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PTSD and long-term survival - how do we cope?
Dec 4, 2011

I'd thought further any danger had ended when AIDS was somewhat brought under control in the 1990s. I was already a long-term HIV+ survivor, had lost scores and scores of dear ones (in fact every single Gay man I knew or had known to that point) so figured what's more to lose? The article you wrote [http://www.thebody.com/content/64830/under-the-radar-mental-health-and-hiv-risk.html, or see link below] article indicates that I'm still affected strongly by at least two of the issues you describe, and I am realizing I'm still not free from others that cause pain, confusion, horrendous discomfort in other areas.

Yes, I was subjected to sexual abuse until the age of about 14. Yes, I've determined that, being HIV+, what more do I have to lose by indulging in "raw" sexual encounters with other poz men? But since a relative of mine recently was put on disability after one difficult but singular experience at work, I've studied, followed up on observations of acquaintances, and realize that I, too, suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after becoming HIV+ before the epidemic had even been discovered (1978) and spending nearly 20 yrs expecting death any week, attending 3-4 "memorial services" on weekends, watching society flow past undisturbed while my friends were dying in droves (at least 30 while I was in attendance at their bedside or in physical contact with their bodies as they took leave) and never once having family or straight friends ask how I was handling it, how I was doing, what they could do to help me buck up. I'm a wreck. My M.D. says I could live into my 80s or more with current treatments, but under these conditions I'm not sure I wish to. Nightmares, depression, isolation. I'm in L.A., have been on SSDI for yrs, have no car and less than $200 savings. No way could I seek therapy. What to do? Yes, barebacking isn't the answer but it's the only pleasure that distracts me from the godawful memories of that time, or from the rage I feel toward all who Fate chose to let it pass by without their notice or regard. Any suggestions? Please?

Response from Dr. Fawcett

Thank you for writing. There are many of us who experienced our own holocaust (I don't use the world lightly) during the 1980s and beyond and still have a deep well of unexpressed grief, made worse in that it has been largely unrecognized or nearly forgotten. In that article I wrote about the role of trauma, both as a precursor to HIV/AIDS and as a consequence of diagnosis. Trauma and post traumatic stress disorder don't resolve on their own. There are effective treatments such as psychotherapy (including types of hypnotherapy and EMDR) and support groups. Left untreated, trauma can lead to efforts to numb the painful feelings, including addictions and compulsive behaviors.

You don't have to remain stuck in painful memories or rage. I encourage you to contact a local HIV service agency (AIDS Project Los Angeles, which has a very comprehensive variety of services, is the largest near you). They may be able to connect you with affordable or sliding scale treatment options that could really help.

Good luck.

-David



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