Justin B. Terry-Smith woke up that day in 2006 and, with a dose of irony, knew something was wrong, really wrong.
His satin sheets were wet from sweat and he was confused why, how. He felt sick and vomited multiple times.
Terry-Smith knew he had to get tested for HIV, having been around plenty of HIV-positive people for years, so he knew some of the side effects. After all, he was 19 when he first dated someone who was HIV-positive.
Terry-Smith went for the test with his best friend, Bryan, and, sure enough, he was told that he too was HIV-positive.
He cried for hours, and then the two went to a bar for a drink.
"I was very surprised [ with the diagnosis ] , mostly because I had that mentality that, being in my 20s, I was invincible. Not true," Terry-Smith said.
Now 32 and living in Laurel, Md., Terry-Smith has become an activist in support of HIV/AIDS and a fiction author on HIV. He has entered 98 new updates to his video blog, Justin's HIV Journaland was planning his 100th to coincide with National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Feb. 7. Plus, he wrote I Have A Secret, the fictional story of a sixth-grader, Jay, whose secret is: he is HIV-positive.
"I don't call it [ being HIV-positive ] a blessing, nor do I call it a curse," said Terry-Smith who, in 2009, married Dr. Phillip B. Terry-Smith, who also is HIV-positive. "HIV has made me be a better person; it's made me keep my health in check; it's made me take better care of myself. There's no point in shying away [ from my status ] . I just have to deal with it."
To that, he was on the board of directors at Whitman-Walker Health, one of the largest HIV/AIDS clinics in the Washington, D.C. area. Plus, he recently debuted his advice column for A&U Magazine, which bills itself as America's AIDS magazine.
"In 2008, when I learned that I had to start [ taking ] medication for HIV, I looked online and yet couldn't find much about HIV-positive Black gay men who were using audio and visual to document their lives. I was kind of disappointed none were out there," Terry-Smith said. "So, I just figured I could do it to help others like mewhether positive, negative, Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, women, men, old or young. I wanted people to be more aware of what someone would have to go through if they were HIV-positive, and specifically what I have to go through."
He posted his first video blog in May, 2008.
Terry-Smith's 40-page soft-cover book, titled I Have A Secret, was released last April. It tells of Jay, and how he struggles keeping the secret inside, hiding it from his friends at school.
Ultimately, "the ending is very happy," Terry-Smith said. "It's my first book; I absolutely cherish it. I love it; I'm so happy with it. The response has been excellent."
Terry-Smith is co-authoring another children's book that also deals with HIV, scheduled to be released in May.
This story is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.