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I’ve Lost My Confidence Since My HIV Diagnosis

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Receiving a medical diagnosis like HIV can result in a loss of confidence, at least temporarily. And, loss of confidence can impact how you feel at your job. Here is an example:

A client I’ll call Nicole recently received her HIV diagnosis. She is adjusting just fine to her medication plan, it’s been much easier than she expected. And she’s working on developing a healthier lifestyle, with a better diet and regular exercise.

But the emotional adjustment hasn’t been such a cake walk. She was initially shocked to learn she’s HIV positive, and describes her diagnosis as “coming totally out of the blue.” She and I have been working together to help her to cope with all the emotions she is experiencing and get prepared for the road ahead. 

 “I’m afraid about the future,” she said to me. “About how this condition is going to affect me going forward in my career. I was doing well before my diagnosis, getting lots of great feedback, feeling really great about what I had accomplished, thinking about where I might go next.

“But now I can’t help feeling like I am not the person I used to be. I mean I feel great physically, no problem there. But emotionally? I have this knowledge about myself that I feel like separates me from other people. Like I am not the same as they are. What it comes down to is this: I feel guilt, I feel shame.

“And so I’m not as sure of myself as I used to be.”

Self-Confidence is a Gift, One That You Can Give to Yourself

Being recently diagnosed with a chronic condition like HIV can take a hit on your self-confidence. And what is one of the areas in life where you most want to feel, and show, how confident you are? Most likely, your job. After all, our careers are one of the ways we most value ourselves, and want to be valued by others. And let’s face it, your career is your livelihood. You’re depending on it, and your loved ones may be as well.

It’s only normal for your HIV diagnosis to impact your self-confidence at work. So if this is happening to you, you’re not alone. But there’s also something you can do:

Some acceptance is in order. I’m talking about accepting your diagnosis here. Life on life’s terms. You didn’t ask for your HIV diagnosis. But here it is. It’s normal to wish your HIV away, and to feel frustrated with the adjustments you have to make in your life to effectively live with it. However, the operative word here is live with. Chances are, it’s not going away. So don’t waste your emotional energy fighting it or trying to push it away. When you give up the fight, you free up valuable energy to take good care of yourself and to move forward in your life.

And while you’re doing all that accepting, don’t overlook the certainty of uncertainty. Living with a chronic condition like HIV means living with a daily reminder that life is random, and the future unpredictable. Use your own understanding of the life’s uncertainty to empower you to make every day count to its fullest. As well as to be open to what’s possible, what you can control. And again, not to fight what you can’t control. Acceptance contributes to peace of mind, another ingredient in self-confidence.

Keep informed. And while we’re on the topic of decisions, let’s also focus on educated decisions. Being an expert in your HIV and its treatment is a great confidence builder. When you’re educated, you have a stronger sense of what you need to be doing to take the best care of yourself, including where you need to be self-protective and where you can push yourself. Without being educated, you are making guesses about how to best manage your health at work. That’s not acting from a position of strength.

Take your own inventory. Keep your own strengths, skills, qualities front and center in your own mind. This is your foundation, you’ve earned it, and it’s always with you, regardless of your circumstances. Review it when your self-confidence feels a little, or a lot, shaky. This is especially important in the workplace, where it’s especially important to project an aura of confidence in your own ability to step up and function at your best.

Assess your resources. If you find yourself in a rough spot at work, what resources do you have to rely on for help? For starters, some suggestions include your HR department, your physician, any HIV organizations that you might be involved in. Know where you can reach out for advice or direct assistance. Be confident in the knowledge that you have a solid list of resources at hand.

Stay close to your network at work. As someone living with HIV, one of your best resources should be your network. People who you can count on to have your back, who can be there for you if you need them. While you’re at it, also be aware of the people at work whom you can also support. By the way, also stay close to your network outside of your organization, in case you find yourself needing to make a move.

Watch your self-talk. If you’re walking around in a constant dialogue with yourself about how you’re not measuring up, or acting as your own internal voice of doom, you’re going to project lack of confidence, as well as set yourself up for not performing at your best. Negative thoughts are automatic, but you don’t have to follow them down the rabbit hole. When a thought comes up that threatens your confidence, tell it to go away. Replace it with self-talk that builds you up. Start with: “I’m doing the best I can.” And go from there.

Keep an open dialogue with management. I’m not suggesting that you need to involve your boss or other leaders about your HIV. What information you share and don’t share is up to you. But I am suggesting the important of “managing up.” That means keeping them informed of what you’re up to at work, advocating for yourself to keep your contributions and your skills front and center. Not in a grandstanding way, but in support of transparency and teamwork. Also maintain an open dialogue regarding their perceptions of your performance, and what you need do to continue to build your career in your organization. This is about building your career, another big confidence booster!

Know your rights. I’m also not suggesting you announce to your company that you have an employment lawyer on speed dial. But times do arise when an employee with a chronic condition has to advocate for him/herself, and some additional muscle may be required, even if only to remind your employer of the rules. Which they may be unaware of or just not following. You might want to have a casual conversation with your HR representative, or do some Googling on state and national guidelines. Be our own advocate!

Always have a Plan B. Let’s face it. Stuff happens. And when it does, you need to be ready to make a move to protect your income, if not forward your career. Within your current organization or another one. Sit down with yourself and develop your own career strategy, also known as your own exit strategy if it should ever come to that. Take charge of your career. With confidence in your ability to chart your own course. In other words, always have your next job in mind. Again, this is just good career management! 

You, your job, and your confidence. Sure, your HIV diagnosis may take a hit on your confidence at work. Confidence begins from within. Designate yourself CEO. Of your healthcare. Of your career. Of your life.

Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and author in New York City, who specializes in working with individuals diagnosed with chronic and catastrophic medical conditions, their caregivers, and professionals. Find him online at JustGotDiagnosed.com

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