Survival Tips for the Recently Diagnosed with HIV

Saturday 26 May 07

Earlier this month a friend contacted me to say he had just been diagnosed with hiv. He felt high anxiety to say the least, at the thought of what would happen to him and unable to think clearly of what next steps to take. We discussed the questions and options that were coming up and I thought "hey, I have been hiv for 11 years and now I can use my experience to relieve somebody else’s anguish! I might as well share the little I know with as many people who benefit from hearing/reading it!" So, here it is. My own, 100% biased take on how to cope with a recent hiv diagnosis.

  1. You’re better off knowing. Sure, ignorance is bliss (even today that crosses my mind) but knowledge really is power. The fact that you know you are hiv is not a death sentence. If you were feeling unwell for a while, now you know what was going on and now you can act to stay fit and healthy.
  2. You will be fine for many years. I made a mistake when I was diagnosed; I asked my doctor how long I had left to live. He hesitated and said ten years. It’s been eleven years now and not only am I still alive, I have not even been sick at all. I used to get endless throat complaints and now they are gone. Look after yourself the way you are meant to.
  3. Your life will not change dramatically. Mine has not unless I allowed myself to think that hiv was a big deal. When I got that new job, I was afraid that disclosing my ’status’ to the occupational physician would get me into trouble. Instead, I was able to tell him that I was no differently able than before and that as a computer engineer I didn’t put anyone at risk.
  4. Should you tell your friends? Your family? There is no rule but this one: if it is going to help you to tell them, then do. I know my sister would collapse if she knew so I will not tell her unless I need her to know. I would not like to feel that it was in the back of her mind when we are together, so it suits me better this way. After all I don’t tell her every time I have a cold sore/ headache/ bloated stomach – so why would she need to know about what goes on in my blood?
  5. Should you tell anyone at all? Yes, sexual partners should know but let’s face it, it is a bit of a conversation stopper. Choose carefully when you decide to tell them. Protect them. They will be worried about what that means for them; so make sure you understand what hiv means for you in the first place. Also if you are in a contract with someone else (business associate, mortgage or insurance) you may have a legal or contractual obligation to tell them. Give yourself time to consider in which case it is necessary to appropriate.
  6. Your friends will be supportive. The ones I chose to tell were wonderful and told me things I could never imagine they would. It made me realised how blessed I was to have them and how important I was in their lives. Very few drifted apart over the years, in fact just one did.

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