Just a quick post here to let you know that a video I did with Saving Lives when I went to see them for a photoshoot a couple of weeks back is now live on YouTube.
I’m talking HIV, my diagnosis, testing and education in a short interview. Head over to see the video on their YouTube channel:
You can find out more about Savings Lives at http://www.savinglivesuk.com/ and follow them on Twitter as @SavingLivesUK
Lots of Love,
It’s 00:50 and once again I can’t sleep.
My insomnia has kept me up for the best part of three days in a row now, my mind is tired, my body is exhausted and yet I still can’t sleep.
I go to the bathroom to top up my water glass and I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I look like death warmed up – my skin pale, bags under my eyes so big you could carry your shopping in them, and I’m breaking out in spots -my body has had enough but my HIV meds won’t let me sleep.
This has been going on for months upon months now, sleeping only three or four nights a week, the rest sat up trying to keep myself busy until it’s time to goto work. Sadly it’s become something of a routine – a routine that’s causing me to burn out.
I wish I could say that insomnia was the biggest of my concerns, but sadly it gets worse, over the last few weeks things have been going bump in the night. I’m hearing and seeing things that aren’t there. It started off as little things, a thud in the hallway, a shadow out the corner of my eye – but progressively they’re getting more and more significant – I’ve heard the front door being hammered only for no-one to be there, giant spiders on the ceiling, I’ve even seen myself sat in my desk chair.
I’m reasonably sure that it’s not a inherent problem with my mind, so much as the medication – the hallucinations only happen after I’ve taken my meds and on nights I can’t sleep. So I think it’s pretty reasonable to conclude that they’re side effects that I’d normally sleep through – but in my perma-awake state I have to endure. What I’m not sure, however, is why they’ve only started now – nearly 18 months after I started this combination therapy.
I’ve asked my doctors to change my HIV meds before based on my sleeping issues but they’ve told me to wait it out, I’m hoping when I see them on the 17th that they’ll take the news of hallucinations and even less sleep slightly more seriously. Either that or they’ll lock me up, and if they do I hope they have wine.
On a daily basis I get maybe thirty or forty emails from people reading this column or people visiting my website. Some are asking for support, others asking questions about HIV, a few are even hate-mail (the crazies are everywhere) – and an alarming number telling me that they’ve never had a HIV and/or STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) screening.
Of course I always handle these messages sensitively. I suggest that they should go and book themselves in for a full STI screening and even provide a link to the Terrence Higgins Trust website where they can pop in their
postcode and find a clinic near them. But the whole exchange often leaves me baffled and concerned. Many of these people are in their mid-to-late twenties – how they have got this far in life (presumably having sex along the way) and never having had a check up?
Is it simply a case of sticking their heads in the sand or is there something more going on here? Having spoken to some of them in more depth there’s definitely some ostrich like behaviour for sure, for some ignorance really is bliss, if you don’t know something is wrong then you don’t need to worry about it – but for others it’s a fear of the testing process itself, and this can only be due to lack of education around the topic.
Going for a STI screening really is not that big a deal. Honestly. I went for one only the other month (I go every six months – and so should you if you’re sexually active). Here’s what happened:
I arrived at the clinic at about 10am. I sat around watching Jeremy Kyle in the waiting room until I was called through by a doctor. They ask you a few simple questions:
Why’ve you come in today? “routine testing”,
Do you have any symptoms? “none”,
Any pre-existing conditions? “HIV-positive”.
After that I head back to the waiting room for a couple of minutes for a spot more Jezza (turns out he wasn’t the father). Then a nurse calls me through to one of the other rooms. She takes a couple of throat swabs (say “ahhhh”), a tiny swab from the end of my penis (it does pinch a little, but it doesn’t hurt), and a swab from my ass. Another nurse comes into to take a couple of vials of blood and then I’m given a little bottle to go put a urine sample in. I’m good to go. That’s it! takes about 45 minutes, one hour tops. They’ll text me any results in two weeks time.
(If I didn’t already know that I was HIV-Positive they would have also offered a HIV Rapid Test, which gives you a result in 15 minutes)
It’s incredibly important that each of us get regular STI screenings. Most sexual health charities recommend twice a year or more frequent if you’re more sexually active. Whilst you may not have any symptoms you may still carry any number of infections without even knowing it. I myself had absolutely none of the ‘flu-like’ symptoms often associated with HIV and only found out at one of my regular screenings.
Getting checked out doesn’t just mean that you’re looking after yourself, it means you’re showing respect and looking out for those who you sleep with – after all you’d hope anyone you slept with to have been checked recently, wouldn’t you?
