When Regan tested HIV positive, support (and spaghetti) got her through it. You’ll get through too
I can still remember how I felt in those first few moments after I learned I had HIV. It was ten years ago, and the experience of testing positive has changed much for the better since then. HIV has gone from being considered a death sentence to the manageable disease it is now. But testing positive is always hard.
It all started when I went to my doctor with a very swollen lymph gland. He said it could be cat scratch disease, HIV, mono—or something else. I hadn’t engaged in anything risky, so when I went back to his office to get the test results, I definitely didn’t expect it to be HIV.
A nurse asked if I would mind waiting in my doctor’s private office instead of the waiting room. “No problem,” I said. She set me up in a La-Z-Boy in front of a TV and gave me a Diet Coke. I was very relaxed—until a squadron of serious-looking folks in lab coats came into the room.
One of them adjusted her grip on a folder she was holding, and a huge syringe filled with liquid fell out and jabbed the carpet. It wagged back and forth like a metronome, counting down the last seconds of my HIV-free life. I knew there was something seriously wrong. “Whatever it is,” I pleaded, “please don’t stick me with that.” (It turned out to be a sedative.)
The room suddenly seemed very bright. It sounded like my doctor was yelling in my ears. I had so many questions: Was I going to live? Could I have a baby? Sex? Who gave it to me? Did I give it to anyone? What would my parents think? My friends?
I left the office, went home and made spaghetti. I know it seems weird, but I wanted to do something normal to reassure myself that I was still the same old me. Then I took a Xanax and fell asleep with my cats.
The next day, a therapist put me in touch with a support group of gay, HIV positive men, where I learned for myself how important it is to be able to tell your diagnosis to someone you can trust to keep it a secret. Connecting with others—including a good doctor or nurse—while you’re adjusting to the news is one of the “First Steps” we recommend in this Think Positive guide. We also introduce you to a range of people telling their loved ones they have HIV, figuring out how it may affect their sex lives and learning about treatment. And we share the latest advice from HIV experts.
If you have questions that your doctor or support system can’t answer, try an AIDS service organization (ASO). At POZ.com, you can locate one that suits you by searching our AIDS Services Directory. Or try POZ Mentor (also on POZ.com) for support from someone who’s had HIV for a while. The online Forums at AIDSmeds.com are full of positive people you can chat with.
The main thing to know is that you can live a long, healthy life despite HIV. The millions of us out here are living proof. Maybe we can help.