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What Comes After an HIV Diagnosis

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I was diagnosed with HIV in 2007, but contracted the virus in 2003 from a former partner. Before we began seeing one another, I had most recently tested negative for HIV. He had been tested within the previous six months, and had also tested negative, while assuring me he always used protection. In the coming couple of months there were several times we didn’t use protection (I know it takes two to tango) and eventually ended up breaking things off: reasons unrelated to unsafe sex, but due to him having slept with others while still seeing me.

Shortly after I decided to get tested. Given his unknown HIV status, and our inconsistent condom use, I knew I was at a legitimate and realistic risk for HIV. It was a reality I accepted and made an appointment.

Going into the clinic I knew my risk and it didn’t really come as a shock, but it was a “wow, I can’t believe it. Really? I knew I was at risk but…” surprise for me. Anyone can get tested for HIV knowing there is that possibility of a positive result. Currently, with advances in the treatment for HIV, it has become a chronic and manageable condition, which can put a person’s mind at ease going in for testing.

Yet, when you hear the words “it’s positive” and “your positive result has been confirmed,” it’s obviously life-changing. I remember telling myself over and over after I received my positive results “I don’t want to go through this. I don’t want to live with this illness, let alone having to go through lifelong treatment for HIV.” That being said, getting to know others in my support group for those living with HIV brought me into focus and was a springboard to know there is a great life ahead for me and to live it.

When I was diagnosed with HIV I had the typical thoughts anyone would have, with some differences obviously. I asked myself will I develop AIDS? How long will I live? Will the treatment continue to get better? What about dating? Who do I tell? How severe will side effects from the medications be? How do I tell others I have HIV?

Yet, one of the most significant and negatively impactful thoughts I experienced at the time of my diagnosis, which also really put me into an emotional and mental rollercoaster of fear, anxiety, regret, sadness, depression and anger, was the still ongoing stigma of this chronic condition.

I was now diagnosed with the “dirty disease.” I had the “dirty little secret kept in the medicine cabinet.” I tested positive for the disease everyone talked and warned about, the disease that would toss you out of social circles as an outcast. Yet, there I was with the news I had HIV. That being said, many of my feelings and thoughts were directed towards my value and dignity as a human being.

Looking back now after 18 years of living with HIV, I say to myself what a wonderful human being I am, what a good person I am, with dignity and self-worth. Our chronic illnesses — physical, mental or emotional — make our light shine through every shade of darkness.

Photo by whereslugo on Unsplash

Originally published: September 17, 2021
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