An HIV Diagnosis While in College Brings Upheaval, Questions and Contemplation
Part of the Series Day One With HIV
Life was good. I had a loving relationship, and I was months away from graduating from my dream college. I was even accepted into an honors program and was busy writing a thesis paper. I was excelling in my studies and had found out I was also accepted to grad school. Then, in January, as I was in the middle of the winter quarter, I began having difficulty breathing and didn't feel well. It got to the point that one of my professors told me I looked frighteningly pale.
I decided to go to see a doctor. I was told I had pneumonia and was given medication. Unfortunately, the medicine didn't work and I got worse. I then ended up in the ER. I was immediately admitted, and spent three days in the hospital. While there, a doctor asked if she could test me for HIV since the pneumonia I had was common for HIV-infected people. I was so shocked, and couldn't believe what was happening. HIV was the furthest thing from my mind as to what could've been wrong with me.
Day one occurred the night I was released from the hospital. A doctor told me I tested positive. As the doctor spoke, I lost my hearing and vision as I went into intense shock.
After that, I was told to get retested to be sure. I did so at my university's health clinic. I tested positive again. I was told I had had PCP [Pneumocystis pneumonia] and my HIV viral load was nearing 200,000 and my CD4 count was dangerously low. I could not wrap my head around what I was being told, and the nurse (who was brought to tears by my despair) sent me to see a mental health specialist because I told her I didn't want to live with this. That day was the worst day of my life thus far.
While a handful of friends know what has happened to me, most do not. I feel such shame and self-hatred, and I fear being open about this because of the stigma attached to HIV. It is so hard not expressing the grief I feel and nobody except possibly others who live with HIV can understand the feelings I am battling. Somehow, I finished the quarter with high grades even though I had fallen behind in all of my coursework and was severely depressed.
Since then, I have been trying desperately to finish this last quarter at school, and graduate with my head held high. My boyfriend (now ex-boyfriend) also just decided it would be best if we broke up. Within three months, I got seriously sick, I found out I have HIV, my favorite professor passed away from cancer, I lost my boyfriend, and I had suicidal thoughts nearly every day. Unfortunately, I haven't met many people with HIV, nor have I been able to find a support group, or even a case manager. Adding to all of this positive news, I just found out that the medication I have been taking for HIV is not working.
Needless to say, my life is a mess and the future that was once so clear seems so blurred and uncertain. I am simply looking to my graduation day, and trying to overcome the depression I have been fighting since my day one.
I am left wondering: Will I be okay? Will my health recover? Will I survive everything I am dealing with? Lastly, will I spend my life alone? I fear, because of my diagnosis, I will never meet a man who will love me.
Although I do not have concrete answers to those questions, I have to believe everything is going to be okay. I am getting through this with help from my mental health specialist, my friends who know about my diagnosis, my parents, and even a few of my professors. Knowing that I have grad school next year helps me get through this as well. It is something to look forward to. More than anything, I hope my story reaches another person who may go through something very similar.
Being a student, finding out you have HIV and not having campus support makes you feel alone, even though you are not. Please reach out. Reach out to me if you need to. When I can get over myself and all of my current despair, I want to be there for someone like you who will go through your day one and the aftermath. Although I often feel alone, we are not.
Want to share your own "Day One With HIV" story of finding out your diagnosis? Write out your story (1,000 words or fewer, please!), or film a YouTube video, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the coming months, we'll be posting readers' "Day One" stories here in our HIV/AIDS Resource Center for the Newly Diagnosed. Read other stories in this series.