Steps I Took to Handle Mental Health Strain
Last updated: May 2023
Before I found out about my HIV status, I believe that my mental health was solid. I would not say that it was perfect but solid. My diagnosis story is a tough one. For the more in-depth story read my article titled My Diagnosis and Developing PTSD.
I went to bed with a bad migraine, I woke up a week later in the ICU of a local hospital. While my husband at the time and I thought I was dealing with a weekend of migraines, it turns out I was battling Pneumocystis pneumonia, also known as PCP pneumonia.
The only thing that saved my life, was that he woke up in the middle of the night and noticed I was breathing funny. He took me to an urgent care facility and they transferred me by ambulance to a hospital for treatment.
While the hospital attempted to keep me completely sedated, I was in and out of consciousness. This took a toll on my mental health. Then to add to it, once I was conscious (but still intubated), the doctors told me they found out I was HIV positive. This was a shock to all of us.
Taking steps to take control of my mental health
Upon realizing that my mental health was suffering, I realized there were several steps I needed to take to seize control of my mental health.
1. Talking to my mom
The first step I took was to have a conversation with my mother. This was not hard because she had seen my night terrors firsthand. While I was still in the hospital, I woke up to my mom and a nurse holding me down, due to my night terrors.
When we spoke, she agreed with me that I should not try to manage on my own. It was obvious that I needed to talk to a professional.
2. Searching for a mental health professional
My next step was to find mental health professionals that were included in my insurance plan. I went about this by logging into my insurance network and searching for a local psychologist and psychiatrist. A psychologist is the talk therapist, while a psychiatrist is the one who handles prescriptions.
After getting a list from the insurance, I decided to research the doctors. This is easy enough these days because you can google the doctors. There are many websites available that allow patients to review the doctors and their office staff.
3. Choosing a mental health professional
The third step was the second hardest part of this process. I had to choose my psychologist and psychiatrist. This is something that I went back and forth on for several days. I even enlisted the help of my best friend in the decision-making process.
We looked at their biographies to see what they specialized in and evaluated the various reviews that other patients left about them. this helped us to eventually decide. Once the decision was made, I called and scheduled appointments with both doctors.
4. Attending the appointments
The fourth step was the hardest one. This step involved me attending the appointment and being vulnerable with a stranger. It can be challenging to take this step.
The psychologist and psychiatrist were the first people that I told I was HIV positive. The other people who knew about my status found out from either doctors or my husband at the time. This disclosure was a bit easier because if the doctors changed how they treated me, I could find new doctors.
Where I am today
To this day, I still have a psychologist and psychiatrist that I see. While they are not the same ones that I started with on my mental health journey, they are great doctors. I truly believe that I am still here today due to having a good team of mental health specialists and great best friends.
It is easy to allow yourself to be lost after receiving a diagnosis such as being HIV positive. But it is just like anything else, you learn to live with the new normal. Do not forget, your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
Was there a time or experience that made you recognize that you needed to address your emotional or mental health? What were the first steps you took? Comment below.
Are you living with HIV? (select all that apply)
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