HIV and Happy: How I Found That Feeling Again
Long-term survival requires you to navigate the difficulties of the chronic condition landscape. The overwhelming circumstances of living with HIV can cast a shadow that is hard to pierce.
One of the biggest challenges I've faced had nothing to do with an opportunistic infection or my ability to tolerate treatment. After my diagnosis, I wondered if I could ever be happy again.
How I lost it
The death of my partner left me in a state of despair. My default operating mode is to be optimistic, but I felt a hole in my heart could never be filled.
As luck would have it, I did meet someone who loved me and brought me back to life. But even so, lasting happiness was just beyond my reach.
At times I thought I didn't deserve it or didn't have the strength to get there. That's the biggest mistake I made. I believed that it was a place you had to reach to experience. I would have to nurture happiness daily.
Each person must decide what will work for them, but I'd like to share the first things I did to regain that feeling.
One day I picked up a small notebook and began writing goals.
- I want to be more organized.
- I want to read more.
- I want to fold my clothes within one week of washing them.
Then I set the notebook on a shelf and failed all of them. It wasn't until I developed the habit of reading and rewriting my daily list that I began to achieve them.
My goals were intentionally easy to accomplish, so I would feel satisfied, like washing my face every morning. And my final goal is always a reminder not to feel guilty if I don't complete everything I planned today.
I used to think meaningful connection meant deep conversations with your closest friends about topics only the 2 of you could discuss. While that is true, it's not the only type of connection that matters.
Short conversations with friends can provide you with the same lift in happiness that long talks do. Even a quick exchange with a stranger can give that feeling. Now I always aim to have one quick exchange with someone and tune into what they say.
That was the key. I had to listen and be genuinely interested in what people were saying. Working in customer service, I developed the skill of having brief conversations to share that moment with someone I had just met.
Even just smiling at a stranger can be a powerful connection.
Get up and get moving
No matter how much I want to lay in bed all morning, I get up and get my body in motion. I review my goals for the day, and if I have any exercise time planned, I try to fit it in before anything else.
Not every day can be a rise-and-shine kind of moment. There are mornings when I must stretch out my lower legs and feet because of neuropathy before standing up.
But I motivate myself by concentrating on how good I will feel after finishing my exercises, even if it's just doing stretches on the living room floor.
Appreciate everything — even the bad days
After my diagnosis, all I wanted was a fighting chance to live. And because I got that chance, I must be grateful for what those days bring me, even when it's a pain or sadness. I remind myself of that now and then.
Every day I find one thing that makes me grateful. Sometimes it's been such a difficult day; all I can muster is expressing gratitude for being alive. Other times, when I think about it, I realize there are all kinds of minute details and events for which I can give thanks.
I hope to hear about what you do to bring up your happiness level while living with HIV.
Do you wear a red ribbon on World AIDS Day?