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With crix belly life's not a beach

Sun 3 Jan 2010 In: HIV View at Wayback View at NDHA

In March 2006 John Stone, a NZ man living with HIV, chronicled the difficulties of sustaining life on HIV medications. Almost five years later he faces another reality of life with HIV infection. Like most New Zealanders I love the sea. Just being near it is enough but being in it is best. Even in Central Otago I feel isolated from the sea. How people who live in Kanzas or Omsk cope I'll never understand. The sea is in my blood, so to speak. Some of the earliest photos of me, circa 1957, show me running naked through the shallows at Oreti beach with my little bucket and spade. My first male to female grope occurred semi-naked in the waves at Tahunanui - it wasn't a compelling experience for reasons I only understood a few years later!  I've sprawled unselfconsciously on lilos at Waikiki and St Kilda. I've snorkeled at Lalomanu and on the Belize reef. I've sunbathed on the sands of Zipolite, Port Douglas and New Brighton. Hell, the first ever photo of my partner and I together was snapped twenty two years ago on a mid-ocean sand-bar out of sight of a Pacific island. He's the big chunky Island guy on the left, I'm the smaller palagi guy with the six-pack on the right. I could cry. Because that six-pack has gone, replaced by a distended barrel-shaped belly. It's called crix belly and it's one of the side effects of being on HIV medications. Somehow the drugs signal the body to redistribute its subcutaneous fat away from the face, arms and legs and deposit in a bulging ugly mass around the belly. For some poor sods it also gets deposited around the base of the back of the neck. Yes, I know that I should love my body, and that according to some fetish websites there are heaps guys out there who will lust after my distended puku, but I don't want that. I want the old me, slim and fit looking, the guy who was happy to be seen on the beach in speedos and more latterly boardshorts. Cos, for the first time in my life, I hate a part of my body. I hate my belly. I hate the way it catches my eye in the mirror when I step out of the shower. The way it intrudes when I bend down to tie my shoelaces. The way I can't easily see my cock or what's happening to it unless I suck in a bit. I hate the way I increasingly look like a barrel with sticks for arms and legs. I hate the way all my old favourite t-shirts don't fit any more, or if they do how they emphasize my swollen midriff. Swollen... yes, I now look about six months pregnant. I hate the way it's now an automatic reflex to suck my gut in whenever I catch sight of my reflection. And the way even that desperate action doesn't much improve things any more. And how sometime over winter the ultimate insult happened... my 'innie' popped out to become a bulging 'outie.' For the first time in my life I have to consider whether dieting will help me regain an attractive and, let's face it, healthier, body. Trouble is, the fat-moving process, like rust, never sleeps. If I diet it will continue to suck away what little fat there is left, particularly from my face. I have friends with that drawn lined look. A few were able to afford or find funding for a series of injections to bulk out their hollowed visages, the rest just sigh and accept the inevitable. I don't have that yet, although every month or so I catch myself checking while I shave. Then there is the fear of the future. I'm only 52. How big will my belly actually get as the months and years pass? I find myself looking at other guys with the same HIV-related condition, sizing up, comparing, seeing my future and wondering how far this bloating can go and to what effect on the rest of our bodies and our health. So for the first time in my life, through all the glorious weather of the Christmas-New Year break, I found excuses not to go to the beach. And the few times I did go I just paddled, and sat reading and chatting. I didn't swim, snorkel, splash, jump or cavort with the abandon of years past. I was envious of others whose bodies are still under control, or those who don't mind showing a little excess weight. But mine is not a little generally-distributed excess weight. It's all in one place and so it's totally out of proportion to the rest of me. Why am I writing this? For the same reason I wrote the Pill Diary almost five years back. To warn those who think getting HIV isn't much of an issue beyond taking some pills. Cos, believe me, it's a real day to day issue and will be so for the rest of your life. John Stone - 3rd January 2010    

Credit: John Stone

First published: Sunday, 3rd January 2010 - 1:05am

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