Learning to live with HIV

Over the last few decades we heard so much about HIV and AIDS that many of us have started to switch off when it comes to this topic. Most of us do not think that we might personally be at risk of getting infected with HIV and therefore we do not pay much attention to HIV news and campaigns. We might even think that we know all there is to know about HIV.
However, those of us who are living with HIV know that this can all change in seconds. Being diagnosed with HIV can turn your whole life upside down.
Those of us who were confronted with our own HIV positive status or that of someone dear to us, know that HIV can happen to anybody. As a matter of fact, in South Africa more than a thousand people are still getting infected with HIV every day. It could have been you, or me, or someone we deeply care for.

You are still loved

If you have recently discovered that you are HIV positive, be reminded that you are a unique human being, created in God’s image and loved by God. And you are certainly still loved!
It might be a difficult journey for you to come to terms with your HIV diagnosis. Often we have more questions than answers, even feelings of anger, betrayal, regret and shame. We do not want to downplay these feelings or offer any easy answers, but want to comfort you with one specific text.
In Romans 8:31-39 you’ll find a message that you can read over and over again,

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not even HIV.

Do not carry this burden on your own

Talk openly with God

Have heart-to-heart conversations with God about your status and know that whatever you might be feeling is already known to God. You do not have to pretend to be OK, or downplay your feelings.
We learn from the book of Psalms that we can be honest with God about what we think and feel. We can pray in quiet praise, shout out to God in pain or protest, complain about other people and express our dark feelings to those who have hurt, wronged or betrayed us. We can also take refuge in God’s embrace and be comforted.
If you are not used to talking with God, know that you are always welcome to start doing so.

Share with at least one person

Our fear of being stigmatised might be so strong that we do not want anyone to know about our status. However, carrying this knowledge completely alone can be a very heavy burden for one person. As people of faith we are encouraged to carry each other’s burdens. We would like to encourage you to try and identify at least one person in your life that you can trust with this information. It will definitely help to know there is at least one person that knows something of what you are going through and who will specifically pray for you and support you.
Gradually one would like to share this news with all the most significant people in one’s life. Your partner, children and parents, close family or friends would indeed also need to and want to know. But give yourself time to first process your HIV status and gradually tell other people as you feel ready and safe to do so. If you do not feel up to it, you could discuss the matter with a counsellor or your faith leader.

Seek support

You can also inquire about counselling and support services from the facility where you have been tested. Other possible avenues of support could be your local clinic or hospital, your general practitioner or church. Many communities also have a hospice and community counsellors. You could inquire about seeing one of them. Some churches have HIV projects and counselling services. Even if the counselling services are not focused on HIV, it may help to have a confidential space where you can talk about how you are feeling and doing.

Nurture existing relationships

Even if you are not ready to share your HIV status with your close friends yet, do not isolate yourself from the people you love, and love to spend time with. Nurture these friendships and try to be a good friend yourself. This can help you to keep some perspective and not be so preoccupied with your own diagnosis that you do not value other people or recognise their pain and challenges.
But if you realise that you are worn down by unhealthy friendships that are not life giving, you should consider walking away from some friends.

Get to know the important facts

There is a lot of useful information available on HIV. In this section we only highlight a few important aspects of HIV, but you are encouraged to read more to understand how your immune system works, how HIV is transmitted and how it affects your body if you are infected. For more information on HIV visit www.cabsa.org.za.

Chronic disease or death sentence?

You may have heard that people refer to HIV as just another chronic disease and you may wonder what this means.
A chronic disease is a long-term or permanent health condition or disease that often has no cure. Examples of chronic diseases include hypertension, asthma and diabetes. Although many of these infections are life threatening, some of them can be managed to such an extent that people still enjoy fairly normal and meaningful lives.
When we consider HIV we know there is no cure for it yet. But with proper knowledge of the disease, support and access to health care and treatment, it is possible to live with it. Our challenge might be to readjust some of our dreams, priorities and habits, but HIV does not have to be a death sentence!

Access to treatment

In recent years early access to antiretroviral treatment (ARVs) has had a major impact on the management of HIV. New guidelines suggests that people start ARVs much sooner – to the effect that one could start your medication even before you fall seriously ill or develop AIDS.
To make sure that you start ARVs as soon as possible it is very important that you stay within the health care system. Make sure that you show up for your follow-up appointments and tests. The purpose of these tests is to monitor your health and the progress of the disease in your body. They also indicate when you should start ARVs.
But treatment goes beyond ARVs. It is also very important to put effort into taking good care of your body and staying healthy. Get enough rest, eat enough healthy food, avoid or reduce your intake of sugar and alcohol, avoid smoking, exercise and try to address stress factors in your life. Remember to make time for the things and people that you enjoy and value.
Also, if you do get sick, make sure that you give attention to it immediately. Visit your clinic or your doctor and attend to these symptoms before it becomes more serious.
It is possible to manage your HIV infection! And the sooner you discover your status the better your chances are to manage the disease, stay healthy longer and learn to live a meaningful life. This might not be the life you envisioned for yourself a few years ago, but it is still your life and you can still find meaning in it.

How does my life become meaningful?

Hope is vital for a healthy life. Hope motivates you to take care of yourself.
Do something that has lasting value – it gives meaning to your life.
Nurture your family and friendships. Keep your present relationships healthy.
Be positive towards yourself and others.
Accept and give love and support.
Go for counselling and talk about your emotions, but also about your future.
Allow yourself to dream again, think about your future and set goals for yourself.
Focus on growing spiritually and set aside time to pray, reflect or write.

And most of all remember:
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. You are loved!

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