How much does HIV change your life in six months?

It’s been six months since you found out that you are HIV-positive. You’re sticking to your treatment plan and prioritizing your health.

life after 6 months of HIV diagnosis

Here, at the six-month-milestone of living as a confirmed HIV-positive person, your life may look very different to what it was six months ago. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re sticking to your treatment plan and prioritising your health. Today we’re going to examine the changes brought about by your HIV diagnosis, so you can reflect on your progress up until this point.

How has HIV changed your life?

Undoubtedly, there has been a change. Whether or not your lifestyle choices have remained the same, you have new information about your health status which you’ve been processing for the past six months. Being diagnosed with HIV is now a significant moment in your life.

If, at this point, you’re taking your medication every day and on a running streak, then you’ve done well: keep it up!

How is HIV affecting your way of thinking?

By now, your side-effects from ARVs have subsided. You would have adjusted to your new routine, ensuring that you take your HIV treatment medication every day. If you notice any signs or specific contexts of forgetfulness, then you should have started to set reminders either on your phone, by leaving your pillboxes next to your toothbrush or your kettle, or something else that works for you.

You may have tried to attend HIV counselling by now, or you’ve had a few check-ups with your doctor or clinic team already. Talking about HIV by now should be easier and come more naturally, particularly when speaking with your medical practitioner.

But, there’s one presiding thought that’s taken hold: how does my HIV status affect my future?

How to plan your future when you’re living with HIV:

Thinking about your future is a difficult task at first. The idea of being diagnosed HIV-positive initially filled you with dread, but now that’s just a memory. Nowadays, you’re not afraid to think about the future, and plan to continue to build towards the happy life you know you deserve.

This is why we recommend that here, six months into your journey with HIV, you start thinking about ways to build for that future. Many HIV-positive people use a future-focused approach to remedy the mixed emotions that come from dwelling on the past, and wondering how it may have all happened. Changing your mindset takes time, takes patience, and takes planning.

That’s why we (and experts like us) recommend you keep a diary or a journal, to document your thoughts and feelings on your journey with HIV. We’ve shared some information on how to manage telling other people about your status, but there’s no pressure or obligation for you to do this. Maybe you feel ready to take that step now, or maybe not: either way, it’s perfectly acceptable.

If you live alone or you’re certain that your privacy will be respected, if you keep a journal, it’s worth trying. You may find it helpful to get some perspective on your journey, and it’ll also help you start thinking about the ways you want to build and plan for your future. In particular, you may be thinking about how your status has changed the possibilities of your future.

Does HIV change your relationships with friends and family?

This really depends on the course of action you’ve taken up until this point. If you’ve decided not to tell anybody, then your behaviour towards others will be the pivotal influencer of your relationships. Dealing with your HIV status alone can have a significant impact on your temper and sensitivity to certain topics of conversation, your temper and your participation in social activities, among other things.

If you’ve decided to talk to someone about your HIV status, then you’ve likely had all the conversations you needed to, with your friends and family. You would’ve worked through so many of the concerns you may have initially had. By now, you’re adept at answering people’s questions, and you feel like you truly understand those answers now.

By now, the conversations you have with your friends and family are somewhat back to normal, and not just focused on your HIV status. Unfortunately, it’s common that, owing to misunderstanding, confusion, or concern, that the people you love battle to come to terms with your HIV diagnosis. Speak to your HIV counsellor, doctor or clinic team about navigating this, but understand that you were brave enough to share the news about your HIV status with the ones you love.

Speaking to your loved ones took courage. Overcoming this, in itself, is a triumph. If you feel actively discriminated against, or are concerned about how your HIV diagnosis has changed relationships within your family, speak to your counsellor for some advice. We have another article available on our website, about dealing with HIV stigma, if you’re interested in learning more.

Is it normal for HIV to change how you plan a family?

Whether planning for your first, or your next, child, HIV will have an impact. Being HIV-positive doesn’t mean you have to discard your dreams of having a larger family. We’re a big fan of families, so we understand just how important having children may be to you.

You will need to chat to your doctor or clinic team, and follow their instructions and guidelines quite closely. But, let’s answer the big questions first:

  • Yes, it is indeed possible for you to have children when you’re HIV-positive.
  • You can do so even if your partner is also HIV-positive or HIV-negative.
  • It is entirely possible for you to have a successful pregnancy, without passing on HIV to your partner or child.
  • Yes, it is possible for mothers to successfully deliver their babies, and their children remain HIV-negative.

Advice for family planning as an HIV-positive person:

Everyone’s journey with HIV is different, so you’ll need to obtain personalised advice from your doctor or nurse. These guidelines are general, and are meant to support your family planning journey:

