Feelings after an HIV diagnosis
Just like other chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, an HIV diagnosis changes the way you may consider life. Knowing that from now you will live with a new condition, with lifelong treatment, it is something difficult to assimilate.
The news that you got HIV leaves a sense of loss. The first and most significant is the loss of health, but you can also feel the fear of losing your family, your friends or your partner, if you have one, and if you don’t, you may think that you have lost the possibility of establishing a love relationship in the future.
You may also experience feelings such as:
• Confusion (Is the result correct? What should I do now?),
• Fear (Am I going to die soon?)
• Rage (Why is this happening to me? I was stupid not to have protected myself!)
• Distress (I won’t be able to handle this)
• Sadness (My life as I knew it is over, nothing will ever be the same)
The power of words
It seems incredible, but for many people it is difficult to put a name to each emotion or feeling. They just know that they “feel bad,” but they don’t go into the details that much.
Specifically naming what you feel helps you to “untangle” your thoughts and lighten the weight of what weighs you down. Added to this is the fact that society tends to reject negative feelings.
With the wave of “positive vibes” that floods on social networks and advertising, those people who are experiencing pain, sadness or fear tend to hide it because what is well seen is “being strong”, as explained in the Manual for people with HIV/AIDS published by the Government of the Basque Country (Spain).
In this way, showing fear or pain is uncomfortable not only for others, but also for yourself, since it is seen as a sign of weakness. But it is very important for you to know that you do not have to go through this alone or alone. Even if you don’t believe it right now, there are people willing to listen to you and accompany you in a process of change as important as starting to live with HIV.
Perhaps it will be a family member, perhaps a close friend, it will probably be your doctor or even someone you will meet through a support group at your new health service.
It is also true that you should choose carefully who you share this path with, as not all people will understand how you feel or be willing to give you the support you need. If in the first or second option you do not find what you are looking for, keep trying, surely you will reach that person who will understand.
Pay attention to red lights
Mental health should be a very important aspect in the care of people with HIV, but unfortunately it is still not covered, even when disorders that are perfectly defined by science and that have a specific treatment can be identified.
As the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) acknowledges, an HIV diagnosis can be a source of great stress. This, on the one hand, could lead to mental health problems, and on the other, it could worsen some that you already have.
For example, if a person was already experiencing an anxiety disorder and in that time learns that he or she is living with HIV, the anxiety may become more frequent or more intense.
But one of the main health problems that afflicts those with HIV is depression. It is important to remember that it is not just about “being sad”, but that it is a health problem that can make the person unable to carry out their daily activities.
In order to differentiate depression from a feeling of sadness, notice if you feel:
• Persistent sadness (is constant, lasts a long time and does not go away)
• Void sensation
• Feeling of helplessness
• Loss of appetite
• Lack of interest in what you used to like
You should know that your mental health is important and that if you feel that you need help from a professional, rather than from a friend or another person with HIV, you can ask your health team to refer to a specialist, who can be a psychiatrist or a psycologist.
And remember that if you haven’t started your HIV treatment yet or you suspended it and want to resume it, at AHF Latin America and the Caribbean we can help you. We are present in 11 countries in the region, locate the office closest to you or write to us on Whatsapp.