Isolation is a strong word, but I see a lot of it among my clients. One client, Julie, has a demanding job and an active social life, and she talks about how her anti-HIV meds are working so well that beingHIV-positive is 'not a big deal.' Another client, David, is unemployed and spends his time watching television or surfing the Net. Lately, he goes for days without talking to anyone.
While Julie and David are quite different from each other, they have both found themselves in situations that are straining their coping abilities. Julie has started to date someone seriously and is not sure how to self-disclose. David is experiencing side effects from his medications and is embarrassed about his appearance.
Don't think you need support?
With advances in anti-HIV medications, my clients'both newly diagnosed and the long-term survivors'often insist that because they are able to manage their HIV as a chronic illness, they want their serostatus to be a nonissue in their lives. Some admit to even going to the extreme of avoiding contact with anyone else who is HIV-positive.
This worked for both Julie and David, at least until life threw them a curveball that strained their ability to cope. They both came to realize, though, that their current support systems weren't up to the challenge.
Who's watching your back?
No matter how well you're doing, there are times when you may need to talk to someone with whom you can be totally open about what's going on in your life'not only the crises or the daily challenges but also the daily triumphs and other high points. Find someone who can listen without judging you, who can help you to get some perspective without trying to tell you what to do. And being a support for someone else can be not only rewarding but empowering as you recognize your own coping skills.
Don't wait until you face a crisis.
If you aren't connected with people either within or outside of the HIV community who can talk to you about living with the virus, I encourage you to get started by calling a local AIDS service or other social service organization (even try typing 'HIV support' into your Internet search engine). You'll discover national and local support groups, online discussion boards, telephone support, and counselors and therapists. But what's most important is that you'll find ways'and other people'to make connections through and for both fun and serious events that are sponsored or offered by such agencies.
So dial a number. Double-click. Speak up. And reach out.
McClain is a licensed counselor in New York City with a specialty in coping with chronic and life-threatening health conditions. His books include The Complete Idiot's Guide to Breaking Bad Habits and Empowering Your Life With Joy, and he is a frequent contributor to health-related publications.