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What can I expect?

Aug 2, 2003

I was diagnosed positive two weeks ago. My partner got his results yesterday and he is negative. Weve been together 8 years and are blissfully happy. That is until my diagnoses. Ive seemed to slip into a funk thats somewhere between a pity party and depression. I think it comes from my frame of reference of the bad old days of HIV and cant get that out of my head.

Both my partner and your web site have been wonderful. Reading others experiences is somewhat helpful. I live in Boston so heath care is abundant and excellent so I know Im good there. I just need to know why Im being such a big baby. When Im I going to be my normal happy self again?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

It is a shock for any person to be diagnosed as HIV-positive, especially in this day and age when we know how to have avoided becoming infected. Most people go into a major funk and/or depression during the initial crisis period of adjusting to this news. How long this phase lasts greatly varies form person to person. But it really should nto last longer than two or three months at the very longest. There is no way you can or should avoid all of the confusion, sadness, anger as well as a variety of other feelings that accompany learning such news.

Living in Boston you are indeed lucky. Some of the most sophisitcated medical and mental health support services in the entire world are in your city. You can not and should not go through this without tons of emotional and social support.

You sound like you have a great and supportive partner. But he is not enough. Please call the AIDS Action Committee or Fenway Health Center to inquire about joining a support gorup for newly diagnsoed people. This will help alot. By doing this you will meet other people who are newly diagnosed and be in a nurturing and supportive environment where you can learn form each other and help each other during this tremendously difficult period in your lives. You and your partner may also want to find out about the existance of groups for couples where one or both have HIV. Joining this kind of group, in addition to your own individual HIV support group can help you learn to address the unique issues that will affect you as a mixed antibody status couple.

On top of all of that, if taking these steps do not result in your feeling better and learning how to begin to adapt to living with HIV, then the folks at AAC or The Fenway can always refer you to a mental health professional so that you can begin one-on-one counseling with an expert in working with gay men who have HIV.

There are a couple of major psychological and emotional tasks that every person living with HIV needs to do. It will be vastly easier for you to learn how you uniquely can accomplish them if you do follow the suggestions above.

The first task of any newly diagnosed person is to really understand that though having HIV is very serious and a chronic, life long health issue, it is not necessarily a fatal illness. It will always be a potentially life threatening illness that needs your constant attention, but today, living in BOSTON, there is the greatest indications that you will NOT die from AIDS. Thus you have to begin to integrate hope into your thinking and life persepctive while accepting the reality as well as all the ramifications that you are now infected.

You also have to work very hard not to allow the virus to be the only way you think of or define yourself. You are not simply your HIV. Like being gay, or whatever race or religion you are, it is an important aspect of your personhood, but not the whole thing. You are NOT your virus.

Please make those calls today to begin to invole yourself in the best kind of support that will help you learn how to live with HIV and still have a rich and interesting life.

Best of luck.

Michael Shernoff, MSW

30 years
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