The HIV test came back positive – now what?
In honor of National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, David Duran shares tips and advice for gay men that test positive for HIV.
In my case, it happened when I was 29 years old. The test came back positive, and I had a rush of feelings but mostly felt instantly alone. I didn’t know what to do or what steps to take, and it took me a little longer than most to find myself after I’d been diagnosed. I started off doing the right thing by seeing a doctor and starting treatment, but it took years for me to really move forward from my self-afflicted depression and sadness because I mostly refused to come to terms with my status. But I’ve been living with HIV for almost 8 years now, and in that time I’ve talked to hundreds—maybe thousands—of other gay men living with HIV.
If you’ve recently tested positive, here’s my advice for what to do, and how to cope, with a life-changing—but not life destroying—diagnosis.
Take A Moment
This is the hard part. Immediately after you hear the news of your positive test result, your thoughts might start running a million miles a minute. Your brain will begin to process this new information, and it may do so in many different ways. Be prepared, and allow yourself to process the information however you need to.
Before you have a panic attack, remember to breathe and focus on what you need at that moment in time. If your immediate reaction is to shed tears, then by all means, let them out. If you feel really angry, find a pillow to scream in. And if you feel like laughing, then laugh. Whatever you need to do, do it, but don’t dwell on this moment, as it should only be a moment, or two. It’s easy to hold onto that initial feeling and run with it, but resist the urge and move directly to the next step.
Make Some Calls And Find Your Support
It’s time to figure out who your support system is now, and who might be your ongoing support in the future. Some guys may need just one person, while others may need a village. You are the only one that knows what you need.
This initial person or people you talk to should be people that can provide you emotional support, people you can trust with your true feelings, and people who are willing to learn with you. Whoever it is or they are, make sure that they aren’t going to be more of an emotional drain on you. Find your rock(s), and rely on them to give the support you need.
Time To Learn Everything
As cliché as it may sound, knowledge really is power. I can tell you that the moment you start learning about HIV and how to live with it, the more relief you will feel. There’s a lot of information out there, so be sure to stick to the highest quality and most trusted resources. At last initially, avoid all the personal blogs and sites that might have contradictory or damaging information. At this point, you just need to know the facts and the truths about what you are going to be dealing with. Don’t overload, either. Take it in one step at a time and take the time to understand what you are reading and absorbing.
Your doctor is going to be your first resource of information, but don’t solely rely on what your care provider tells you—especially when it comes to treatment. It’s OK to ask questions and bring up any concerns that you may have. If you read about a new medication and your doctor doesn’t mention it, ask about it.
This is your body, your life, and your treatment plan, so be involved as you can and want to be.
Connect With Others Who Can Relate
I didn’t reach out to other people living with HIV right away, but at times I wish I’d had the guts to meet other people sooner.
Connecting with other gay men who are recently diagnosed or gay men who have been living with HIV is a life-changing experience. At least for me, it was the first time someone was actually able to acknowledge exactly how I was feeling. I was able to hear so many different stories, and was able to relate in so many ways.
I found the best way to find places to meet other HIV-positive people was by turning to a local gay men’s health center. If you don’t know where to find a local LGBT center in your area, turn to the internet. They don’t have to be support groups, as there are a variety of meetings for recently diagnosed gay men as well as gay men living with HIV.
Take Another Moment
You’ve started getting the info you need about how to live well with HIV and have established a support system for yourself. Now, it’s time to make sure you are focusing on you and what you need. Living with HIV can be a mental breakdown in the making if you don’t carefully and methodically take care of yourself. Make sure you’re comfortable with yourself and your diagnosis before moving onto the next step, which might be one of the hardest…
Time To Think About Dating & Disclosure
Only you will know when it’s time for you to begin dating. I’m not going to lie, disclosure in general kinda sucks. But, there are ways to make it easier.
Disclosure is easiest when you are 100% confident in your HIV knowledge, who you are, and where you are in your treatment. People you disclose to may already know that it is virtually impossible for someone living with HIV who has an undetectable viral load to transmit HIV to anyone else. But, it’s OK to tell people about things like this, too.
You will find your methods and ways to disclose and they will evolve. And one day, it will become second nature and really won’t be as traumatizing as it was the first or second or 100th time you had to do it. Just try and remember to give everyone a chance to learn and change. Even if someone has an initial negative reaction doesn’t mean they always will.
Live Your Life
We are lucky to be living in 2016. HIV isn’t what it was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. The medications are advanced, the research continues to bring us breakthroughs, and it seems like we are making progress toward an HIV cure. But even if we never see an HIV cure in our lifetime, most of us living with HIV who are on therapy will be relatively healthy and have normal lifespans. So long as we adhere to our treatment plans and take care of our minds and bodies, I can take solace in knowing that everything is going to be OK…and you should too.
David is a nationally recognized HIV advocate and writer who contributes to HIV focused publications including POZ, Plus, Positively Aware and The Body. Additionally, he focuses on travel writing and spends approximately 90% of each month traveling the world on different assignments. To read more of his HIV writing, visit his online portfolio, or follow him on Twitter.