a man in solitude at the park coping with hiv as a longterm survivor

What I Do When I Can't Anymore

Ironically, I did not consider pursuing a career until I became HIV-positive. I had been very happy working front-line service-level jobs in the food and beverage industry. But something changed in me once I received my test results. I believed I had more to offer and share with the world.

Being undetectable was a real boon to exploring the options around me. I didn't have to worry about opportunistic infections affecting my ability to show up for my job. I could relegate the doctor visits to 'annual checkups' without having to disclose my status to my bosses.

But the undetectable lifestyle is a double-edged sword, and it was sometimes a little too easy to forget that my body had special needs because of my HIV status. The pressure of caring for myself and my family and progressing at my job while navigating the challenges of being a long-term survivor has been exhausting.

My most useful tool

There have been side effects that have thrown significant roadblocks in my professional path. On top of that, my anxiety and depression cycles can create tension around critical moments in my life. Connections made with coworkers can be challenged when they reach out to support you if explaining those issues requires HIV disclosure.

While I have many tools to help me through these moments, my most useful one is not to cope at all. Sometimes my mind and body just need everything to stop. But when I do that, I accept that the issues I'm hiding from still await me. So, I'm mindful that the respite I will take from the pressures of my life will come with a deadline.

Stop staring at it

One of my favorites is to avoid what's weighing me down. I use a small journal to keep track of things I must do. That is one of the first things I hide.

I take it off my table and put it in a drawer. I also take any bills or insurance papers and tuck them away. Now I'm not having to look at all these responsibilities or tasks every time I walk into the room. It's like having a little more breathing room.

But I put a little reminder on a sticky note to pull it out when it's time. A few words or a date on my bathroom mirror will help me to start things again.

Let the hurt flow

This took me a long time to accept. For many years, I thought being strong meant hiding your pain. Now I understand that true strength lies in accepting the hurt, sometimes even looking for it in your memories.

This isn't to torture myself with painful thoughts, but to remind myself that I have been through traumatic experiences. I still don't fully understand how they affect me. But I know that exploring and allowing myself to experience emotions always makes me feel better.

Sometimes it's a movie I'll watch or listen to some songs. Other times it's reminiscing through old photos or my memories book filled with names of people who are no longer with us.

As always, I agree with myself to have a timeframe for this, but I also don't shut my emotions down just to meet a deadline.

This or That

On a bad day, do you prefer to:

Build a wall

Feeling protected is a fundamental desire in all of us. It connects us with the child we had to leave behind as we grew older. There's nothing wrong with sitting on the couch and wrapping yourself in a blanket.

We are a blanket household. We have knitted, weighted, and seasonally decorated options. Sometimes I just lay one across my midsection, and other times I go full-on hermit by wrapping my entire body in one. It's like being hugged.

If I don’t have my blanket, I hug myself with my arms. I also like to sit in the dark; I enjoy having no television playing. Whatever it takes to block out the world - it's not always an inside therapy. I've also been known to drive to a distant park and sit all day at a table where no one knows where I am. The feeling of being away from it all is key to making this work for me.

Navigating the pressures of life

All these things give me some breathing room from the pressures of my life. And once I get a few deep breaths, I'm stronger to face the challenges surrounding me.

If you're feeling overwhelmed and experiencing anxiety or depression, don't hesitate to ask for help.

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