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Long Term Survival - Depression & intrusive thoughts

Oct 15, 2013

In November this year it will be 20 years since I tested HIV+. I was a young man of 23 and it was prior to the advent of ARVs. At the time I was advised I had 5-10 years left with a whole host of other advice & information. The impact of diagnosis was huge. I was estranged from my family, my relationship ended about a year later. I threw myself into working , whilst my health gradually declined and around me people died. Then in 1997 I started meds & life turned around. Or at least my health did. I continued to work hard. I entered therapy on and off for a number of years and I'm about access some more. Recently I have found myself profoundly depressed. I've had no motivation, my sleep is disturbed, I am anxious and short tempered, I find it hard take pleasure in things and I have had thoughts of running away or even suicide. I won't take my own life but it's there. I've noticed that thoughts about this anniversary enter my thoughts at random. Whilst I thought I had come to terms with my diagnosis & life with HIV , the significance of this moments leaves me upset , bereft, guilty. I'm scared of facing another 20 years of this life. I'm guilty that these thoughts even enter my mind when I'm so lucky & have so much to celebrate. I should be grateful but feel like giving up. It feels like I'm 20 years older but no wiser and have dumped right back at the beginning - eating, drinking, smoking & f***ing to get by. I feel so alone with this, I wonder is this normal or natural? Do others who've been around a long time go through similar stuff? I will get help but some insight into others experiences would really help.

Response from Dr. Fawcett

Thanks for writing. Your description of living with HIV resonates with many people who have gone through similar experiences. Many of us were told exactly the same thing and it is with irony that many struggle to begin living again now that our physical bodies are relatively stable. You have good insight which is an important tool. I support getting into therapy because as it sounds like important feelings are once again bubbling up and demanding to be identified and expressed.

I have had similar periods when issues come up that I thought I had long ago dealt with. I have slowly learned that my emotional life with HIV is not a linear process. The well-known grieving process is a disservice to many who feel they have somehow failed when they feel fear, anger, sadness, or any other emotion that "should" have been addressed long ago. I believe these feelings arise again when triggered for whatever reason. With years of experience we can approach them differently, from other angles, and with much more wisdom.

Please get a handle on the self-destructive behaviors. They only serve to numb or distance you from those inevitable feelings. Connect with others and share your experiences. You will become a healing force not only for yourself but for others as well.

Best wishes,


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