Personal Perspective: Depression After 15 Years
I've been HIV positive for 15 years. I'm 46 years old with two teenage children and am originally from Ecuador. I could say that 1990 was a year marked by happiness and sadness because I married, became pregnant, and my husband became ill and was diagnosed with AIDS. I was also diagnosed with HIV after I gave birth to my son. In 1991 my husband passed away, leaving me with an illness of which I still didn't know much. He also left a widow with a son who was almost a year old and a daughter who was three years old.
I didn't allow myself to mourn his death; I was too busy taking care of my children. And, hard to believe, I was also taking care of the woman who possibly infected my husband -- or vice versa -- but that is not important to me any more. She told me herself after my husband's death, during a moment when we found ourselves alone. I couldn't have rancor, things had already happened and the deck of cards had been dealt for both of us. We would support each other until she decided to return to Ecuador, where she passed on.
But after many years living with "my virus" I began feeling sad and depressed. Sometimes I'm able to smile, but those times are few and far between. I feel it is mainly because of my husband but ask myself, "Why is it that after so many years my husband's death is now hitting me so hard?" Partly it's because I had been taking care of my children and was kept busy, but now they are older and when I feel alone I begin to think about him and things that sadden me -- it seems that having more time for myself has not been a positive situation for me.
Since I've been feeling sad, it's hard for me to complete my daily chores and I can't find motivation to do what I need to do. I even had a hard time going to my medical appointments and had to push myself to do it. I felt my depression wasn't that severe -- I had heard of people who really let themselves go and who had suicidal thoughts -- but I knew I needed help. So I sought help out early. I spoke to my doctor, who recommended that I see a therapist, and I was diagnosed with depression.
Now I'm taking antidepressants along with my HIV medications. I still don't know if the antidepressants are working since I haven't been taking them for too long, but I think I find myself smiling more. I'm not sure if I'll ever feel the way I used to feel, but there are days that I feel better than others. I attend my support groups, I continue to visit my therapist, and I learn about the virus and my disease. Now I understand that my life is not over. I am able to speak to peers in my support group and to a mental health professional and this helps me to feel better than I used to before I had anyone to speak to. Since I've been feeling better I go out to dance with my boyfriend (yes, I have a boyfriend now). To be able to dance, to keep myself active and to spend time with him -- all this keeps me from thinking about sad things.
I also know that in the past being a mother and taking care of my children took much of my time, and didn't allow me to think about the way I was feeling. Now that my children have grown it hurts me that they don't need me as much, but I also understand that it is a natural process -- kids grow up, they become independent and form their own families. I think this change has allowed me to think too much about friends who have passed on, and about my husband's death. The extra time alone has led me to think about my life but also to be able to deal with painful situations from the past that had not been resolved.
In June, it will be 15 years since my husband died. I'll have a mass said for him. I still think about him, and it's unbelievable that after so many years I still become saddened by something that happened such a long time ago, but that is how depression is. I take things day by day. I loved him very much and I don't have any rancor, but remember him with love. I understand that I need to leave aside those painful memories and forgive. As for me, I continue to take my medications, attend my groups, and fill my time up with as many new activities as I can.
English translation by Luis Scaccabarozzi.
This article was provided by AIDS Community Research Initiative of America. It is a part of the publication ACRIA Update. Visit ACRIA's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.