I have a younger friend who recently found out he was HIV-positive — something that still happens with regularity. Although we’re now in the era of U=U, where medical advancements have made living with the virus as easy as living with many other chronic conditions, he soon fell into a downward spiral.
Sinking into depression, shame, and a quarter-life crisis, my friend began to reevaluate everything in his life — doing so without therapy, which is never a good idea. (He’s seeing a therapist now and is on the mend.) The whole situation reminded me of how critically important the months after diagnosis are for maintaining your mental health.
You may also be struggling with fears that HIV has changed everything for you. You may be blaming yourself. If so, please believe me when I assure you that it’s not your fault, you got this, and things get better when you allow others to help you. Had my friend tried to tackle his dark thoughts alone, I could have lost yet another friend to the epidemic.
This is the first year we’ve seen a true global scientific consensus on U=U, or undetectable equals untrasmittable. If you haven’t heard of U=U, you should know that scientists and medical researchers agree (and have tens of thousands of real world examples as part of their research data) that if your HIV viral load is low enough to be undetectable, you cannot transmit HIV to anyone.
How do you become undetectable? Get on treatment as soon as you find out you’re HIV-positive. Get on it, stay on it, take it as prescribed. For most people, that’s enough to become undetectable in a matter of weeks.
And if you have a boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband, or frequent playmate who is not living with HIV, ask them to get on PrEP, the HIV prevention treatment strategy that will prevent them from acquiring the virus from anyone who isn’t undetectable. (Please don’t shame them if they have other sexual partners besides you — their health is more important.)
There’s no need for anxiety and self-loathing about being poz. You contracted a virus from someone who may not have even known they had it. Imagine if every time you caught the flu, it sent you into a spiral of shame. This virus, even though transmission happens mainly through sexual contact, is no different. You contract it and you treat it, and when you get on treatment you can’t pass it along, so you stop the cycle. That’s something to be proud of.
HIV doesn’t have to stop you. That’s the message of people living with HIV, such as Greg Harris — the new out, gay, HIV-positive House Majority Leader of Illinois — and other politicians like mayors Sean Strub and John D’Amico; organization directors like Naina Khanna, Bré Campbell, and Bamby Salcedo; and performers like Mel England, Joseph Kibler, and Rae Lewis Thornton. The list goes on (visit HIVPlusMag.com/Amazing-HIV-Positive-People to check out more inspiring poz peeps).
Your life isn’t over, my friend. Your diagnosis is just the beginning. Make the most of it.