw or undercooked meat! You’re probably thinking, “How is it my business what my pet eats?” The thing is, whatever harmful bacteria or germs are in its food, may remain and multiply in your pet’s mouth and body, and be excreted with its feces.

4. Avoid bites and scratches from your pets since these can cause wounds or openings in the skin, which then become entry points for the germs and bacteria that can be found in an animal’s saliva, mouth, and feet or paws.

5. Avoid contact with pets other than your own. It’s all about avoiding them germs, right? So it’s best to stay away from animals you haven’t cared for personally, or if you are unaware of the hygiene practices or lack thereof, they were subjected to.

Again, this might all be nothing to the common person, but can definitely be more serious for people with HIV, whose defense mechanisms are compromised. Nothing new, really. It’s just all about extra care.

How do I deal with my emotions?

Okay, Jennifer Holiday, we shall not forget the role that psychological well-being plays in physical health. In the same way that Master Yoda says “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering…”, negativity, whether in the form of depression, anger or stress, has been known to take its toll on one’s immune system, and ultimately its health. Depression is possibly your worst enemy. Don’t give in!

Easier said than done, you might say. You are probably in the stage of hating yourself for getting this, hating someone for giving you this, drowning in shame or guilt, or worse, counting the days and planning your fabulous exit. Whatever stage you’re at, denial, fear, anger or what have you… embrace the feeling! Take the time to play Streisand and weep! Get it out of your system. But for your own sake please move on afterward. Depression could be a part of your journey but you should never make it your destination. You can and must get out of it.

The reality is that your life has to go on. Prolonged drama will bring you nothing but sickness. If the feeling of hopelessness lingers more than a month then you may have to seek professional help whether through a Psychologist for talk therapy or a Psychiatrist for temporary anti-depressants to get your serotonin levels back to happy days, or a combination of both, depending on the case.

Apart from that, get the emotional support you need. Many people living with HIV feel better if they talk with other people who also have HIV. Your family, friends, support groups, and even your doctors will be willing to listen to you, too. By the way, you don’t have to stop dating or pursuing relationships! Just be honest and safe. Who knows? This might be the right time to meet someone who will genuinely love you for who you really are.

As there is no one formula to finding or re-finding happiness, we can only offer so much advice. Just look at the bright side. Count your blessings. Realize that you have much more than you think. Keep yourself busy. Focus on loving others. Go on with life. And live positively… positive.

And if all else fails, dig deep into the spirit, look up to the heavens and seek counsel; you’ll probably be told the same things.