Worry Week: A Death Sentence in the Young Modern World

I sat frozen in my seat while questions reverberated within the four walls and around the two females before reaching my ears. The questions poked and prodded past all walls of my personal life, and I could do little to stop them. It was what needed to happen, so I continued to answer as best as I could as if I were being interrogated for a murder case.

“How many partners…?”

“Have you ever experienced…?”

“Do you know the difference between…?”

After every question I had an immediate answer, but every single time I had to calculate it over and over in my head to be sure that’s what the truth was. What if I lied? What if I forgot about an incident? What kind of penalties could occur because of a lapse in judgment?

Our society is so overwhelmed and drenched in an ocean filled with sexual exploration to the point that there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent amount of messaging that conveys the safety that is needed when wading into these deep waters. We provide life jackets and life guards when dealing with real waters, but it never seems to be enough when it comes to society’s sexual endeavors.

We as a species don’t really need to be told details about the specific act, looking at the total population on the planet goes to show that we as mammals know exactly how to do it. But more and more it’s come to my attention that we’re not aware of the repercussions of lapses in our judgments. When our brains are filled with a chemical ecstasy, we generally tend to forget about some details that are all encompassing later on.

“If there’s any issues, we’ll notify you in a week, and if you don’t hear from us, then it’s a negative.”

As I left I exchanged a joke between the two females. The one had said that she hoped to hear from me again without realizing how she had worded it, and I quickly responded with, “I hope I don’t.” We all chuckled but in the back of my mind I repeatedly said to myself, please don’t call.

I felt numb on the inside. I was poked and prodded to the point that I didn’t have any ideas other than the single encompassing one: If I’m positive, my life is over.

I remember how they said that if positive there are things that can be done to lessen the severity of it, “It’s not as much of a death sentence as it used to be.” The words were said, but in my mind they didn’t hold as much weight as she wanted them to.

My brain immediately began the countdown clock and it would end with either two outcomes: the first would be that I receive a phone call, and the second would be that I ran out the clock after seven days. Obviously my personal choice was for the latter of the two, but my brain on the other hand continued to berate me with the worst possible outcome for the next seven days.

“It’s not as much of a death sentence as it used to be.”

I drove to work late after leaving the office. As much as she had wanted to reassure me that it wouldn’t be a death sentence, she had failed. My entire being continued to repeat every possible action I could take if given a positive.

You’ll have to tell everyone you’ve been with. You could have just ruined their lives. You’d have to tell everyone every single time. Try explaining this one to mom and dad. Good luck ever having a girlfriend, or a wife, let alone children with anybody. You won’t even be able to be father. Who could love you? You should kill yourself.

The inside of my head got dark, so dark that I now believe that the worst thing a person can be left with is the unknown. Fear of the unknown will drive the sanest person mad given the circumstances. The outcome was always fifty-fifty, and I was fearing for it even though it was just relaying a fact that could be happening in my body at that very moment.

When the situation was looked at in depth analytically, there was only a small chance that it could come back positive. However, that slim doubt was all it took for it to spiral in my head. Not knowing one hundred percent meant that there was still a way that I could be infected.

That’s what it became to me: an infection.

Like some sort of zombie plague where I kept thinking if I were positive, I would be some sort of freak. I would be contaminated; that the blood in my body would be diseased and impure.

“If you had to choose between having cancer and being HIV positive, what would you choose?”

It’s a pretty loaded question that I posed to a few people. Think long and hard about each option and what it would entail for your life. Most people would rather choose the former than the latter, and it’s entirely due to the social stigma surrounded by it all.

You can survive cancer, you can beat it, and it can go away. People will congratulate you and get together for a party because of what you’ve done. I’m not saying this to diminish the achievement of surviving cancer, as it’s an amazing feat, but when you’re HIV positive, that’s it.

There’s no getting rid of it, there’s no beating it, all that there seems to be is diminishing its effect. It will always flow deep within your system, regardless of how much strength and willpower one may have.

The fear of the unknown became the fear of the known as I continued to research the disease. The unknown scared me, but the thought of being diagnosed frightened me to my core.

We live in a highly sexual society, one that covets the scantily clad and uses it for advertising and marketing, and yet we still fail to convey the importance of getting tested for diseases. This is a world where we swipe left and right for potential one night stands, but it rarely is accompanied by both parties going into detail about their sexual histories, or producing test papers.

This produces a melting pot for young adults to swim in not knowing what diseases others or themselves may carry. They’ll reply that they are clean and disease free without knowing if their previous encounters were just as truthful as they are.

By the fifth day the realisation that I could do nothing about it all began to sink in. If I had it, then that was that, and if not, then I would seriously be reflecting on everything in my life and how I go about making decisions.

“How would you react if you were diagnosed positive?”

On that day I began to think about all of the questions that I was asked, and one of them began to stick out to me. It was a question that was asked to determine if someone would be a potential threat to themselves or to others. How does someone answer a question like that though?

It is a question that still hasn’t left me. When I sat there and waited to be examined I was surrounded by countless others. Each one with their own personal reason for being there, and each one seemed just as anxious and nervous as I did. Some had other people with them to help with it all, others like me, were entirely alone.

It’s been well over two weeks and I have not received a single call, or text, or email. Even though I’ve got the outcome that I was hoping for, the only thing that I continue to think about is the cases that are different from mine. The ones who just had a lapse in judgment, the ones who may be good decent people that trusted someone else, and ended up having their lives changed forever because of it. The ones who had to type the very same words that started this article.

“There’s something I need to tell you.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Let it cascade over every thought that is currently on your mind. We’ve all been there, we’ve all experienced the anxiousness of having to wait for the unknown to become a truth or false. When we’ve got the answer that we’ve wanted we cheered for it in different ways, and then we carried on with ourselves as if the last week of waiting, that last horrible worry week had never happened.

For others they never got to feel that wave of reassurance wash over them. That worry week transformed into a worry month, to worry years, to a worry lifetime. All for a single night that they would have taken back if given the option.

I went in to find out something about myself, to clear my conscience in case I did happen to have anything. I ended up leaving the building with more anxiety and frustrations than I had when I entered. Over a few days it built up until it came to a close after a week. I can’t imagine the reality of what would have happened if I was called.

The stigma is real in this world, regardless of all facts that can be said to reassure those that are positive. It comes from the unknown, because people don’t exactly know what all the details mean, and it leads to them treating those that they knew differently.

It’s disheartening to hear, but as a young adult in this type of world, having something like that does feel like a death sentence. The only way to eventually stop it from feeling that way is to shed light on what it all means, and hope that people listen while they’re still swiping left and right.

So next time you’re in a stranger’s room and your brain is being filled with chemicals, take a few seconds to think everything over. The following actions may end up being felt for the rest of your life.

Like what you read? Give Steve Posthumus a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.