25 Stories: The Loneliest NightCharles describes the night he was diagnosed with HIV as one of the loneliest nights of his life. A few years out of a divorce from his wife of 30 years and trying to get back on his feet, Charles went in regularly for HIV testing and knew in the back of his mind that his past behaviors could have put him at risk. When a new online relationship was on the verge of becoming serious, Charles informed his potential partner that he was HIV negative. “Then I thought, you know, if I tell him I’m negative, I need to be negative, so I’ll go in and get tested,” he remembers. “All of a sudden [the tester] looked at me, and her face froze, and she put her hand on my knee, and she said, ‘Honey, I’ve got some bad news for you.’”
From then on, Charles’ life took a downward spiral. That night, the night learned his HIV status had changed, he was lonelier than he’d ever been. In the coming months, he would suffer panic attacks, endure painful reactions to HIV medications, and begin to plan how he would take his life. Charles would lie awake at night, thinking about how it was the only choice he had left. “I began to keep a pad of paper there by my bed, and I would write down things that I wanted to tell my family when they found me, things I wanted them to know,” he says. Once sleep deprivation set in, Charles fell further into depression, nearing the point where things would end.
And then one day, after weeks of plotting the details of his suicide, Charles came across a packet of information he’d received on one of his visits to get tested for HIV. In that bag was a flyer about The Damien Center. “I thought, you know, I guess it can’t hurt anything,” he says. “So I came in here and talked to one of the Care Coordinators.” That visit saved his life. Once his Care Coordinator learned of his plans to take his life, she worked with Charles to connect him with the resources he needed to improve his quality of life and physical and mental health.
Today, Charles gives back to The Damien Center by volunteering and supporting the agency with financial contributions. “Six years later, here I am,” he says. Alive, healthy, and continuing to move his life in a positive direction.