Waldemar “Waldie” Murray found out he was HIV-positive in July 2014, on a day he had decided to take off from work, run some errands, and get his haircut. But that morning, something also told him to go get tested.
“I thought I should probably tend to my sexual health, because I couldn’t even remember the last time I got tested,” the 27-year-old says. “It was just an intuition that I should go.”
Waldie’s intuition was confirmed at Chase Brexton Health Services, an LGBT-friendly clinic in downtown Baltimore.
“This wasn’t something I was expecting,” he says. Waldie admits that he’d had condomless sex, but had never felt ill. (Seroconversion often comes with flu-like symptoms.) Taking a breath and sounding more resolute, he adds, “My first thought was, well, this is an experience that you’re going to have, and it’s going to be one you’ll share with other people. I believe that we are meant to share our experiences with others. Sharing experiences is how we understand each other and have compassion for one another.”
Posting as Processing
While every person’s reaction to learning they are HIV-positive is unique, and some people might not have the luxury of disclosing, Waldie’s way of processing the news of his status was to be as open about it as possible.
Waldie went on Facebook—almost as soon as he had gotten home from the clinic.
“When I posted on Facebook, I was doing it for myself,” Waldie says. “I wanted to let people know, but I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I was doing it so that I felt I was in control of my situation. I’m going to say it to everyone, so that I didn’t leave any room for gossip. The sooner I disclosed, the sooner the HIV ‘label’ would dissolve. The sooner people would just see me again as Waldie.
“I came at this from a very self-empowered point of view, an emotionally strong place,” Waldie adds. “As a result, most everyone accepted where I was with it.”
Most everyone except his parents, at first. Waldie’s mom had run into him while he had been running errands. He told her he was getting tested. When he came home, she asked him how it went, and Waldie gave her the news. She became very emotional and was unable to talk with him.
But it was through Waldie’s Facebook post that his father found out.
“My family isn’t on Facebook, but one of my dad’s friends must know someone who knows me, and so, I guess it popped up on his feed, or someone told him,” Waldie says. “He contacted my dad to say how sorry he was to hear about me. My dad was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He was caught off guard, obviously. He called my mom, was crying. I’d never known my dad to cry.”
“I told my parents that this wasn’t about blame, or getting upset, or even how it happened,” Waldie adds. “The important thing now was how to take care of it.”
Waldie already had begun to do his homework. In 2011, he had dated a guy who had recently tested HIV-positive. The guy was still trying to cope with his status and Waldie wanted to learn more about HIV. During the three months they dated, Waldie even accompanied his boyfriend to doctor appointments.
“At the time, PrEP was still new, so the doctor stressed that we use condoms, so we only had sex [with condoms],” Waldie says. “Having had that experience with him, I had educated myself about HIV. Fast forward to my own test results, I felt I was somewhat prepared.”
However, Waldie didn’t have a doctor. “I always figured, I’m young, I’m fit, I feel healthy, so I’m good,” he says. “Suddenly, I had to look for a physician.”
Chase Brexton, the clinic where Waldie had gotten tested, offers healthcare services and case management. Within a week, he had a doctor’s appointment and was seeing a case manager who helped connect him to HIV programs and services offered in Maryland.
But Waldie didn’t immediately start treatment. It wasn’t until four months later that he decided to go on meds.
“I wanted to make sure this was my decision,” Waldie says, “and not because people were pressuring me to do it, because this was going to be a commitment I would be responsible for. But once I made the decision,
I felt good about it.”
‘Three at 3’
Waldie’s doctor put him on a three-pill-a-day regimen of Truvada, Norvir, and Prezista.
“Instead of a one-pill-a-day medication, my doctor said my regimen is more forgiving [of missed doses],” Waldie says. “If I forget to take one of my pills, at least I haven’t missed a whole day’s worth of meds. As a result, I have never completely missed a day. I don’t remember the last time I forgot to take a pill. I take my meds at 3 p.m. every day. Three at 3, that’s how I remember.”
Waldie sets the alarm on his phone and takes his meds at his desk. The office where he has worked for five years is a family-owned, close-knit company, and he is very open about his sexuality and HIV status.
“Everybody at works knows,” Waldie says. “When my alarm goes off, my coworkers will say, ‘Is it 3 o’clock already? Waldie, take your pills.’ I’m very lucky to be surrounded by people who really care about me.
“A former boss asked me if I was okay. I explained to her that there are medications for it, and she said, ‘So, it’s kind of like having diabetes.’ I told her that HIV is controllable as long as you take your medication.”
Go to video
Soon after announcing his HIV status on Facebook, Waldie shot a video which he then posted.
“After I posted my status on Facebook, I thought people would wonder how I was really doing,” Waldie says. “Even if I said I was fine, some people wouldn’t believe it until they could see it. That’s why I did the video. I wanted them to see I was alright. I had posted videos before; I found out my status on a Wednesday, I posted the video on Friday.”
Waldie says he’s been contacted by total strangers who found it after a Google search of keywords such as “HIV” and “video.” Often, they’re looking not so much for information about HIV as they are hopeful and encouraging words from people living with HIV.
“The people who are finding it, we have a connection,” Waldie says. “We share a similar experience. Not everyone has the same support system I do or feel they can be as open. People have messaged me, saying they have felt empowered by my sharing my experience.”
As he reached the one-year mark since learning his status, Waldie’s viral load continued to be undetectable and he remained relentlessly upbeat and determined in his outlook.
“If I have any down days, it’s because I’m having an off day, it’s not because of HIV,” Waldie says. “They’re usually about, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ Things like that.
“Living with HIV has become an experiential thing,” Waldie adds. “It doesn’t define me, it is just an experience, and I don’t identify with the experience so strongly that I let it define me.”