Healthy, HIV+ & living in a
Jun 16, 1998
I was diagnosed HIV+ 1 year ago. Since then I have been
on a 3 drug treatment (AZT, 3TC, & Crixivan). The drugs have been miraculous and I haven't felt this good for a long time. I also have never had an AIDS related illness or condition. Yet I feel that I'm stuck in the middle, between HIV- people and HIV+ people who have been sick or are coping with sickness. I've joined groups in my area but I get the feeling that the people who are dealing with day to day illnesses are in some way resentful of me (Maybe I'm being paraniod?!) I've also told some friends who are HIV- and also feel shunned. Have you come across this experience from other HIV+ people? It seems that with the new medications coming out, its separating HIV+ people into different groups, those who have been living with HIV and its associated illnesses for a long time, and those who have just been diagosed, have gone on the new drugs and haven't been ill at all. What are your thoughts on this?
Response from Mr. Shernoff
You raise one of the most interesting and astute points in the current epidemic. Eric Rofes, a long time gay and HIV community activist has just written a book entitled Dry Bones Breath, in which he discusses his assessment (with which I totally agree) that the crisis period of the AIDS epidemic is and has been over for about the past few years. This has only been accelerated by the introduction and availability of Protease Inhibitor therapy. Rofes is not for a moment insisting that the epidemic is over or approaching being over. He is just positing that the gay men's communities have integrated the reality of the AIDS epidemic into our lives.
Yes, in my clinical practice I have seen other people who have felt similarly to you. There is a definite parallel between how people who have regained their health and are resuming their lives feel apart from people who are not benefitting from the new combination treatments, and how many HIV negative men before Walt Odets started to articulate that uninfected gay men had complex emotional needs that needed to be addressed.
People who are benefitting from the combination therapy definitely have different issues than individuals who are still acutely ill or who are simply not experiencing improved health. This is why some AIDS service organizations have begun special groups just for people who are doing well on combination therapy. These groups become places where people talk about regaining their hope for a long and almost normal life, and all the accompanying feelings. It is understandable that in an AIDS support group the people who are not doing well would not have the desire to listen to how well other people are doing. I have had patients who report feeling ashamed to talk about their feelings of despair in their AIDS groups since they are the only one or only ne of very few people in the group not doing well on the new drugs. These folks often report feeling like a failure. I have to remind them that they are not the failure, but it is the drugs that have failed them.
So just as HIV negative men have different psychological and emotional issues and needs that need to be addressed in a forum with other HIV negative men, groups need to be available for men who are not doing well on the new drugs and for those who are responding favorably. I do not see this as any sort of segregation, but just an acceptance of the reality that different people have different needs, all of which need a place to be comfortably talked about.
Michael Shernoff, MSW
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