Why We Can't Let Depression Make Us Stop Taking Our Meds

A full 22 percent of people living with HIV have major depression. I do. Do you?

BY Todd Heywood

May 15 2014 11:55 AM ET UPDATED: May 15 2014 11:55 AM ET

I'd like to say it is a giant secret I have been harboring. But that would be a lie. Anyone who has spent any length of time with me is aware that I have struggled with major depression for decades. Even before I was diagnosed with HIV. 

But it is more than that. I am not alone in this struggle. Twenty-two percent of us living with HIV will be diagnosed with major depression. And depression is not the only mental health crisis linked to HIV. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be found in as many as 64 percent of us (depending on which study you review and when it was done, etc.).There is even some clinical indication that many of us will develop PTSD within six months of a diagnosis with the trauma event that triggers the PTSD being identified as the diagnosis of HIV. 

So much for HIV being "just like diabetes," I suppose. 

So in the past month, I have struggled with the depression. And for the first time in the nearly four years I have been taking ARVs, I actually found myself staring at my Intelence and Truvada with disdain. I have been downing these buggers for years, hoping each time I visit my infectious disease doctor, I will finally hear my CD4 count has busted that 500 or 700 count threshold. Alas, that's not the case. I have been unable to break the 420 barrier in my counts. But my viral load remains undetectable. 

That's hard. I know this struggling, flacid count contributes to my ongoing health issues. I know it puts me at higher risk for certain cancers (among them anal cancer). I know it has contributed to my upper respiratory infections over the years. 

So, is it any wonder I am angry at the meds and my body? Probably not. 

But I have not let that disappointment keep me from taking my meds. Adherence, we know, is key to staying healthy. So I keep popping those pills. Day in, day out. I am frustrated by it, but I do it. 

Why? Because if I feel this much like shit now, adhering to the meds and keeping my virus at undetectable; I imagine how horrendous I would feel if I let go and stopped taking the drugs that control my virus. 

So, sound off: Do you stuggle with taking your meds because of depression? How do you overcome the depression to take the medications? 

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