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Recently HIV+/History of Depression
Feb 18, 2002

Dr.

On February 7, 2002 I tested positive for HIV. I thought I had been very safe - and perhaps I was, but the news literally sent me into a state of shock. In the ensuing days my emotions swung wildly from blithe acceptance, to panic, to paranoia, to extreme desperation. In addition to the HIV news I have had a number of other traditional life-stressors occur since mid-January of this year. I am barely functional and am considering asking my employer for a temporary disability leave of absence.

Here's my concern; I have a history of severe and suicidal depression. Even before the news I was on a program of Welbutrin and Buspar. Neither seem to have had any significant effect. I am continuing to consult my psychiatrist and becoming more insistent that we find a treatment that allows me to get back to "normal"

I'm afraid, though, that the depression I've had for well over 20 years (I'm in my early 30s) is being compounded extremely by this news and how I'm trying to deal with it. Intellectually, I know all the answers: put myself first, focus on healthy behavior, avoid unnecessary stress, relax, eat well, quit smoking, etc. The problem is I am obsessed with this issue and I cannot function normally at work. If I lose my job I lose my insurance. If I take a temporary disability LOA I will lose my home and car. I'm incredibly desperate.

I'm not sure there's a question here; but I hope you can address some of these issues. I know I'm not alone, I know there are continuing to be great strides in HIV/AIDS treatment (cracking the human genome seems to me a very encouraging sign), and I know that in time I will probably feel much better. But in the here and now I am a wreck and careening out of control. I live minute to minute because days are too long to manage.

Thanks for any advice you can offer.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

It is obvious that just consulting with your psychiatrist and taking meds is not working. Are you in a regular (either once or twice a week) psychotherapy? If not then you really need to add talk therapy to your taking antidepressant medication.

You describe having a serious preexisting emotional condition that has been greatly exacerbated by learning that you are HIV positive. In addition to ongoing psychotherapy I urge you to join an HIV support group as a useful strategy for coping with everything you are going through.

As I am certain you are aware of there are no easy or quick answers to fix the numerous problems that are so affecting your life. Michael Shernoff, MSW



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