My First Day

Often in my work in person or online I’m asked, “How long did it take you to feel better after your diagnosis and back to your old self?"

Well, before HIV became a full-time job, it started with that first day. Truly, it started days before when a frantic woman left me a voicemail stating she was from the health department and needed to speak to me in person. Her voice had a foreboding, urgent tone that told me she did not have good news for me. This is when most stories lead to a cold sterile clinic or health department room, but like so many things in my life, “normal” isn’t the default.

My positive test result

On an unseasonably cold grey day on May 22nd, 2016, we met on a break from work in the parking lot of a coffee place, in her van which had the remnants of fast food on the floorboards and smelled of grease. She told me, “I’m sorry to tell you, but your HIV test came back positive.” At that moment, everything stopped, her lips continued to move, but I couldn’t hear anything. Everything suddenly felt like that black and white static you get when your TV loses its reception. That low buzz was followed by overwhelming silence as I got back in my car, with only a business card in hand and a promise that someone would be in touch. That was an incredibly difficult day, I have an incredible amount of privilege and access to health care but it was still hard. My life had changed forever and I went numb to avoid my feelings as I returned to work.

Coping with my HIV diagnosis

So often when presented with something emotionally difficult we want to move on as quickly as possible, not allowing ourselves the space to feel. Instead of honoring our feelings, we try to push them aside. Every person has a different timeline and process to work through something like that because we’re all different. My outlets have been the gym, meditation, and my dog Chip. I wish I could tell you that was the magic answer to deal with news like that is get a puppy, but there is no one size fits all answer.

Finding support and creating healthy habits

It takes time to deal with stigma, not only external but most importantly internal stigma. I think it’s important to have a good care team, a solid support system, be that family, friends, or a therapist if that’s something that works for you. Find healthier habits. Give yourself space and permission to feel your feelings in those difficult moments.

I honestly don’t know how many months it took, one day I woke up and just felt different. What I can say for sure is that I never went back to the old me. I truly believe that day, that heavy life moment, changed me forever, but I appreciate the strength it created within me. I became a better, stronger person and I know in time with patience, you can too.

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