I remember the day I found out I was HIV positive. The world suddenly closed in on me. For a while, nothing else mattered. I didn't tell many people, just my best friend at that time and my sister. When my friend immediately planned a flight across the country for the following month, I nodded my head with tears running down my face and most likely thanked her, but at the same time was probably thinking to myself that she was doing the right thing by coming to see me.
From day one I developed a selfish attitude regarding my diagnosis. It was all about me and how I was going to live for the rest of my life knowing that I had HIV. Not for a moment did I think about how those with whom I shared the news were feeling or how it would affect them. Instead, I expected them to fall in line and be available to me for my every need, especially when I wanted to unleash my "woe is me" conversations by phone. Now, when I think about it, those calls probably traumatized anyone on the receiving end.
I spent the first year of my life after my HIV diagnosis in a dark place. I continued my selfishness by not taking into consideration how my diagnosis affected those who loved me. My actions in coping with my diagnosis were also hurting them, stressing them out and most likely leaving them in tears once they hung up the phone with me after listening to me sob. From what I can remember, I spent that year drinking heavily and falling into a deep depression. I didn't care much about anyone or anything and just expected everyone to console me and accept that I needed this time to deal with my diagnosis, in whatever way I deemed necessary.
Was that fair to them? Most definitely not, but that was my personal struggle, and luckily I was surrounded by friends and family who loved me enough to put up with my actions. After I lost my job due to a lack of motivation and depression, I expected everyone to just accept that and help me out financially. I mean, I was HIV positive. It wasn't my fault I was broke and sad.
Thankfully, I was able to pull myself out of the dark place I was in and turn my life completely around. Throughout everything, my support system continued to grow, though the newer members had no idea of what the senior members had truly been through. Currently, my need for a support team is limited, but still appreciated. There's just not that much going on anymore that requires me needing a shoulder to lean on with regards to my HIV status. But it wasn't until recently that I took a step back to think about how my HIV status affected and still affects those amazing people in my life who have been there from day one, as well as those who have come into my life following my diagnosis.
It couldn't have been easy for them either. I never once asked them how they felt or if I could do anything to console them. Instead, I took advantage of their kindness and made it all about me. Never once did I think about how that initial phone call telling my confidants about my news must have made them feel. They immediately went into rescue mode and put their feelings aside to take care of me, but I can only wonder who they relied on to support them during that time.
When something devastating in your life happens, it's very easy to take shelter under the wings of your support system, and in the case of an HIV-positive diagnosis, rightfully so. This type of news isn't necessarily the easiest news to accept and everyone will handle it in his or her unique way. There's nothing wrong with taking some time to focus solely on what you are feeling inside, but once that period expires, it's important to acknowledge how others in your life might be feeling as well.
I think back to my friend and my sister and I can't imagine how scared they must have been, each not personally knowing as much about HIV as they do now. On top of taking care of me and my needs, they were most likely frantically learning everything about the disease on their own, and doing their best not to let me know that they too were feeling sad. HIV doesn't just affect you, it affects everyone around you. It may be different from how it affects you, but those feelings should never be disregarded or forgotten. So take a moment to thank your support team, and understand that we are all in this together.