People react very differently when they learn they have HIV. Perhaps you feel…
NOTHING? Denial is OK for helping you through the regular routine of your life while you adjust to a big change. But it doesn't work forever. Every newly diagnosed person needs to make the important decisions that denial allows them to put off—considering care and treatment, telling the people they’re close to and adjusting their work situation and anything else that doesn’t fit anymore. Sooner is better than later.
“I was angry at him for not telling me sooner. I was angry at myself for not protecting myself. I resented him because he knew years before we got together.” —Andres Huertas, Bronx, NY, Diagnosed: 2005
ANGRY? Your HIV diagnosis got you piping mad: At yourself for taking risks? At the person you believe may have infected you? Anger at this life-changing event is understandable. But the energy pounding through your head is better off directed towards something more self-affirming—like taking care of your physical and mental health or getting involved with an organization that’s fighting for something you believe in.
SELF-DESTRUCTIVE? For some, life as an HIV rookie is one long party, fueled by drugs, alcohol or sex. The worst has happened—why not just push it to the limit and die young and pretty? The problem with this strategy is that you probably won't die (at least not from HIV, anyway). Instead you'll come out at the other end drowning in debt, looking 10 years older, with more STDs than you can shake a stick at, and possibly the burden of knowing you have infected others. Don’t isolate yourself; get support as quickly as possible. If you have an addictive personality, now is the time to check out a 12-step group. An HIV diagnosis may be the alarm you need to sort out your life.
DEPRESSED? Can’t think straight—or get out of bed? Everyone gets depressed sometimes, and it can serve a useful purpose by slowing down the pace of our lives while we recover from a major blow. But, boy, does depression outstay its welcome! It’s important for an HIVer to tend to his or her mental, as well as, physical health. A positive outlook can make all the difference in your physical outcome. Check with a local AIDS service organization to find HIV-friendly therapists, psychologists or psychiatrists—or at the very least, a support group. Help’s available; you don’t need to make this journey alone.
“I felt kinda stupid because it was my fault ultimately.” —Andre Cruz, San Antonio, TX, Diagnosed: 2004
ASHAMED? Shame is not uncommon for rookies, especially now that we're all supposed to “know better.” Whatever your experience with the stigma of being HIV positive, it’s hard not to take it to heart. If you’re beating yourself up, try these thoughts on for size: * HIV is not a judgment of your value as a human being. It hits men and women, straight and gay, adult and child, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and atheist. It doesn’t care whether you live below the poverty level or have a billion in the bank. * Who’s perfect? Even HIV educators get HIV. * Most of us got HIV when we were looking for love or a good time. That’s human. Forgiving yourself is an important step forward. It takes time. Be patient.
ANXIOUS? We're not talking everyday stuff like worrying about bills. Many new HIVers experience hair-trigger nerves and a general state of jumpiness and dread, sometimes accompanied by nightmares, flashbacks or panic attacks. This is pretty likely if you were infected under traumatic circumstances such as rape or an abusive relationship. But it can also build up while you’re still in denial about your diagnosis. Meds like antidepressants can sometimes help with the physical symptoms, but some sort of psychotherapy may also be a solution.
You might benefit as well from joining POZ Mentor, POZ.com’s online peer support service, which can match you up with someone who may have suffered through some of the same feelings—and made it out the other end.