Facing the Demons and the Pain
BY Thomas Fransen
August 18 2006 12:00 AM ET
Since I started writing this column, I feel as though I have been straddling two roles. On one hand'the most important'I write as a fellow HIVer sharing his experiences. On the other hand, I write as a psychotherapist and counselor. While this makes for an interesting combination, sometimes the two conflict, since my professional training cautions me against revealing too much of myself to my clients or readers. However, I realize that being cautious in this area serves little purpose, since I am writing as someone struggling with the same issues as his readers.
And so this month I ask of myself what I ask of my clients'to be present to what I'm feeling and honest about what's truly here. I ask myself to be honest about my pain, which mostly is a lingering depression that has been with me since 14. While I have taken steps to address it'through medication, therapy, reaching out to others, expanding my support network, avoiding substances'it remains an unwelcome companion. I also use other tools'counting my blessings, eating right, exercising, having fun with friends. I try to find perspective, which I understand to mean placing my situation in context so that I can move forward'still feel my feelings without being drowned by them. And so I tell myself that while my depression has been bad, there are others who have worse depression. While I have issues, many others have more issues.
And then there's my HIV, which certainly worsens depression and is an issue all to itself. While I have accepted it, the reality of being HIV-positive hovers near me every day as I take my medication and panic when I miss doses, when I'm interested in dating someone and I disclose my status, when I feel fatigue and worry about its cause, when I become a hypochondriac.
About four weeks ago I spoke with my doctor, convinced that my numbers had fallen into the toilet because of my weighty fatigue and poor concentration. It was dementia and full-blown AIDS for sure, I felt. However, after the results returned my doctor left me a very nice message saying that my fatigue was related to the fact that I was working too much. My numbers were fine. In fact, they had improved since the previous visit. As a joke, one of my best friends bought me a thermometer as a gift to address my hypochondriasis. He's had HIV since 1984. He most definitely has perspective.
Perspective is essential for happy living, but it's elusive. How can I count blessings without discrediting my pain? How do I own my sadness without falling into self-pity? I have learned through trial and error and a lot of heartache that the only consistent way to find perspective is with others'whether speaking, listening, being vulnerable, or all of the above. Isolation is poison. And for those of us living with HIV and its wretched stigma, isolation also means destruction.