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20 years old, positive, and unsure about myself
Sep 29, 2003

I am 20 years old. I became positive in July 2003 (about 2 months ago) and had an extremely serious seroconversion illness (including cryptosporidiosis)which kept me in the hospital for 7 days, and home for 6 more days after that, and it took me over a month to feel like I had some sense of physical normalcy again. I am currently taking Combivir and Sustiva. I have been doing alright mentally, just trying to go about my life normally, doing what I have always done. I am an extremely active, busy person living in NYC. I sometimes do not feel well, and of course have the appetite and fatigue side effects of my meds. I have been completely honest with people who ask me about my status. I have been finding it difficult to not tell people at work, but they should not need to know, and I am still concerned about the stigma some people still have in their minds for one reason or another. It does not change how I do my job, so I am telling only people I trust. My parents, however, knew I was seriously ill and in the hospital, but I explained it by telling them it was just some kind of unknown virus accompanied by a parasite, and I am doing fine now. They seemed to believe me. I am open with my parents about mostly everything, but I have difficulty telling them about this mostly because my mother is currently dealing with chemotherapy for breast cancer and I feel that she needs all the mental strength and hope she can get for her own health. I feel that it would be too upsetting to her to hear about me, and she may lose faith in her own survival. I was thinking of possibly waiting for at least a year, so that I can say to her that I lived my life normally for an entire year, my numbers are good, and my outlook is good, but when I do tell her, I do not want her to be upset that I did not want to tell her right when it happened, that I shut her out of such a big thing in my life. I am stuck in the middle. What do you think?? I am lucky to have many friends who are positive, or who I can talk to about being positive, but I am unsure how to deal with this. I am also becoming weary of thinking about my health constantly. I rarely feel upset, only disappointed, because I feel like I can never be completely intimate with a negative man now. Lately though, I have short periods of feeling very lonely and down --- for now, I am smart enough and together enough to accept what is happening and look at it as something interesting I can observe in life, and just something that will now be a part of me. But, I am afraid that since I am so young, my mentality and feelings will only become more tiresome and difficult to deal with, and one day I will just snap. I know I have not asked a specific question here, but I really need to know what you think of all of this. I hope you can help. I do not currently have the finances to see a professional psychotherapist, so I am depending on resources like this for some sort of assistance. I appreciate it greatly. Thank you.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Living in NYC there are places you can go for very low cost therapy with people who are skilled in working with people with HIV. Two such resources are the social services department at the NYC gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community services center on West 13 St., and the other is the mental health services at The Callen Lorde Community Health PRoject on West 19th Street. You can also call GMHC and have some free one on one counseling as well as access to support groups, and referrals to low fee therapists who are HIV experts. You definitely could benefit from professional counseling, and I urge you to call and explore these options. They will not cost you any or very much money.

There is no right time to tell people we love about having HIV. I understand and respect your quandry regarding wanting to tell your mother and yet not wanting to add to her stress. You just have to continue to weigh your feelings and proceed with what seems wisest for you.

It is also normal for a person who has recently seroconverted to be preoccupied with his health. This may certainly receed as you develop a variety of strategies for living with HIV and realize that you are not dying from AIDS. Many people like myself have been living with the virus for decades and have rich, full lives that include loving and very intimate relationships, as well as satisfying and interesting careers. Some people with HIV are in loving relationships with other POZ men and some are partnered with uninfected men. Of course there are some who remian single. You describe taking the right course by telling all prospective boyfriends or sex partners early on.

Like with all other things in life, how each of us copes with the adversity of having a potentialy life threatening illness and do not allow it to be the sole defining aspect of how we see ourselves is an ever unfolding journey with numerous challenges. You are indeed young enough to discover and create a satisfying, meaningful, fun and loved filled life even though you now have the additional stress of HIV.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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