So if you’ve never been checked out, or maybe it’s been far too long since your last test perhaps today’s good deed could be calling up your clinic and booking yourself in for a little MOT. Don’t know where your nearest one is – sorry, that’s no excuse. Head over to THT.org.uk and click ‘Sexual health’ to use their ‘Service Finder’ tool.
This Thursday (21st March 2013) is LGF’s ‘Sex Tips Live’ night at the Eagle Bar, Manchester.
Hosted by the handsome Martin Coops Cooper the night promises to be a fun filled affair in game-show format – it will test how much you know about sex, safer-sex and how to get the most out of your man! There’ll be fun, games and prizes – not to mention alcohol. Plus visiting hunks from Manhunt.net on the premises. Oh and I’ll be there – in leather. What’s not to like?
The bar opens at 5pm and the fun kicks off around. The fun and games start around 8pm. Entry is free.
Come along, you just might learn a thing or two
For directions check out The Eagle Manchester’s website
For more on the Lesbian & Gay Foundation (LGF) check out their site.
See you then,
Tuesday morning I was on Gaydio again, doing my HIV guest spot.
As before you can download and listen to the show in MP3 by clicking HERE
If you want me to appear on your show please don’t hesitate to get in touch using the contact page on this site.
It’s been a little while since I was a student, six years ago to be precise (oh I feel old), but I was honoured to be invited down to this year’s Student Pride 2013.
For a lot of attendees Student Pride will be the first ‘Pride’ event that they ever go to, so it’s important that the organisers get the weekend right, and that they have done.
There are multiple events, with a little something for everyone. For those that are old enough there are clubbing nights, with special performances from the likes of X-Factor’s Lucy Spraggan, Class A and Capital FM’s James Barr. During the day there are job fairs, theatre productions, live music and debates.
There will also be sexual health advice and FREE rapid HIV testing available courtesy the good people from ’56 Dean Street’. Make sure to stop by and check your status, it only takes a few minutes and could save your life and the lives of anyone you play with.
Student Pride 2013 runs from 1st – 3rd March 2013 in Brighton on the South Coast of England. If you’re a student and 16 years ago or more you can GET YOUR TICKETS HERE!
See you there!
Well hello there,
This week I’m lucky enough to have a guest post from our favourite TV doctor and fellow Attitude columnist, the handsome Doctor Christian Jessen. In this post we won’t be discussing embarrassing bodies or healthy eating, but rather condoms – the simple tool for safer sex…
We all know that condoms offer us the best protection (98% effective when used properly) from both STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) and unwanted pregnancy, but are you sure that you’re using them correctly?
Don’t be so sure: a study of 1,400 teens by Southampton University found that 6% had put the condom on too late and another 6% took the condom off too soon.
Here are some simple DOs and DON’Ts to make sure you’re using your condoms properly:
- Only use approved latex or polyurethane condoms that bear the BS Kite mark.
- Make sure you have the right condom for YOU – just like penises they come in many sizes.
They can be measured for at home by you and ordered online to save any embarrassment.
- Check the date before you use it, out of date condoms become brittle and break.
- Make sure you have the condom the right way round BEFORE you apply it to the head of your penis.
- With one thumb and finger grip the tip of the condom to squeeze out any air, then use your other hand to roll the condom as far down as you can.
- Use a water or silicon based lube – this reduces friction and reduces risk of breaking the condom.
- If you’re having a long session consider taking a break and switching to a new condom.
- If you’re playing with more than one partner (lucky you) – use a different condom for each person. The same applies to sex toys, put on condom on them and change with every partner.
- Pull out whilst you’re still hard – making sure to hold the base of the condom.
- Throw it in the bin, don’t flush it.
- Don’t use an out of date condom – they can break more easily, and we don’t want that.
- Don’t bite condom wrappers open – you may damage the condom inside.
Remember that long nails can also cause damage to condoms.
- Don’t unroll the condom until you’re ready to roll it down and over your penis.
- Don’t use an oil based lube (this includes Vaseline and baby oil) – the oil weakens the condom and can lead to it failing.
- Don’t re-use a condom, this shouldn’t need saying but we’ll throw it in anyway.
- Don’t use two condoms at once – the friction between them can tear both condoms.
- Don’t use a condom and a female condom (or femidom) together for the same reason.
You can buy condoms at supermarkets, pharmacies and most convenience stores, if you’re too shy to do it in person why not order yourself some online from NHS Freedoms, and don’t forget that you can always pick some up for free from your local Sexual Health Clinic.
