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Grieving?
Feb 11, 2003

Three weeks ago I was tested, and my doctor confirmed for me that I have HIV. However, I have had a definite sense that I have been infected since May (I know the precise moment, in fact). I began seroconverting two weeks (to the day) following the encounter I am sure infected me.

My question is this: since learning of my status, I've experienced very little emotionally. I have not cried; I am not preoccupied by it; I do not feel devastated. My friends seem more traumatized than I do. Eerily, in a way, I feel peaceful and even somewhat "relieved" by the news. Are these feelings "normal"? Shouldn't I be grieving?

I know that medications give us a lot of hope (and time). My worry is that I'm so emotionally disconnected from myself that I'm not feeling things I "should be" feeling. I was raised in a family in which we almost encouraged each other to keep bad news or anything that might "upset the apple cart" to ourselves. A therapist told me once that he thought I had emotionally "shut down" because of this. I always thought that if I acquired HIV, I would be devastated. I am not. I DO have a fierce determination now to take care of myself more than ever, but this an an intellectual response to the news of my HIV, not really and emotional one.

Could another reason for my absence of emotional response to this be that I have felt for several months (since i sero-converted) that I am positive, so I just conditioned my mind to already accept it before my doctor confirmed it? I'm just confused about my reaction to all this. Does it sound unhealthy to you? Is there some process I need to be working through. By the way, my viral load is 1300; I do not know what my t-cells are at this point. I have yet to see my infectious diseases doctor. Thank you for your response.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

It is not normal to have absolutley no emotional responses to a major life event like being diagnosed with a potentially life threatening illness. But more importantly it is not healthy to the individual on a long term basis not to have access to his or her feelings, especially about very significant changes in his or her life. Grief is only one of a host of possible emotional reactions that people may experience after learning about being infected with HIV, even if they have assumed that they were infected.

Some people like you do find themselves relieved, largely reporting that now they no longer have to worry about becoming infected. People may also experience any combination of the following: anger, fear, depression, anxiety, sadness, and possibly other things as well. But most people go into some kind of shock.

Having those feelings does not mean that a person does not begin to take very good care of him or her self. I think that it would be a good idea to at least join a support group where you will be in contact with other people living with HIV so you can work on getting in touch with whatever your feelings are about this. If that does not help, then consulting with a therapist may also be useful to you.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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