What’s Positive About Being Positive? 5 Things You Need to Know About HIV

Chelsea Crow, Female Trauma Therapist

Chelsea Crow, Female Trauma Therapist

December 1 marks World AIDS Day, an issue that can oftentimes be overlooked especially when the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is now going full force.  Around 37 million people are living with HIV worldwide with over one million in the US, and some do not even know they have it.  This is a disease we, as a society, have stigmatized and tried to overlook although its prevalence remains.  Research shows a strong link between trauma and a positive status, with a higher rate of traumatic experiences in people living with HIV, both before and post diagnosis, than the general public.  Those who are suffering from both effects of trauma and a positive status have a harder time managing HIV and are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors which may greatly decrease a favorable prognosis.  Therefore it is important to address any underlying issues and traumatic events in conjunction with medical treatment.  The diagnosis of HIV may even require the help of a close friend or mental health professional to efficiently process through what it all means.  So this brings us to the question of, what’s positive about being positive?

1.      You can live a long, healthy life.

HIV is no longer a death sentence, and HIV medications are very effective in managing the disease.  With medication adherence and management, those diagnosed tend to live fruitful lives without the illness having a large impact on their day-to-day living.  HIV is manageable, and your life is valuable.

2.      You are more than your illness.

HIV does not define you.  Imagine if everyone was labeled as their illnesses or various weaknesses, no one would know their real value.  Regardless of how you contracted HIV, it does not have the power to tell you who you are.  Only you can decide where your identity lies.  Maybe you are the same awesome person you were before your diagnosis, who everyone knew and loved, or maybe you were unhappy with the life you were previously living and the diagnosis has radically changed you and motivated you to become an even better version of yourself.  Whatever your case, you are not your illness.  You are much, much more than that. 

3.      Even though you did not choose your status, you have a choice for your future.

If you or someone you love has recently been diagnosed with HIV, please know there is help available.  There are no wrong feelings to have.  Like any major medical diagnosis, many feelings are expected to emerge and oftentimes the stages of grief will surface.  This is normal, and there is no right or wrong way to handle it.  There is hope for today and hope for the future.  If trauma or other mental health issues are present in your life, it is important to seek help in order to ensure your best prognosis for the future.  With Charlie Sheen recently disclosing his status, many have blamed it on his “lifestyle.”  Though he has engaged in high-risk behaviors, one must ask what led him into that lifestyle in the first place?  Was it some unspoken trauma he experienced, pressures from the business, or feelings of inadequacy?  We don’t know, but just as those who are HIV positive are not defined by their status, they also should not be defined by their past choices or mistakes.  There is hope, and emotional healing for your future is possible

4.      There are people who will accept and love you for you.

Not everyone is a safe person or can be trusted.  It is important to recognize that people might handle your disclosure differently, but you should be loved and accepted regardless of your status.  If you do not feel safe or comfortable disclosing to anyone in your life currently, therapy is a great place to process through your feelings and talk to someone who will not judge or stigmatize you, and will keep your status completely confidential.  You are not alone, and support is available to you today.

5.      You are a hero.

Many people living with HIV are plagued with suicidal thoughts and ideations.  Making the choice to continue to live despite your status, deciding to seek out help to resolve past hurts, regrets, and trauma, and finding healing for your future are all choices of heroic measure.  Your life is valuable, and you are worth it.  Your life has a purpose.  Your resilience might even motivate you in the future to join the cause and fight the stigma, to help others who have lost hope with their diagnosis, and to share your story as a source of encouragement and inspiration.  You are an overcomer who is capable of even more than you know, and the world needs you.