Robert Sheeley was diagnosed with HIV in 2002.
"It happened during a low point in my life," Robert says. "I was with my second boyfriend-I'll call him "D". "D" was hot and sexy, but not all there. The physical part was great, but I could not take his craziness."
"At that time, my aunt was my landlord," Robert says. "She was worried about me. She thought I was HIV-positive. I finally went to get tested just to get her out of my face."
Robert had his test done at a free clinic in Cleveland.
"They take you into a little counseling room to give you the results," Robert says. "I was expecting 'negative.' When she told me I was HIV-positive, I lost it. I was like, 'I'm going to kill myself.' She wouldn't let me leave, because I kept saying I was going to kill myself."
"Then something came over me, and I said, 'You know what, this isn't going to take me out. This is OK.' After I reassured the counselor that I wasn't suicidal, she let me leave."
Robert's first test showed a viral load of 750,000, so he went on medications right away. "The meds have worked like a charm," Robert says. "I've been undetectable since 2003."
"My diagnosis had a positive effect on me," Robert says. "It made me wake up, get rid of 'D,' go into myself and see what I really wanted to do with my life. It wasn't that I felt I had limited time-I was in my middle 30s, and I knew I was going to be around for a long while. But it was time for a new beginning, and I recognized that."
"I had a strong determination to rise above the diagnosis, like a phoenix, and somehow create value," Robert says. "I've been a songwriter since I was in high school. I began to take private voice and dance lessons and, at the age of thirty-four going on thirty-five, started schlepping my old song demos again."
"When I finally accepted that music was not going to pan out for me in this lifetime, I kind of panicked. I didn't know what to do. Then one night I was watching a movie in which one of the characters was an aspiring novelist. It reminded me of a book idea I had years earlier. An antebellum slave master falls in love with one of his male slaves. I found the first page I wrote years earlier and, over the next few years, added another two-hundred and forty-one pages to the story. It became an historical romance I call "Rainbow Plantation Blues." You can order a copy of Robert's book from his website, RobertLSheeley.com , or from Amazon.com.
Robert's advice for someone who has just tested positive for HIV?
"Get medical attention," Robert says. "Find out your viral load and T-cell count. Even if you don't go on meds right away-I know people who didn't for years-you still need to get hooked up with a doctor. If you're low-income, do your homework and find out where to go. If you live in a small town, I would suggest you move to a city. The AIDS Service Organizations and the HIV specialists are all in the city-and the stigma of HIV is less in the cities. You're going to need support, and the support is in the cities."
"Then sit down and figure out how this happened and what this means to your life. Your life is going to change. You're going to have to decide how you interact with people. Do you want to come out to your co-workers? I did, and they were very supportive. For me it's political to tell people. I want to break the stereotypes, myths and biases. But you have to decide on your own. Can you deal with potential rejection from family, friends and dating partners?"
"You have to learn the disclosure laws in your state before you have sex with anyone. If you don't comply with them, you could go to prison. They vary from state to state. I always disclose my status to potential sexual partners, and I have had rejection. But to me, it's not about the laws, it's about my conscience."
"Once you've done some soul-searching-go for your dream! Figure out how you're going to do what you want to do. I always had a dream of writing a book, and I figured out how to do it. You can figure out how to achieve your dream, too!"
Copyright 2018, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
This magazine is intended to enhance your relationship with your doctor - not replace it! Medical treatments and products should always be discussed with a licensed physician who has experience treating HIV and AIDS!