Life with HIV often involves a constant stress and a continuous effort. Finding out that you are HIV positive can cause numerous and, sometimes, intense emotions. The most common emotions, as reported by HIV+ people, relate to fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger and sadness. Other people feel numb and some others experience a sense of relief having finally found out what they have.
People’s feeling about being HIV+ often change over time so the initial reaction to discovering their illness is unlikely to last forever and many gradually begin to accept the fact that they are carriers. The illness, the diagnosis, the beginning or change of the treatment, the side effects of the medicines, financial problems, the end of a relationship and problems in the workplace can become sources of stress or may cause emotional anxiety and may include a review of the feelings about living with HIV. Most people with HIV will discover that their emotional life is affected by living with the virus, no matter how successful their adaptation to the diagnosis was.
Firstly, it is perfectly understandable for people with HIV to experience emotions that are difficult for them to manage. The recognition of these emotions is an important first step in their management.
There are many things one can do to take care of his/her emotional quality of life. Talking about his/her experiences and feelings to his/her partner or friends can be a great help. Counseling or psychotherapy may also be helpful when one struggles with feelings and thoughts or when someone cannot understand or cope with them.
Moreover, an HIV positive individual needs to ensure the basic standards of life – getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising (walking, aerobics etc.)
Alcohol or drugs are used by many people for instant relief, when they experience negative emotions. They may offer a temporary relief but in the long run they are likely to create even more difficulty in managing emotions, and, in some cases, damage physical health.
After the first shock caused by a positive diagnosis, the person will want to be informed in more detail on the subject of general health and AIDS in particular. Many HIV+ individuals start getting medical information, begin to monitor closely the condition of their health and explore alternative/complementary therapies. The involvement in productive and enjoyable activities can activate feelings of satisfaction and lead to a good quality of life.
Being isolated can lead to anxiety, so finding ways to interact with other people in an environment that feels comfortable and safe is very important.
Also, some individuals with HIV find faith or spirituality to be important sources of relief. Prayer and meditation can be helpful.
The psychological wellbeing of an individual who is HIV+ is very important in maintaining or obtaining health. The following issues may gradually arise:
- Existential questions concerning mortality
- Acceptance, emotional and practical stabilization during the treatment of the illness
- Coexistence of conflicting emotions when interacting with a familiar environment
- Need for psychological support within groups or individual psychotherapy
- Retrieval of sexuality and sexual life
- Developing and maintaining the capacity to claim equal relationships, work, health care
Eventually, the person may, through his/her personal path, reach the stage of empowerment, i.e. to take his/her life into his/her own hands. The diagnosis and everyday life of a person with HIV can eventually trigger positive changes that improve their quality of life. The person may also decide to offer help and send a message of hope to others who experience similar feelings.