November 25, 2008
"To those who have just been diagnosed with HIV, I want to tell them that life has just begun. One does not have to become ill. This is a chronic, manageable illness and, if you take care of yourself, you can have a long and good life. In my case, I am happier today than I was before. Taking your meds is like tying your shoelaces. Life is what you make of it."
-- Raúl Roldán, diagnosed in 2006
In this booklet, we've talked about some of the most critical steps to take if you've been recently diagnosed with HIV:
But perhaps the most important step you can take is the one that makes all the other steps possible: accepting your diagnosis and planning your future as a person living with HIV.
Regardless of the reason you were infected, something as life changing as an HIV diagnosis usually gives people an unexpected chance to re-examine their lives. Many people with HIV say that their diagnosis turned out to be an opportunity to better their lives. That may sound crazy to you right now, but having to face a serious health problem can motivate you to dig deep and make changes in your life that you may have been putting off, or that you never even realized you needed to make.
Some of these changes, of course, may be staring you in the face. If you drink too much or don't exercise, it's time to change that. If you smoke, it's time to stop. Anything that adds stress, frustration or conflict -- be it a bad relationship, a soul-crushing job or trouble paying the bills -- can be a drag on your immune system, or can make it harder for you to commit to taking your HIV medications on time, every time.
"One of the reasons I thought it was important to tell my story was so that people can see that this can happen to anyone. It has no borders. It doesn't matter what color you are, it doesn't matter what socioeconomic background you come from. HIV/ AIDS impacts everyone, and everyone needs to be educated on it."
-- Evelyn Hernandez Valentino, diagnosed in 1993
Talk to your HIV specialist, a counselor or a support group about these issues, and ask yourself what you can do to improve the situation. Never underestimate the impact that emotional health can have on your physical health.
You may have to do a lot of work and seek out emotional and maybe spiritual support, before you can educate friends and family about the realities of HIV, and help them separate the facts from the myths. But know that isolation and silence are hazardous to your health.
If you don't feel comfortable going to an HIV/AIDS organization for support, the Internet may be a lifesaver. There are an assortment of Web sites where you can learn more about HIV and its treatment, stay on top of the latest HIV news and even meet people. Want to connect with any of the people featured in this booklet? All their stories and e-mail addresses are featured at www.thebody.com.
Remember it's up to you to get out there. Once you connect with others, you'll be surprised at how invaluable you'll find the emotional support.
Don't forget that there are more than one million people from all walks of life living with HIV in the United States -- many in the same position as you. Reach out for that support; it will strengthen you and challenge you to keep going, keep growing and keep living life to the fullest.
"HIV changed my life 100%: it made me more compassionate, more human, more understanding."
-- Manuel Rochin, diagnosed 2000