Doctor Christian Jessen
Tuesday 29th January 2013 heralds a new era for the LGBT community in Birmingham, and the Midlands in general with the opening of the Birmingham LGBT Health & Wellbeing Centre.
The Big Lottery Fund and Birmingham City Council have generously donated £479,263 and £250,000 respectively to get this ambitious project off the ground.
None of this would be possible without the hard work and persistence of Steph Keeble (Director) and David Viney (Health & Wellbeing Manager) who’ve worked tirelessly over the last year and a half to make this project a reality.
The centre will offer a range of services from it’s in-house clinic including a Sexual Health service, provided by Healthy Gay Life and Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust – along side smoking cessation and alcohol misuse counselling.
Depression, self harm and suicide continues to damage the LGBT community and especially LGBT youth. This problem is especially profound in Birmingham where 48% of LGBT people interviewed claim to have thought about suicide, and 20% claim to have attempted it.
There will be a Cafe/Bar area run by MatchBox – who will provide a range of healthy light meals and drinks, this space will be available in the evening for events in the LGBT community, along with a number of training and meeting rooms – which will also be able to be hired out by local businesses.
To find out more about the Birmingham LGBT Health & Wellbeing Centre either pop along to (38/40 Holloway Circus Birmingham. B1 1EQ) or visit their website: http://www.blgbt.org/
I’ve made no secret of the fact I suffer from depression. In fact I’ve been diagnosed with ‘Severe Clinical Depression’ on 3 separate occasions now, for which I was medicated. This tends to happen sporadically, in between I’m mostly sound as a pound – but now and then I get little dips.
The last week or so has been one of these dips. To start with I tried to chalk it up as January Blues but after a few days I realised it was more than that.
I can identify the signs right from the beginning:
- Lack of energy
- Inability to get out of bed in the morning
- No desire to go and do things
- Becoming withdrawn and quiet
- Feeling lonely
A few years ago I’d knuckle down, get stuck into some big project at work and then come home and cuddle up with the husband to worm my way out of the depression. I don’t really have that option any more. My job is neither interesting nor involved enough to bury myself in, and my luck in love has been beyond awful for the last few years.
I actually started writing this article 30 minutes ago, with the idea of writing how I’ve been working hard not to show my depression to the guy I’ve been dating, as he’s been so sweet and understanding with regards to the whole HIV issue. But only 10 minutes ago I got a text message saying he was breaking up with me because he couldn’t handle the strain on him of dating someone who was HIV+. So I’m kind of lost now.
I just want someone to cuddle up with on the cold nights, chat to about my worries and how I’m feeling. It’s not easy being HIV+, it’s doubly not easy being HIV+ and suffering from depression. I can’t see this cloud clearing in the next week now. Sigh.
Sorry for the miserable blog but sometimes I just need to vent, and seeing as it’s just me here you lot get the raw end of the deal.
An appropriate clip from Sex & The City…
It’s 12:59 and I’m sat in the waiting room at the GUM (Sexual Health) clinic for my six-monthly check up. Thing is this isn’t just any GUM clinic however, this is the clinic that I was given my HIV diagnosis at nearly a year and a half ago. I haven’t been back since, until today.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been getting checked out every six months (not that I’ve had any sex worth a damn to really warrant it), but I’ve made a point of going to other clinics to avoid having to come back here. But today, the day I’d set aside to do some Christmas shopping and get my end of year STI tests done, this was the only clinic that had free slots.
The waiting room is the same as it ever was, grey and clean, clinically clean – the same bleach smell is stinging my nose, just as it did at 9:00am on the 4th August 2011. Repeats of Top Gear are playing on the TV. The memories of being sat out here nervously awaiting to be called into that small room are coming flooding back. The same feeling of anxiety is sweeping over me – but this time for no real reason, I’m only here for a general check-up.
Calm down Sam. Calm down.
14:54 nearly two hours later and I’m done. 75% of that was sat around in the waiting room, apparently they were working very unstaffed today. That couldn’t be helped.
I’ve been prodded, up top, down below and round the back. I’ve had blood and urine taken, such fun. Almost knee’d the poor nurse in the face as she did the penile swab – NOT FUN.
I’ll get results via text message in a week, not expecting anything out of the ordinary, I mean I’ve barely had any sex at all for months now. MONTHS. But better to be safe than sorry as they say. I was so glad to get out of there though, I just don’t like what time period of my life that clinic waiting room represents. No comment on the staff at all though, lovely people.
When were you last tested? Was it too long ago? Maybe you should make it a new year’s resolution? After all – what’s a little time out of your day for peace of mind?
Here’s to peace of mind, or what little mind I’ve got left!