This month’s WWMD is a bit heart-wrenching. One of my readers who has never commented confided in me recently. I have his permission to share his question anonymously.
Q: I just found out I am HIV-positive. I’m so scared and I feel like my life is over. I feel lost and confused. What should I do?
A: First, let go of the guilt, blame, and shame over your conversion. Beating yourself up over a mistake isn’t the answer. I often hear from so many gay men who can’t let go of the shame and guilt of sero-converting. Well, guess what? It just means you are human. We all make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes cost more than we ever expected or thought. There are a variety of support groups online and off that you can join to help in this arena, especially if you find yourself struggling to adjust. You will probably find them very inviting and supportive.
Second, your life is not over. HIV isn’t the death sentence it used to be. While people are still dying across the globe, in Western culture HIV is much more of a chronic illness now. With proper medication/management, you can easily live 20, 30, 40+ years. See your doc, get a genome test done. If your doc doesn’t want to do one, find another doc. This will determine which meds are best for you. More importantly, this will also prevent you from going on a poorly constructed cocktail common term for a group of medications taken together to combat/treat HIV and burning thru whole classes of medications.
Educate yourself about HIV in general. Knowledge is power and you want to be well-armed, so to speak, when making decisions about your long-term health. You’d be surprised how many people know very little or are completely ignorant of how HIV is transmitted, etc. There are two main types of HIV often referred to as HIV-1 and HIV-2 along with a variety of ‘sub-types’. Chances are high you probably have a subtype of HIV-1. I could go on and on but that would quickly bore you to sleep.
Along the same line of thought, take care of yourself physically. Drugs, drinking, smoking, etc are all things you should cut out or keep to a minimum in your life. Your diet is equally important. You don’t have to give up all the foods you love however, some consideration must be givin to trying to balance out your diet. Medication or not, your body is fighting a constant war. Taking care of yourself ensures it has the ammo it needs to carry on the fight. Abusing/neglecting yourself suppresses your immune systems ability to fight. If you don’t workout, I suggest you start. You don’t have to live in the gym but working out helps to strengthen your immune system. Sports or other fun outdoor activities can be just as beneficial.
Navigating the social, emotional, and psychological impact is much more complicated. You are going to encounter ignorance, fear, distrust, and even outright hostility at times. Human beings can be callas and even cruel when faced with the idea of their own mortality. I’m not sure I’m really qualified to give you advice here. Everyone is different and their path is often based as much on their personal beliefs and feelings as much as facts. Reach out to other poz guys and listen to their stories. Not only is it empowering, it also firmly moves you out of the “I’m a victim” mentality.
The psychological impact will probably be more of a constant. Some guys struggle with their internal shame and never truly get over it. Others embrace their status and see it as liberating since they no longer have to worry. Others still see it as just a nuisance that has to be managed and sometimes rears its ugly head. Who am I to say which answer or approach is best. You will have to discover for yourself what works for you.
Know this my friend(s). No matter what, you are loved and this does not make you any less worthy or deserving of love, respect, etc. Your right to be and exist is unchallenged. While navigating the hardships ahead may not always be easy, accept yourself (and your faults) and do not let anyone try to make you feel any different.
All my best to you.