Is my attitude healthy?

Question

I'd like to say that I think you do a great job and seem to get right to the point when a question is asked.

I found out that I was HIV+ in December '99 after a bout of community acquired pneumonia. Needless to say it came as something of a shock. It wasn't particularly difficult for me to trace my time of infection back to around 1985-86. The person I was involved with then had died of AIDS, but we had fallen out of touch long before I found out about it, and I have have had two monogamous relationships since then, both of whom are negative. I took a leave of absence from work to focus on myself and sort through what seemed at the time to be the most horrible thing that could have happened, I got over my pneumonia and pulled every string I could to get the best HIV specialist in town and had my bloodwork done. The results were less than thrilling with a viral load of 250,000 and a cd4 count of 22. It's probably not too uncommon for people to find out they are ill, HIV+, and have advanced HIV disease at the same time. I was prepared mentally for whatever the results were and had done my homework, so I told my doctor what cocktail I'd like to start with (combivir/sustiva). I also went immediately to my local AIDS service organization to help me with sorting out the whole mess. My case worker hooked me up with a therapist and I attended a couple of sessions, but I stopped going after that. I just didn't see the point. I was back at work full time, my cd4 count was rising (although I still haven't quite broke 200 yet)and had an undetectable vl.

It's been well over a year since this all came out into the open. My partner of 10 years and I have managed to integrate this into our daily lives (bloodwork, pills, eating right, etc). I plan for my future and don't concern myself with the fact that I may at any time get sick and die. Once in blue moon I feel a little sorry for myself and beat myself up a bit over letting myself make such a stupid mistake, but more often than not, I remind myself that I was 19 years old when I got infected and that I am not the first person who made a stupid mistake when I was younger.

The question I have is based on my reading through the various experiences of others and the questions they pose to you and others. To be blunt, a lot of the time people are falling apart emotionally and I guess for a couple of months, I was depressed and overwhelmed myself with the whole experience of finding out I have AIDS. Over and over the mantra and advice I read is: "see a therapist", "join a support group", etc. I am not going to pretend I know psychology at all, but I got through it without really needing any of those things. I have a good relationship and a great life, and I refuse to let HIV take away any more time from my life than is absolutely necessary. But I have to admit I sometimes wonder if I am reacting in an unhealthy manner to this challenge. I know you can't really make a firm statement without knowing more about me, but does it sound like I am doing anything wrong? I don't think I am, but when I read some the experiences that others have had coping, I have to question why I have been able to move on with my life so easily? Does my attitude seem healthy? Is it a bad thing to look at this for exactly what it is and just focus on staying well and having a good life?

What are your thoughts? Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading your responses, even if mine isn't one that you reply to.

Answer

Each person has to deal with the crises that occur in his or her life in a manner that is adaptive and authentic for that person. Therapy and support groups are both tools that alot of people use. But they are not for everyone. Personally I have never been in an HIV support group, but have been in therapy for many years for things that had nothing to do with HIV. Many, but not all people require alot of external support to cope with a life threatening conditon. There is a large body of research that shows that individuals who have more support do better with their illness. But from what you describe you have all the support you feel you need. I think it is very healthy not to let HIV be the sole or even a major defining aspect of who you are and how you live your life.

If things are working for you, then your way of coping without therapy or a support group seems fine. If you ever get overwhyelmed or you or your partner feel that you are not coping in a healthy or adaptive manner than the issue of therapy and or a support group can always be revisited.

Best of luck for continuing to deal with this in such an integrated manner.

Michael Shernoff, MSW