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Angry, Confused, and Scared

Mar 23, 2003

Dear Experts: I am a 31 year old who has been infected with HIV for nearly ten years. My ex-boyfriend purposely infected me and he has been incarcerated since '94. I have shown little signs, rashes, and some mental signs. I am a professional getting ready to work on my Master's in Forensic Psychology. None of my friends know that I am positive. I am feeling so depressed right now and have had suicidal ideations. What should I do? I do not want to die, but I am so tired of the mental state that I am living in. I am not on meds or anything. I went to the psychiatrist before and he diagnosed me Borderline Personality Disorder- I have not made any attempts nor been hospitalized but I am really suffering mentally, right now. Please help me if you can

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Of course you are depressed, angry and hurt by having been intentionally infected. Part of the problem sounds like you are ashamed. There is no reason to be ashamed of now being infected or how you became HIV+. I urge you to begin to tell the people who are close to you about your condition so you can feel like less of a pariah and get the support of the people you loved. There is an old truism, that states "We are only as sick as our secrets."

The psychiatrist who you saw does not sound very compassionate or understanding of the complexity of your situation. Receiving a diagnosis is not very helpful as opposed to finding a climate and a relationship with a therapist with whom you can feel comfortable, trusting and cared aobut. You need to locate a mental health professional who you feel a coonnection with so that you two can begin to work together in order for you to move beyond your current mental and emotional state. Part of good professional mental health treatment might be going on the appropriate psychotropic medication to help reduce the symptoms you are having.

Call the nearest AIDS service organization near to where you live and ask them for a referral to a good therapist. You need to see someone who is expert in working with both gay men and people living with HIV. I also suggest that you join a support group for people who are living with HIV. This can help you become less isolated about having the virus.

Have you a relationship with a primary care physician who is also an expert in treating HIV? By an expert I mean someone who treats a large number of people with HIV or AIDS so that he or she is up to date on all the latest trends in HIV medical care. I am not suggesting that you need to be on antiviral therapy, but am suggesting that you need to be working with an HIV specialist who can advise you about what the best course of action is.

Please find a good therapist and begin to do the work necessary for you to integrate and adapt to having HIV and how to continue to work towards achieving all of your life goals despite having to learn how to live with HIV.

Best of luck.

Michael Shernoff, MSW

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