Question

I know I might seem silly and a cliche, I've just been diagnosed of HIV a week ago, just started the checkup and waiting for the results, I'm single and I live in one of those developing countries that consider this illness a shame and anti ethical, no one ever must know about my diagnosis. I'm a fit person who exercises three times almost per week and used to be a really active, cheerful, motivating person, but that person whom I used to be has vanished once I'm diagnosed, wish I can give u any details about the test results now or what the doctors would recommend for a medication, since still the process is going on, but for now I'm scared and feel so alienated and threatened. My tendency to die is getting higher as to get rid of the shame and the failure and the fear I started to feel since I've been diagnosed. I'm scared of pain, scared of dying in a year or two, is that possible that I'd die cos of this illness so soon! Am I deprived of the bless of aging healthy? Can't I have any children at all! Should I live the remaining like a nun with no sex at all. I do read a lot and I've read many positive forums, and comments, but I need you doctor, I need ur guidance, I'm all alone and can't have any physiological support where I'm as I mentioned earlier due to cultural backgrounds, Ur reply could change me, could give me hope, just knowing that u read my fears that I can't talk to loud to anyone here. Thank u in advance and for ur patience in reading this hopeless email of a person walking in a murk tunnel and can't find a beam of light.

Answer

I am so sorry to hear that you are going through such upheaval. I hate to tell you that I went through all those feelings in 1986 when I was diagnosed with HIV, there were no treatments and people thought even being in the same room as me could give them AIDS.

It is not easy to be told you have HIV. Yes, we have better treatments and stigma is still there. The fear of death, illness, rejection, shattered dreams and even dating get intensified. These feelings may make or destroy someone. Luckily, fear of death and illness start subsiding when your HIV viral load goes to undetectable with time. But the fear of rejection and isolation has not been cured by HIV medications.

I can only tell you how the day I was told I was HIV+ changed me.

It was a death sentence and it hit me as I had just immigrated to the United States in search of the American dream. It shattered all my dreams and it filled me with dread that did not leave my soul for years until medications came to the world. Many of my friends and two of my lovers died in the process. I kept it a secret to my family for 10 years and to people at work until I decided to leave my career for non-profit work. HIV did not destroy me. I was not going to allow it to take my soul. I decided I was going to use my anguish and despair to focus on survival in an era when there were funerals every week in my community. It was a war and many died. But those of us who survived are now stronger even as we carry scars from that war. We are now teaching others about resilience and overcoming adversity.

I have now lived with HIV longer than when I did not have it. 34 years of infection have made me a strong man that has grown to have compassion for myself. You will be like me. You will learn how to keep on living and to take this horrible time as a lesson to grow stronger as a person. You will not die of this illness. Your HIV will be controlled but only you can shift your mental perception of being "defective" to being a man who will develop a strong muscle to overcome adversity.

You have reached out to me via TheBody.com, one of the best platforms to get the support you need even while living in a country that stigmatizes HIV. You will start meeting others like you. The key is not to isolate yourself but instead to go outwards. Get out of your head by volunteer in non-profit organizations that are helping others. That decision saved my mental health in 1986 when I felt that the world was ending for me. When I started volunteering as a HIV counselor to give people their test results, I realized that my involvement in the community despair was the antidote to my feeling sorry for myself.

I made this video hoping I can help people like you. Please watch it and take one day at a time. Things WILL get better and your mind will grieve for a while, but you will get to other side stronger both mentally and physically.

Starting Your Journey With HIV

This podcast also goes into detail about my lessons in survival:

Adversity, Breakthrough and a Hero's Battle with Death w/Nelson Vergel

You are not alone. We are here to support you as you find others out there in your community that have gone through your experience. There are 35 million of us around the world and most of us are moving forward as we wait for a cure that may be here in our lifetime. Do not give up on your dreams or use HIV as an excuse not to reach to maximum potential. It is a challenge that can be overcome and that will not destroy who you are.

Please reach out as you have more questions. Thanks for coming to us. You are already showing a skill of survival: asking for help.

In health,

Nelson Vergel