September is Suicide Awareness/Prevention Month. It is the time where we come together to talk about and bring awareness to suicide and talk about ways that we are able to help prevent it. I thought that this would be a good time to talk about some of the struggles I faced when I was newly diagnosed with HIV and how I contemplated suicide and even attempted it on multiple occasions.
We all think about death, probably more than we even want to admit to ourselves. We really think about our own death and when we are faced with a diagnosis such as HIV we are forced to think about it even more. I recently wrote an article for a veteran's group that I am a member of about suicide in the veteran community ("Suicide Amongst the Ranks") but in that article I left out my personal experiences and based it on facts and statistics.
Like many, I sunk into a very deep state of depression after I received the news that I had tested positive for HIV. This was the lowest point in my life and a time that I am not proud of. I think for many of us, we do think about suicide at one point or another when we receive our diagnosis or are faced with another traumatic event in our lives that makes us feel hopeless. In many cases, the first thing that comes to mind after we find out is "am I going to die" or even worse "I should just kill myself." We often think that our lives are over and that there is no longer any point in living. This is all just a false belief that we experience in our time of grief and shock. The fact is that there is still a reason to live, and that suicide does not resolve any issue we are experiencing, it just passes the pain we are feeling on to others that we care about.
I struggled for many months after I found out and even ended up having to be hospitalized for a three month period because I had lost all will to live and just wanted the pain that I could not escape from to end. At the time I became self destructive. I was drinking myself into a stupor everyday, and I had started to cut myself because the pain I felt when cutting replaced for a brief amount of time the pain that I was feeling about my diagnoses. The cutting was like an addictive drug, it took more and more to get me that "fix" that I was searching for. I still carry those scars with me as reminder of a time and place that I never want to get to again. I was in a downward spiral and saw no ending in sight except the one that would be the result of my own death. I had alienated myself from all my friends and family and would sit in my barracks room alone each day drinking and watching Rent over and over and over. At the time I was my own worst enemy. Even when I had to be hospitalized, I never tried to contact my family or any of my friends and let them know what as going on. I continued to suffer alone and beat myself up both mentally and physically about everything that I was going through. I had bottled up my emotions for so long because I felt that by showing them or asking for help was a sign of weakness and above all I was a Marine, and we are not supposed to show weakness. This was my own stupidity because asking for help is never a sign of weakness. In my own opinion now, it is a sign of strength.
I did receive help with my issues and I learned copping skills that I still use to this day when I feel myself sinking back into one of my depressive states. I had to learn to live again, learn that life was not over, and learn that I am still the same person I always was, if not stronger than I was before. I will not lie and say that I am "cured" of those thoughts but it is a battle I am determined to win. I will say however that those trials have made me a stronger person and gave me the desire to not only want to live, but to live each day to its fullest. I also don't believe in living by the theory "live each day as if it is your last" because I know it is not going to be my last and I am going to be around for a long time to come.
You see, just because you are diagnosed with HIV, your life is not over. You can still have dreams, love, hope and any damn thing you want. While HIV means you will have to make a few changes in your life, it does not mean that you don't have a life worth living. I went through my grief and then I think the Marine in me decided that enough was enough. It was time to stop with the self destructive behavior and time to start pushing forward. I now look at my diagnosis as a "war" in which I am determined to fight my damnedest to win. We all have our own way of coping with the cards we are dealt and what works for me may not work for others. I just seem to have the mentality that there is nothing I am not able to overcome if I just put my mind to it and keep fighting.
It is this mentality that has lead me to adopt my own motto: "Be Strong, Fight On and Semper Fi." So, when you are faced with the road ahead, remember that HIV is not the end, it is just another path you are now traveling down.