My Therapy Journey
I almost died prior to receiving my HIV diagnosis. While my case was a dramatic trip to receiving a diagnosis, receiving a positive diagnosis in any circumstances can be extremely difficult to process.
Treatment advances over the years have made living with HIV drastically better than it was in the 1980s. Unfortunately, many people do not know about this when they receive their diagnosis. This can cause individuals to feel like their life is over.
My HIV diagnosis
My diagnosis occurred in a very traumatic way. I unknowingly developed a severe case of pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP). One night, I went to bed and woke up a week later in the hospital on a ventilator. Eventually, they told me that I was positive.
I spent the next week on a ventilator with my mind running wild. Due to the diagnosis and the effects of the week, I was drugged into a weak coma.
Treatment for night terrors and panic attacks
Due to the severity of my night terrors and panic attacks while still in the intensive care unit (ICU), the hospital had already placed me on anti-anxiety medications. A psychiatrist was sent to see me once I was out of the ICU.
I was put on antidepressants and they continued the anti-anxiety medications. I was also given the office's information after I was released from the hospital.
Starting outpatient therapy
After leaving the hospital, I stayed on antidepressants and anxiety medications. The psychiatry office from the hospital and my primary care provider tried altering my medications to best help me with the issues I still had to face. Once I was well enough from my month-long hospital stay, I found a psychologist to see as well.
All the doctors diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was not diagnosed with PTSD just by finding out that I was HIV positive. The events involving my PCP and coma were the main cause of my PTSD. The diagnoses only added to what I was trying to mentally comprehend. I also faced depression, anxiety, and the worst night terrors imaginable.
Finding the right therapist
Over the years, I have worked with several different psychologists. Just like any other doctor, you must find a therapist that you connect with just right.
I have always given multiple sessions before deciding to find somebody else. For example, I eventually stopped working with the first therapist because she was stuck on hypnotherapy. We tried it multiple times and it was not effective on me, but she kept wanting to try it. This helped me realize that I needed to move on to somebody else.
Using CPT to work on my PTSD
It has been 4 years since that initial hospital stay and diagnosis. I have finally found a therapist who is working with me using PTSD-based cognitive processing therapy (CPT). We started my therapy by looking at the stuck points that I have been dealing with over the years.
A stuck point is the thoughts that have kept you from recovering. One of my stuck points is, “I am unlovable because of the HIV diagnosis that came out of my trauma.” Another one that I have is, “I cannot trust doctors because they do not take my symptoms seriously enough and I always end up extremely sick.”
These are thoughts that are repeated in my head. With my current therapist, we are breaking down the inaccuracy in my stuck points. The most important thing currently is working through how and why these thoughts are inaccurate and based on my feelings instead of facts.
HIV does not devalue us in any way
I still have a long way to go with my therapy, but I am finally making small improvements. While therapy can be time-consuming and hard work, it is worth the investment. This work will improve the quality of the rest of my life.
You do not have to have PTSD for this version of cognitive therapy to be beneficial. If you have these stuck points, it is worth working through them with somebody. When we face the stigma around HIV, it is helpful that we realize within ourselves that HIV does not devalue us in any way, shape, or form.
Have you worked on therapy of any kind since your diagnosis?
Do you wear a red ribbon on World AIDS Day?