With World Aids Day fast approaching, it seems that the word HIV is on everyone's lips. The truth is, an HIV diagnosis is life-changing, and can trigger deep held fears about belonging, mortality and health, leading to depression, anxiety, and a loss of aspiration and self-care.
With awareness, it can be a time to explore deep-rooted fears and beliefs - and be the start of a profound transformation;
- Seek information: Lack of information is usually the root of people's fears and panic. While avoiding the subject may be easier, you will feel far more grounded if you have the basic information: what your CD4 count and viral loads are, what they actually represent, what kind of services and treatments are available to you, etc. Ask your health advisor or doctor, and visit HIV Aware.
- Allow yourself to feel what you feel: A diagnosis will trigger a lot of deep emotions such as fear, sadness, anxiety, shame, guilt etc. Emotions are energy moving through the body; if you resist them, they will stay there - that's the reason why unhappiness often lasts longer than happiness. Give yourself some time and space to feel them fully, even the most uncomfortable ones; if not they may get trapped and pull you into a dark spiral of negativity.
- Observe your reaction: Being diagnosed with HIV reinforces beliefs like 'I don't belong', 'I'm dirty', or 'I'll never find a partner', which for many people were in fact already present; the diagnosis simply heightens them. Nowadays, the main barrier to living a healthy and fulfilling life is not the condition itself, but your own internalised stigma - so be prepared to observe that part of yourself. With awareness and courage you can really explore them - and let them go.
- Listen to your inner self: After a diagnosis, you may hear lots of different advice, sometimes conflicting, usually given by well-meaning friends, parents, etc. Remember to take the time to listen to your own deeper self and your intuition about what you want, and how you want to proceed. Take time to meditate, sit in nature and journal.
- Tell someone: Even if it feels like a dark secret, one of the best things you can do is to share it with someone you trust. As human beings, we often struggle to ask for help when we need it; we can be too proud or ashamed of reaching out. If you need someone to hug you, a shoulder to cry on, a reassuring chat, go and find it. You'll be surprised at how much closer you might get with those around you when share your truth - even if it is uncomfortable or painful.
- Remember that what you are going through is not forever: Be patient and give it time; take each day and each step as they come. With time, awareness and self-work, you will emerge stronger and more in touch with yourself. And possibly, after facing your very human fear of mortality, gain a deeper appreciation of yourself and your life.
- Seek support: Luckily for us, there exist plenty of support groups for recently-diagnosed individuals. While it might not be everyone's cup of tea, you may find it helpful to connect with people in the same position as you, ask any questions that you have and get the information you need.
By following these steps, you will limit the emotional pain and suffering that arises from your diagnosis, and instead start the road to accepting your HIV and living a healthy and fulfilling life.