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Just Diagnosed with HIVComing to Terms with Diagnosis

Coming to Terms with Diagnosis

Emotional distress

When we first receive news that we are living with HIV, many of us will go through a vast range of emotions from shock, denial, anger, disbelief, depression and grief. Many questions will whirl around our heads – how? where? when? why? who?

These are normal responses to any traumatic news.

Many of us may find it takes time to come to terms with our new situation. Everyone’s response is different, and we will each deal with this new information in our own time. Taking enough time to absorb everything is very important. With good support, we can take control and get our lives back on track.

The first step is beginning to come to terms with our diagnosis

The first step in coming through the initial weeks of our diagnosis is to understand that the wide range of feelings and emotions we are experiencing are completely normal. Putting our feelings away in a box and ignoring them will not help us move forward. Remember, it is good to cry if you feel like it. Some of us may want information at this stage. Others may not. There is no right way forward.

However it is also very important to remember:

  • HIV is no longer a death sentence. With access to treatment care and support, we can still live long and fulfilling lives.
  • It is better to know about our HIV status because once we know we are living with HIV we can take steps to manage our health and give ourselves the best chance to prevent HIV from progressing.

Life expectancy

HIV is not a death sentence. Current evidence on life expectancy is extremely positive.[i] Projections about life expectancy can often be very hard for us to understand.

Getting help and support

We should try not to let fear of being judged cause us to isolate ourselves and stop talking to others. We are not alone with HIV!

For those of us who find it impossible to talk to family and friends in the first few weeks after receiving our diagnosis, HIV organisations are able to offer help and advice.

Joining a local support group and talking about our feelings in a safe space with other women living with HIV may help to reduce our fears and concerns. For those of us who live in rural areas it may be useful to join web forums such as My HIVPOZNHS.

Other women living with HIV will be our best source of support

We may find it helps to talk to as many other women living with HIV as we can, to listen to their stories and hear the strategies they have adopted to live well with HIV. We should try not to find fault or pass judgement, and remember that we are all HIV positive, regardless of the individual circumstances around our diagnosis.

A large part of coming to terms with our diagnosis is accepting our status. This may take some time. But we all need to accept that HIV is only a virus: it doesn’t change who we really are.

A strong support network of friends, family and other people living with HIV can help us begin to cope with our new situation. But none of us should feel forced by anyone to tell everyone immediately. It is our decision whom we tell and when – no one else’s.

Also it is very important that we get the optimal healthcare team in place to support our medical care. This should be a team we trust, consisting of people who listen to us and who offer us support in the treatment decisions we will need to make throughout the rest of our lives.

By working in partnership with our healthcare team, with their support and the support of other HIV positive women, we can feel empowered to be responsible and in control of our own health.

[i] May M, Gompels M, Delpech V et al. Impact of late diagnosis and treatment on life expectancy in people with HIV-1: UK Collaborative HIV Cohort (UK CHIC) Study. British Medical Journal 2011; 343:d6016. Available at http://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d6016 Accessed March 2014

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Peer support by, with and for women living with HIV creates an enabling environment for us to feel empowered and take control of our lives again after an HIV diagnosis.

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Last modified on: Jun 23 2014687UK13NP05586-10