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post tramatic stress disorder
Jan 9, 2003

I have recently been diagnosed with HIV and have compleely become a different people. I feel tired, depressed, shocked, I feel like everything in my life is a mess and I can't grasp a hold of it. Is it possible for that I may be going through post tramatic stress?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Being diagnosed with any life threatening illness usually precipitates a psychological or emotional crisis for the individual who finds out this information. There are many reasons for this. First of all most of us live with an illusion of our own immortality. Learning that we have HIV or any other potentially fatal illness wrenches this illusion away.

The enormity of what faces a person in terms of having to become educated about the illness and assume a level of responsibility for his or her health and health care can often be overwhelming. With a disease like HIV, it is crucial that you find a balance between not taking on the identity of a "sick" person or person who is dying and not being in denial about how attentive to one's health and possible medication regimen you must be. Additionally you must begn to learn how to actively create a healing partnership with your health care providers if you are going to learn to integrate HIV into your life, but not allow it to take over your life.

All of the things you describe experiencing are normal. How you deal with this emotional distress right now will create the foundation for how you manage all of the numerous emotional, psychological and physical challenges that lie ahead. What you describe sounds more like a normal crisis state with profound anxiety and depression rather than post traumatic stress disorder. It is quite possible that within two to three months you will begin to feel better.

The good news is that there is a vast body of literature and research that confirms how to best deal with what you are going through. First of all support is crucial. To get this support call the local AIDS service organization and join a support group for newly diagnosed people. This has been literally life saving for tens of thousands of people. You also need to begin to share your health status with friends and family so that the people who love you can be there for you and know what is going on. If none of this is enough then you can begin counseling with a mental health professional who is an expert in working with people who have HIV. If your symptoms do not decrease in a few weeks then it may be appropriate for you to be prescribed psychiatric medication, but that is something for you and a mental health professional to decide in consultation with one another.

Please take the steps that I have outlined in order for you to begin to regain your emotional equilibrium.

Best of luck,

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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