I’m doing great now, but I worry my health could go south suddenly if the meds stop working. How do I stop being anxious about the future?
It’s only human to want to know, and be in control of, your future. What I encourage you to do is to take life one day at a time, which starts with taking care of yourself each and every day. Start the day focusing on something you are grateful for. Review your strengths and coping skills. Stay connected with your support system. Accept that you can only know what you know. Power up to face today, and you will be that much better prepared for the road ahead.
I don’t have very many friends. How can I build a support network?
Humans are not meant to be alone. As we get older, it’s important to have people around us, and I think it is also important for people living with HIV to have support. Are there acquaintances you could reach out to? Have you looked into local HIV support organizations? Depending on your age group, maybe a senior center, or an organization like Sage? How about Meetup.com? Maybe an adult education class? There are lots of people out there who want to make a connection. Finding them will take some effort on your part, but it’s worth it.
Some days I feel sad about my life. a lot of that is related to my HIV diagnosis. What can I do?
Feeling sad sometimes is part of being human. The first advice I would give you is to not pretend you aren’t feeling sad, nor to try to make your sadness go away. Fighting your feelings only makes them more intense as they grow and, over time, express themselves in a way that may have a negative impact on your wellness, and lead to stress. Sadness brings us back in touch with that sensitive spot we hide from others, so let yourself feel, and talk about your feelings. When you own your sadness, you also are reminded of the sadness that others experience, and how we all suffer. The result will be more patience and sensitivity to what others are dealing with — that’s compassion. Recognizing and acknowledging the sadness of life also helps you to be more aware of the joys of life, big and small.
I think I am at peace with my HIV diagnosis, but I still find myself thinking about how I let this happen. Is there a way to stop feeling so ashamed?
You are certainly not alone in feeling this way. As I always say to my clients, you can’t go into instant replay and change something that can’t be undone. Spending time wishing things were different will only keep you stuck in the past. Sit down with someone you trust — an objective friend or a trained listener — and talk about the shame you’re feeling and the guilt, anger, and fear that go along with it. Talk it out, and when you find your thoughts drifting into the shame zone, shift your attention from the rearview mirror to what’s possible in the present moment. Show yourself some compassion. Get busy living your life!
I want to fall in love, but I’m older and feel less attractive Than I used to. My HIV status makes me feel like damaged goods. Is it too late for me?
Having a chronic condition doesn’t mean you are a walking medical diagnosis. You are still a human being with a multitude of talents, interests, qualities, hopes for the future and, yes, a few interesting quirks. Look at yourself with a wide-angle lens that includes everything you bring to a relationship. Be a friend to the people you care about, be open and generous, and enjoy the love you already have in your life. Be yourself, enjoy your life, and follow your passion. You might discover that when you’re simply enjoying your life for what it is — without the agenda of having to find that one true love — you are so interesting and attractive that all kinds of opportunities to meet new friends and potential love interests, will present themselves. To paraphrase RuPaul, we have to love ourselves first.
I just lost a close friend. It’s a reminder of how many I lost during the AIDS crisis. I'm afraid I'll be going through something like that again; watching my friends die. How can I handle that?
It’s hard to lose people we care about. As we get older, loss becomes a part of life. But having gone through the AIDS crisis, as did I, I can sure understand why the loss of a friend would have a special meaning for you as you contemplate the losses ahead. One of the lessons I learned, as I suspect you did too, is that life is random. Loving and losing people is a bittersweet truth of life. Time spent with people we love is precious. So make the time. Honor your relationships with acts and words of kindness. Create beautiful memories that will be a comfort for you in the days ahead.
I feel guilty about getting to live so long when my friends who died in the AIDS crisis didn’t. Why did they die and not me?
This is a question I often talk about with my clients. The simple truth is that it’s unanswerable. Life unfolds as it unfolds. I encourage you to live your life to the fullest. Be your best self. Be a loving and supportive friend. Give back. And always be grateful. That’s how you can honor the memories of those who were not as fortunate.
I think about my life: how I have lived it, and how I survived. I feel like I should be doing something meaningful to give back. How do you have a meaningful life?
Meditate, contemplate, and pray. Take some time each day to nurture your spirit. Connect. Spend time with people you care about, who can listen, who can share the hard times and celebrate the good times. Reach out to someone who can use some support — be a listening ear, share some words of encouragement. Volunteer and share your skills and talents. Stay involved with activities that you can participate in and that give you joy. Practice being in the present moment, and not caught up in rehashing the past or worrying about the future. Be aware of the pleasures and possibilities that exist all around you.
When I got my HIV diagnosis, I grabbed onto what I could control, like my job and the gym. everything else, including my friends, took a back seat. How do I get my life back in balance?
Balance is a tough nut, especially if you think of balance as half work and half play. Think of balance as a journey, taken one baby step at a time. Be realistic. Start by scheduling time with friends, maybe once or twice a week to start. Schedule in some relaxation every day, even if it’s only a half hour in front of the TV. Find a way to do some volunteering, even once a month. Try something new to shake up your life. Maybe take an art class. Commit to having more balance. If you don’t schedule it and commit, it may not happen — so get it on your schedule.
At my age, rejection hurts more than it used to. Does it ever get easy?
First, what does “easy” mean? Easier to say those words, or easier to deal with the reactions you might get? If easy is about dealing with the reactions, you might agree that disclosure doesn’t get easier. Every time you disclose, the situation is completely different. The key is to be mentally and emotionally prepared for whatever the outcome. Be confident in your own worth as a human being, and be aware of your coping skills. Take good care of yourself, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Show yourself compassion and patience. Stay connected with your support network. Power up!