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Receiving an HIV diagnosis has a deep emotional impact
We all react differently to an HIV positive diagnosis, and the prospect of living the rest of our life with HIV can be pretty scary. It is an experience which can bring crisis, not just for us as the person with HIV, but also for our family and loved ones. It is a very hard truth to accept and learn to live with, and many of us experience different emotions and reactions, such as shock, anger, denial, depression, loneliness, and feelings of loss, uncertainty, grief and sadness. For many of us, acceptance can take a long time.
At this difficult time in our lives, it is vital to remember that these complex feelings arenormal and to be expected. It is important to give ourselves time to grieve and express them.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
We may feel very upset and sad for quite a long time after receiving a diagnosis. If these feelings carry on, we may want to seek help, since they are linked to mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. Again, this is normal and we can be supported to get better.
For those of us who may have experienced depression (people with depression may not always identify themselves as having mental health problems) or other problems with mental health before our diagnosis, the traumatic news of a positive HIV test can exacerbate them.
Everybody encounters varying degrees of pressure, stress, disappointment and times of bereavement in their life. Most find ways to cope with these problems but a significant number of us need help to re-balance our lives.
If you feel that your mental health is poor and may be suffering from depression, it is crucial to find support. Mental health issues are far more widely recognised and understood these days, and help is available.
Support to find the strength within
With emotional support, we can accept our situation, find ways of dealing with it and see hope for the future. The will to live is a force within all of us to fight for survival when our lives are threatened. Yet this force is stronger in some people than in others. Medical professionals specialising in cancer clearly affirm that this expression has meaning, and that it can vastly improve the quality of life[i] and may even prolong the life.
The power of hope
Of all the ingredients in the will to live, hope is the most vital. Hope is the emotional and mental state that motivates us to keep on living, to accomplish things and succeed. When we lack hope we may give up on life and lose the will to live. Without hope, there is little to live for. But with hope, we can maintain a positive attitude, strengthen our determination, sharpen our coping skills, and more freely give and receive love and support.
Receiving an HIV positive diagnosis may be a blow to our self-esteem
HIV transmission is often linked with sex. It is not uncommon for us to feel uncomfortable sharing or having to discuss private details such as our sex life or risks that we or our partners may have taken with other people. We may feel that we have been foolish to put our trust in someone we thought we believed in. Some of us feel that nobody will love us ever again because of our diagnosis. We should not be too hard on ourselves; we are not different people now that we are living with HIV. We are just wiser about the sadness and difficulties faced by many in the world. Many people are too quick to judge others’ misfortunes – until misfortune visits them.
(Re)building our self-esteem is a process we should work on every day
Our self-esteem is often based on how we feel about ourselves, our physical appearance, our intimate relationships and our sociability. Our self-esteem is also influenced by political and economic factors. HIV is just a bug in our bodies. It does not define us. People live through it and move on, over time. We can too with our HIV.
[i] Cancer Supportive Sponsorship Care. Attitude! When Winning is Everything: The Will to Live. Available athttp://www.cancersupportivecare.com/attitude.html. Accessed April 2011.
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