I remember sitting in the free clinic, nervously tapping my foot when realizing the nurse was taking longer than normal to come back with my HIV results. For seven years now, I have been living with the news delivered in that cramped little clinic room. But through sharing my experiences publicly, I have somehow navigated sex and love, marriage, and even the beginnings of building a family. Although these issues may seem massive to some, nothing has been as difficult as wrestling with the subtle but constant fear that something is wrong with my health.
When I am in my rational frame of mind, it is easy to see the statistics of a person’s health with HIV when they eat right, exercise, and stay consistent with treatment. I myself preach about the fact that an HIV-positive person’s life is now limitless and our life span is no different than it was before if we stay vigilant in managing our health. But that’s the rational side of me, and he always keeps his cool.
The emotional side of me, however inconsistent, can usually find something to freak out about and lose sleep over every three to six months. The emotional side likes to remind me that HIV can make me more at risk of developing other illnesses. Or that some people living with HIV develop drug resistance, and often don’t realize it until they start to get ill. The emotional side of me is in a state of constant vigilance.
Whether it’s a mole that looks weird or a stuffy nose that lingers or a sharp pain in my stomach, my HIV-positive emotions can go to the worst place possible. And not for nothing, a few years ago I was diagnosed with stage one melanoma (skin cancer) after a rather routine checkup at my dermatologist’s office. With HIV and cancer all before the age of 35, you would think I had a flare for the dramatic, but it was the latter diagnosis that sent me deeper into irrational panic. It’s been over two years since melanoma surgery and all has been golden since. But try telling that to the hypochondriac in me.
So, as I enter into my mid-30s, I’ve decided to force my emotional side to sit down with my rational side to make friends. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to be alarmed or hyper aware of health issues you are at risk for. My emotional side just has to stop panicking all of the time and ringing the alarm bells every time a new freckle pops up. Instead, she can politely notify my rational side so both girls can get it together without a fight.
In a way, HIV has kind of become a security system for any triggers or warning signs we all face, regardless of status. I would have been diagnosed with melanoma whether I was positive or negative, but it was because of my HIV that I started scheduling regular checkups in other areas of my health in the first place.
Let’s face it, after 30,000 miles on a body, things can start to break down. But many people without HIV may wait longer and let their concerns go unchecked, which leads to bigger complications and higher medical bills in the future. So maybe, just maybe, a little HIV-related hypochondria might end up saving my life one day. Until then, I’ll keep trying to keep the spastic doomsday freakouts to the bare minimum, at least for my poor doctor’s sake.