HIV-Positive Living With Purpose
May 16, 2014
No one raised their hand. Their faces conveyed bewilderment, as if the idea had never occurred to them. I was sitting in a circle of men living with HIV, a weekly group I lead where we delve into both the complications and skills inherent with living with the virus. I had just asked them to share what gives them purpose and passion and everyone seemed at a loss.
While such hesitation is probably a common response, it is an especially important question for anyone living with HIV. Having a sense of purpose is correlated with lower stress, better health outcomes and an improved overall sense of well-being. Maintaining a sense of personal control -- even in the face of difficult situations -- improves health outcomes.
That evening in group, after a long period of silence, someone stated that his dog gave him comfort. Another said that listening to music relieved his stress. While such resources are essential for health (I am a dog owner and music lover), they don't fully elicit the energized state of living with purpose. Most of the men in that circle reported spending the greater part of their life under the shadow of HIV. They had been preoccupied with maintaining their health -- sometimes a life and death struggle -- and any broader sense of purpose got lost in the daily struggle. Most had given up careers, few had planned financially for a long life, and many had withdrawn socially, creating loneliness and isolation. Any optimism, sense of personal efficacy or purpose that anchors most people's lives had been difficult to sustain.
A critical objective for the group is helping participants reimagine their lives with HIV. Such engagement allows individuals to focus their creativity and individuality onto activities and organizations that resonate with them, thereby breaking the isolation and powerlessness they frequently experience.
Group participation is not the only way this can be explored. Interactions with health care providers, no matter how brief, can provide a corrective model that helps patients explore possibilities. Patient styles vary: some have a somewhat passive approach to managing their lives while others need a better sense of control. I find it useful to help them identify any beliefs about themselves that limit their sense of purpose (and which are often out of conscious awareness). For example, many of the men in the group experienced an earlier era in HIV medicine when it was good advice to think "short term" and "get one's affairs in order." This often resonated with core beliefs already firmly in place such as, "I am not safe," or, "I am all alone." Over time, shame and stigma eroded their sense of efficacy and focus.
6 Tips for Living With Purpose
One or more of the following six points can be easily woven into a conversation in any setting and supports the development of personal empowerment, which, ultimately, promotes emotional and physical health.
Opportunities abound to help others reframe beliefs or reflect what may not be obvious. As health care providers, we can encourage (and sometimes gently push) our patients to reclaim what may have been lost when they were diagnosed, or what may have never been present. In either case, reclaiming personal power benefits both the individual and the community.
This article was provided by TheBodyPRO.com.
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