“I don’t think I liked myself before my diagnosis.”
At just 25 years of age, and a little over a year after he found out he had HIV, Greg’ry Revenj has taken on the world, committing himself to educating people about HIV. After he made the cover of HIV Plus magazine last year, he started a tour of Texas called “Educate Yourself,” in order to tell his story, talk about HIV, and help people understand that HIV is not the end. However, Greg’ry wasn’t always so open about his status or optimistic about his life.
“When I first found out, I just shut down…. I was not as careful as I am now. I felt invincible. I guess that’s the mentality everyone has when they are young.”
In December of 2013, Greg’ry started feeling sick. He was in a new relationship and trusted his partner, but he was constantly exhausted and weak. A quick google search proved to be devastating. “It could have been cancer or HIV,” he says. “I thought, ‘Either way, you are going to die.'”
Not ready to face his fate, Greg’ry waited until February to purchase an OraQuick test. After it came up positive, Greg’ry came to ASA for a confirmatory. “You have to deal with it if this is going to be your life now,” he recalls telling himself. The second rapid test at ASA came up positive, as he knew it would, and as he waited a week for the confirmatory test results, he contemplated the idea that he was now living with HIV.
On an intellectual level, Greg’ry knew his status, but he still hadn’t processed what it truly meant to live with HIV. With a long trip to Chicago, Greg’ry cut himself off from the world, taking the time to focus on the situation, often sitting by the water to think. “I was very sad,” he recalls. “I felt like I was going to die because of all the misinformation out there. I started asking if I had lived life to the fullest: ‘Are you happy with who you are? Have you made a difference?’ I felt like I hadn’t done anything worthwhile yet.”
When he returned in Austin in June, he had done a little research. He knew taking pills were a possibility, but he still grappled with the severity of the disease. “I was teetering. I could die; I could not die.” Through ASA, Greg’ry was connected to David Powell clinic, where he posed the ultimate question to the doctor: “What are the chances of survival?”
The doctor had nothing to say to that. In fact, he was confused by the question.
For the first time, Greg’ry realized he could live a full, complete life with HIV. His life was not over. In fact, the most mind-blowing part of the visit was when the doctor finally asked him, “Are you ready to start medication?”
For many people of a certain generation, HIV meant a death sentence. The drug AZT was the only available treatment for many years, but the side effects were legendary, with many patients allegedly choosing to pass away from AIDS rather than live with the side effects. However, all that changed with the introduction of protease inhibitors in the mid-90s: effective medications that could keep the virus at bay and bring back the immune system. Today, anyone infected with the virus can lead a long, healthy life with treatment.
That’s the message Greg’ry hopes to spread far and wide to his generation. “I’m the self-proclaimed new face of HIV. Now that I have a voice, I have to use it. I have to do something with it. How do I tell people they are not going to die?”
He could not have predicted the response he would get.