Hearing the words “Your test came back positive” will likely impact the way you think and feel—about yourself and your future.
Barbara Adler, the manager of HIV testing at the AIDS Health Project in San Francisco, says, “A lot of people feel numb for a while,” but others run through phases of “grief, loss, anger, sadness and fear.”
Adler says some are ashamed; others are afraid. Whatever you experience, Adler urges, “Don’t judge [it]!” That’s because there’s no right or wrong way to feel.
No matter your situation or coping style, finding someone to talk to is important. When feelings are not expressed, they can come out in ways that you may later regret, such as increased isolation or excessive use of drugs or alcohol.
When you’re ready to talk, choose someone who can be objective and supportive. While we often turn to family and friends, keep in mind that they may have their own emotional reactions to deal with. Some prefer to speak with others living with HIV—see “Support and Services,”—while others may prefer to speak with a mental health professional (your doctor or local AIDS service organization [ASO] can help you find one).
Just remember that millions of HIV-positive people have worked through similar feelings—and that you will too.
“My opinion was, ‘Hey you’re alive.’ And when you’re alive there’s hope. You just got to make the adjustment.”
—Alfredo Millan Diagnosed 1995
IMMUNE 101 The immune system is made up of organs, tissues and numerous types of white blood cells. Each component of the immune system has a job to do, but they all work together to rid the body of harmful bacteria, viruses and funguses. CD4 cells, a type of white blood cell called a T-lymphocyte, are responsible for coordinating the attack against various disease-causing bugs. However, they’re also the cells that HIV uses to reproduce—and destroys in the process. Like a football team, the immune system is left without its quarterback, with the rest of the players unsure of what to do. A healthy CD4 count ranges from 500 to 1,500 cells in a sample of blood. Keeping your CD4 count within this range is a major goal of HIV treatment.
HIV & AIDS What Are They? Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The virus attacks the immune system—the body’s “security force.” When the immune system becomes damaged by HIV, you lose this protection and can develop serious, sometimes deadly infections and cancers. These are called opportunistic infections (OIs) because they take advantage of the body’s weakened defenses. HIV medications, also known as antiretrovirals (ARVs), halt or slow HIV’s damaging effects on the immune system, which helps to prevent life-threatening OIs from occurring or returning.