Fight HIV Fear with Facts
How Info Can Help You Cope with an HIV Diagnosis
By November 20 92 2
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist and educator who works primarily with individuals living with chronic medical conditions, as well as their families and caregivers. He has written extensively on health and body-mind-spirit topics, including a regular column on mental health in HIV Plus magazine. He maintains a website, JustGotDiangosed.com, with information and inspiration for newly-diagnosed patients.
One of the first reactions to an HIV diagnosis is fear of what’s to come. Medications. Paying more attention to your health. Disclosing your status. Change can be scary.
Here are some ideas to help you deal with your fear.
Ask yourself: How real is my fear?
The way the human brain works is that without real information, our mind fills in the gaps. But unfortunately, the gaps may be filled with scary thoughts and misinformation generated by your fear. In this way, you can end up working against yourself as your fear increases. Ask yourself how realistic your fear is. Is this the only possible outcome? Are there other possibilities as well? Am I looking at this as an either-or and not considering the options?
And if you aren’t sure, get some answers. To understand how real your fears are, talk to people who can give you real information. Get the facts. When you have real information, then you are in a better position to determine what your options are and take action.
Focus on the present, not the future.
Take small steps. Try to move your focus away from the “what if?” and toward the “what now?” Do you what you need to do to get through each day, focusing on your self-care, getting support, working closely with your treatment team, basically handling the small stuff, one step at a time. The day-to-day is what you do have some control over. The “what if?” will become clearer over time.
Don’t give in to the positive thinking police.
It’s okay to be scared, angry or frustrated. It’s normal to have a lot of different feelings. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should “think positive” and stop feeling how you feel. That’s just denial. Feelings are feelings, so don’t keep them inside. You will most likely find that, once you have let some of the feelings out, your mind is clearer to focus on that next step, as well as to listen and process information.
Talk with supportive people and get ideas about the best way to cope.
Learn what you can from their experiences, consider advice that makes sense for you and let them know what you’re going through. Being on the journey with people who really know how hard the road is can make a lot of difference.
Reach out for a spiritual connection.
What is your personal definition of spirituality? This may be a time to reconnect with religious or spiritual practices from your past, or to develop new ones. Having a sense of the meaning of it all, and a connection to something great than your day-to-day experiences, can be a great antidote for fear and a great addition to your tool kit.
Have a strategy in place.
As much as possible, be clear with yourself on how you want to live your life. Your strategy might take into account day-to-day self-care, communicating with your treatment team, finances, emotional and practical support, up-to-date information, spirituality, and any other aspects of your life that you want to build into your plan. Having a strategy in place for your life helps to balance the uncertainty of the future with a measure of certainty for today.
Again, one step at a time. A good strategy evolves over time, based on trial and error, experience and taking that step back to make adjustments as needed.