Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living , and your belief will help create the fact. – William James
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years is to never follow the crowd, be it in action, and more especially in one’s mindset.
When 26-year-old Inflight Cabin Manager Wade Schaerer isn’t floating on clouds, he’s landside stirring the mentality of the masses, ending the stigma of HIV being the end of one’s life, career, and future… simply by living each day to the fullest.
I came across Wade’s personal Instagram feed, and at first glance I saw a young man in an industry I love, living out this amazing life, when I looked closer and saw the work he was doing and how he was taking something personal and created a platform to speak up about it, my perception of him remained the same but my respect for him was multiplied.
Bravery is an extremely rare commodity in this society, we are hovered by judgmental people daily and somehow hiding the biggest parts of ourselves is easier than using it to educate and help eradicate the misperceptions of others. Wade has grasped tightly to this and is a strong voice not only for himself but to those who are yet to discover their own strengths.
A few months ago, I had asked Wade if he would be willing to answer some questions I had based on what I had seen whilst following his story on social media. His vibrant energy shines through every post and I thoroughly enjoy following all of his adventures. I spent the last few months continually watching his social media presence and how not once did he falter from the work he set out to do whilst remaining loyal to himself, his career and always making sure he enjoys this life he was given.
Wade uses every opportunity to speak out and educate people in the most simplest way, here’s a link to a HIV educational video he made himself so we can better understand HIV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5TyY5sWYUI
An interview with Jennifer Vaughan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bv2YgthtSl4&t=1043s&pbjreload=10
An article on the Daily Maverick about Wade being grounded after disclosing his status: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-06-13-flight-attendant-grounded-because-of-hiv-status/#.Wyos_iCxXIU
Here’s what Wade had to say:
- When did you find out you were HIV positive and what was the first thing that popped up in your head?
I found out I was HIV positive on the 29th of March 2017, and my immediate thought was “Gee Wade, you’re 25 years old and you’re going to die before 30!”. I was so ignorant, I knew nothing about HIV/AIDS when I was diagnosed.
- How did you contract HIV?
I like to keep things real and honest, I contracted HIV through unprotected sex. I liked him, I trusted him and I didn’t think he had HIV. Remember, more than half of young people living with HIV do not know that they are HIV-positive and according to the CDC, the majority of HIV infections occur from someone who is unaware of their status. If you skip getting tested together, one of you may transmit the virus to the other without even knowing it.
- When did you come out to your family and friends about your status?
I told my mom three days after I was diagnosed, and my family and close friends soon thereafter. I needed their support as I didn’t get any support from my friend who was diagnosed with me, neither did I receive post counseling after my HIV diagnosis. I “came out” publicly with my status through a blog that I published two months after my diagnosis.
- When you made the decision to disclose to your company, what reaction did you expect and what was the actual response you received?
I knew I had to tell my manager because I would need some time off work, it would not have been fair to expect her to accommodate my needs if she didn’t know what was happening in my life. My company has been so supportive with all of my needs, it was the best decision I could have made. I’m now known as the “go-to-guy” at work for any HIV/AIDS and sexual awareness questions.
- When you disclosed to the SACAA and they chose to ground you, what were your thoughts on their treatment?
I was shocked when I was grounded, I was not prepared for that. I went for my medical check-up knowing that I was in good health and I was not aware that the SACAA had a HIV/AIDS protocol. I felt isolated and humiliated for being grounded, it’s a strange feeling to be told you can’t work when you are physically well and in good health, there was nothing wrong with me.
- How does your status affect your dating life now?
Nothing has changed! I still go on dates, I still meet guys and I still have a great sex life. Most gay guys are well-educated on HIV topics, they know that I have an undetectable viral load and therefore I cannot transmit HIV.
- There are many ARV combinations, how did you choose the one you are on?
There are a few different combinations, which stop HIV replication at different stages. My doctor prescribed the most widely used ARV here in South Africa, it works for most people, and it works for me. The ARV I take has three different drugs combined into a single pill, taken once a day.
- Are there any side effects to the pill and have you experienced any of it?
I only experienced some side effects in the first week of ARV treatment, mostly dizziness and nausea but it only lasted for an hour or two at most. To date I have not experienced any major side effects.
- What are some of the misconceptions of being HIV-positive?
People think HIV only affects certain groups of people, for example – black people, homosexuals, drug users or the promiscuous. The truth is it can happen to anybody. HIV is a human condition and as long as you’re having sex, you are at risk
- What is the “Undetectable = Untransmittable” message?
When a person living with HIV takes ARV drugs and their viral load has reached and maintained undetectable levels (not enough HIV in their bloodstream for a test to measure), that person cannot sexually transmit HIV to a partner who is HIV-negative. HIV community members, activists, and experts often talk about this groundbreaking news using the simple phrase “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable” or “U=U”.
- When did you begin your blog POSITIVE VIBES ONLY, what was the goal of this platform?
I started Positive Vibes Only in May 2017, I wanted to show the world I was still living a very normal life and that nothing had changed about me. I still go out and enjoy life to the fullest, people like seeing that. by living positively, I am giving hope to newly diagnosed people who are starting their HIV journey – HIV is not the end. it’s my mission and passion to prevent new HIV infections through HIV/AIDS education and awareness. I also talk openly about living with HIV to help stop the stigma and discrimination that we experience.
- What advice do you have for someone who was recently diagnosed?
— Firstly, and most importantly, forgive yourself and forgive the person who gave HIV to you. This is how things are now and no amount of anger or blame is going to change that.
–Secondly, being diagnosed with HIV is now looked on as a manageable chronic condition. However, having HIV is no picnic either. Like any other chronic condition, it can cause complications if not treated appropriately. The more you learn about HIV and how you can take an active role in treating it, the more likely it is that you will remain healthy and free of complications.
— After learning that you are HIV positive, it is very important to see your doctor regularly (at least every 6 months) and stay adherent to your ARV treatment. The most important thing you should understand at this point is that you must be ready to commit to your ARV treatment exactly as prescribed by your doctor. If you start at an ARV treatment regimen but do not adhere to your prescribed medication schedule, the virus will have an opportunity to develop resistance to the ARV drugs and will not be completely suppressed in your body.
— Lastly, find someone to talk to… Many people feel that they do not want anyone else to know they have HIV, but it is important to find support from someone, if not someone close to you, consider a support group or online support groups. Keep tabs on your mental health, a lot of people struggle with depression after being diagnosed with HIV, this is why it is important to always be aware of your mental health.
- What advice do you have for someone in a position of supporting a friend or loved one with HIV?
— If someone has disclosed their HIV status to you, thank them for trusting you with their private information. Be available to have open, honest conversations about HIV/AIDS. Follow the lead of the person who is diagnosed with HIV. They may not always want to talk about it, or may not be ready.
— Let the person know, through your words or actions, that their HIV status does not change your relationship.
— Work on overcoming your own internalized misconceptions, educate yourself about HIV: what it is, how it is transmitted, how it is treated, and how people can stay healthy while living with HIV. Having a solid understanding of HIV/AIDS is a big step forward in supporting your friend of loved one.
This world needs more people willing to go that little extra mile to bring about positivity to this extremely negative society. Go give Wade some love on social media and join in on this journey he is taking the world on…
I wish you everything of the best Wade, and I can’t wait to continue watching this wonderful journey you are on… Thank you for your time, and most importantly, your passion to spread POSITIVE VIBES.
Positive Vibes Only
Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using @PositiveVibesZA
As well as his blog: http://www.positivevibesonlyza.wordpress.com
Email Wade for support (Free and Anonymous): PositiveVibesOnly.firstname.lastname@example.org