Coping with HIV

For most people, the hardest part of adjusting to life with HIV isn't the physical issues -- it's the emotional ones. In parts of the world where effective HIV treatment is readily available, HIV is now considered a chronic disease, much like diabetes. But unlike diabetes, there's still a ton of stigma attached to being HIV positive. Even though having HIV doesn't make you a bad person, unfortunately there are many people -most of them ignorant of the facts about HIV -- that still discriminate against HIVers simply because of their status.

HIV treatment has changed drastically in the past 15 years. Now, most people in developed countries only need to take medications once or twice a day to keep HIV in check for many years. Side effects are milder and less common than they've ever been.

It's completely possible for many people with HIV to live their lives no differently than they had before their diagnosis (although healthier living becomes more important, and having safer sex is always critical).

However, because of the stigma and guilt that still surrounds HIV, because HIV was so long thought of as a death sentence, and -- let's face it -- because HIV still is a serious disease to have, coping with your diagnosis can be a real challenge.

Here are some important things to keep in mind, however: You are not alone.

Whatever your age, race, gender, nationality, you name it, there are other people out there who have gone through what you're going through.

Take strength in those numbers, and add their courage to your own.

Support is just a click or a phone call away. One of the most important things you can do for yourself is connect with others and seek out the support you need.

You can beat panic attacks. They happen to plenty of people.

Don't be afraid to talk to a counselor, a psychologist or a psychiatrist for help.

Depression is common -- and it's treatable. Be aware of the symptoms -- and the steps you can take to emerge into a happier frame of mind.

Ten Things You Can Do to Enhance Your Emotional Well-Being

Build a strong, supportive, trusting relationship with an HIV/AIDS doctor. You should be able to freely discuss everything and anything and, if needed, to challenge your doctor's advice.

Develop consistent contact with a health care case manager who can help to make the rocky road to benefits and services easier for you. One mold does not fit all, so try to find a case manager that you trust, even if you have to switch to a new one.

Join an HIV/AIDS support group. Find out if they use an ongoing, drop-in format or if they are time-limited and require pre-enrollment. Also find out about the training and qualifications of the group leaders.

Get a therapist, preferably a good licensed psychologist or certified social worker. Remember anyone can state they are a "therapist"; request more information about their background and experience. Keep looking until your instincts tell you that you have found a good match.

Attend workshops or other HIV/AIDS events so that you can find out as much as you can about HIV/AIDS. You must be the expert on this disease and be on top of any new developments and programs.

Stay informed about your HIV/AIDS medications by seeking out information from any and all sources, including people, Web sites, and periodicals. The more you know about the medication you are taking and its potential side effects, the more you know what to expect about your emotions and mental well-being.

Address any substance use issues you may have by looking into substance use programs and groups. Consider working towards being clean and sober.

Exercise regularly and maintain good nutrition because the mind and the body are closely linked, and physical health enhances mental health.

Work if you can for income but also work for the structure and well being that employment can provide. Everyone can benefit from structure, and we all need to feel we are productive members of this world.

Seek a sense of belonging outside of HIV/AIDS such as by starting a hobby, traveling and exploring, getting a pet, starting or finishing school, or volunteering. The bottom line is to keep your stress low; keeping your stress low will help you to keep your immune system high.

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