NEWLY DIAGNOSED WITH HIV By Chris Wade, HIV Care Connect Project Coordinator, Illinois Public Health Association, HIV Care Connect

 

Finding out you have HIV can be a shock. It’s likely you will have a lot of questions and you may be dealing with difficult feelings.

Remember that having HIV doesn’t have to stop you living a full and healthy life. With the right treatment and care, you can expect to live just as long as someone who doesn’t have HIV.

“I went for a rapid test and never expected the answer to be that I was positive. I fell to the floor, cried like I was in a soap opera, and asked “who’s going to raise my children?” The tester was so amazing, so helpful in talking me down from this reaction, telling me he’d known people living with HIV for 25 years and more. I latched on to those words like a life vest those first few months.” – Anonymous

Give yourself time

Everyone reacts differently when they find out they have HIV, but common feelings include shock, anger, fear or sadness. You may have questions about how you got the virus, and questions about what will happen to you. All of these emotions and questions are natural. Learning more about HIV will help to answer your questions. You don’t have to manage on your own – having someone to talk to about your feelings can help. As well as healthcare staff, there are lots of HIV organizations, peer support groups and online forums that might provide you with support at this time.

Talking to a trusted friend or family member can also help you process your feelings. Read about sharing your HIV-positive diagnosis to get more information if you’re thinking about who you want to tell or how to tell them. You may have good days and bad days, but give yourself time to get used to the news of your diagnosis and to learn about what it means for you.

“I don’t really remember much about the day or the month or two following. I do remember sitting in my doctor’s office as she told me I was HIV positive. I remember looking at the painting on the wall. I became instantly numb and everything became a blur.” – Anonymous

Being honest with your healthcare professional

Be honest with your healthcare professional, they are not there to judge you, but help you make decisions so that they can plan and manage your care appropriately. It’s important to share information such as your sexuality as well as your alcohol and drug use history, as these factors can put you at risk of developing drug resistance and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

If you have any underlying health conditions or STIs, it’s important to get treated for these too. Sometimes different treatments interact with each other, so your healthcare professional needs to know what other drugs you might be taking.

Do I need to start treatment?

Current treatment for HIV is not a cure, but it can keep HIV under control (viral suppression) and this keeps your immune system strong. The latest guidelines recommend that all people who are diagnosed with HIV should start treatment right away.

Once you start taking treatment, you will need to take it every day for life, so it’s important that you feel ready to start. Take your time to feel prepared and find out more about starting HIV treatment.

What happens now?

If you were tested in a HIV clinic, then you may be able to have your care in the same clinic. If you were tested somewhere else, they should make a referral to a specialist HIV clinic for you. You can visit www.hivcareconnect.com to find a list of HIV specialty care providers in Illinois.

Your clinic may also offer you counselling, or will be able to put you in touch with a peer support group. It can help to have someone to talk to in confidence about what’s happening and how you are feeling.

You are not alone. Take your time to process how you’re feeling. Although finding out you have HIV is a big piece of news to come to terms with, remember that many people are living long, healthy and fulfilled lives with HIV.

Chris Wade can be reached at CWade@ipha.com or (309) 453-9042 mobile

For information about HIV Care in IL visit: www.hivcareconnect.com

For information about PrEP resources: www.prep4illinois.com

HIV Care Connect is a program of the Illinois Public Health Association and is funded by the Illinois Department of Public Health