  • If you’re an HIV-positive woman, with an HIV-negative partner, you will need to first be far enough along in your HIV treatment programme that your viral load is undetectable.
  • Similarly, if you are an HIV-positive man, with an HIV-negative partner, you will need to first be far enough along in your HIV treatment programme that your viral load is undetectable.
  • Consider getting the help and advice of a fertility specialist, who can provide you with the necessary guidance for this journey. If you have experienced, or are experiencing, fertility problems, In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) may be an option for you and your partner.
  • Expectant mothers need specialised vitamins and nutrition, particularly with Folic Acid. Your doctor or clinic team will advise on the best option for your unique circumstances.
  • Mothers and babies need regular medical monitoring, so it’s compulsory and very important to keep all medical appointments for pregnant women. HIV-positive mothers may need to visit clinics/doctors more often than HIV-negative mothers, particularly if there are other health concerns. Try to see it as an act of extra care, rather than a bother: your medical team cares enough that you and your baby remain healthy during this pregnancy.
  • Consider your method of delivery for your child. Depending on your viral load, and other health-related factors, your doctor is best-suited to advise on your unique requirements. Giving birth to a healthy baby, ensuring that you don’t pass on HIV during birth, is the number one goal. Your doctor will advise you on the best method of delivery for your baby, and we recommend you follow this advice, although getting a second opinion is reasonable, if you have any doubts.
  • Consider how you’ll feed your baby, once he/she is born. This is extremely important, choosing between breastfeeding or formula feeding your baby. Make this choice with your lifestyle, finances, and doctor’s guidance in mind, and stick to it, no matter what. Your baby feeding plan should be something you build with your doctor, and you should stick to it throughout your child’s infancy.

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Can HIV change how you manage your money?

Of course, being diagnosed with HIV can take a toll on your wallet. Depending on the nature of your employment, you might have taken leave to process your diagnosis, adjust to your ARVs and attend to medical appointments. This could have affected your earnings.

Moreover, taking good care of yourself by changing your diet and routines changes what you spend on food and fitness. Luckily, you’re six months into your journey with HIV and, by now, your expenses would’ve settled into a relatively predictable rhythm, along with your routines. Now that you are thinking about your financial goals again, it’s time to consider your financial plans, like savings, investments and insurance.

How to manage saving money as an HIV-positive person:

Your savings plans and goals should ideally not change at all. It’s not true that your expected lifespan is now shorter than an HIV-negative person. In fact, as science has shown, the life expectancy of a person living with HIV has increased dramatically over the past few decades.

Of course, there are medical ramifications attached to being on HIV treatment for the rest of your life, but technically speaking, your savings and retirement plans should not change, because of your HIV status. A standard recommendation is to save at least 15-20% of your salary in total, split across short-, medium- and long-term savings avenues. This way, you can access money-on-hand when it’s necessary, but also reach your larger financial goals.

How to manage investments as an HIV-positive person:

We won’t go too deep into the terminology, but investments and savings are not always the same thing. Saving money means controlling your expenses, and making sure that you put hard cash away for you to access at a later stage. Investing means that you specifically direct your cash into avenues that significantly increase the value of that money, a good example of which would be property.

In South Africa, HIV-positive people have the right to not be discriminated against. This means that you should not be denied the right to invest, based on your HIV status. It’s very important to remember this and to research financial products before choosing one to try out, because if you’re vulnerable, you can easily be taken advantage of: higher premiums, fewer benefits, more admin or qualifying criteria.

This is exactly why we’re passionate about helping South Africans access insurance products that are sensitive to the unique needs and concerns of the country’s HIV-positive community. We were the first business to do so, and we’re proud to have helped thousands of people since then.

How to get insurance as an HIV-positive person:

There are so many types of insurance, but only you can decide the right combination of cover for you and those depending on you every day. Car insurance isn’t an option if you don’t yet own a vehicle, but think about your medical aid and your life insurance options. Your healthcare needs, and your ability to leave a strong legacy to your dependents can be sufficiently covered if you start thinking strategically about it now.

You have the right to choice, which means that you can choose your provider when it comes to life insurance. As you do your research, you’ll notice that AllLife offers benefits like a 24hr Health Helpline, which gives you access to support at any time of day or night, and a Health Monitoring Programme to remind you of when your next blood test is due. These are the things you’ll appreciate most, now having already been through life with HIV for six months.

With AllLife, you can get up to R10 million life cover, which will go a long way for your loved ones to cover living expenses, education and property rates, taxes and completion of purchase if you have an active bond and you’re covered at the time of your death. Being HIV-positive doesn’t change how much you want to shower your loved ones with blessings, and life insurance is the most unselfish way to keep providing even when you’re not around. Getting a quote is easy, and free. You just click here and leave your details – we’ll call you back.

How does HIV change your outlook on life?

Your HIV diagnosis may have come as a surprise, or you may have been expecting it. Either way you received the news of being HIV-positive and it has evolved how you live, think and act in accordance with your life. That’s absolutely okay.

Before, you may have been concerned about the HIV status of others, or worried that – in some way – their HIV-positive status could somehow affect you. But, you’re six months in now and you’ve learnt more than you could’ve expected. Nowadays, the term HIV-positive doesn’t bother you as much. Well done! You’re making excellent progress, and you’re doing well. Keep it up!

References:

aidsmap.com. 2020. Having A Baby When You Are Living With HIV. [online] Available at: <https://www.aidsmap.com/about-hiv/hiv-and-having-baby> [Accessed 30 September 2020].

Avert. 2020. Being Young And HIV Positive. [online] Available at: <https://www.avert.org/living-with-hiv/health-wellbeing/being-young-positive> [Accessed 30 September 2020].

Avert. 2020. Growing Older And Ageing With HIV. [online] Available at: <https://www.avert.org/living-with-hiv/health-wellbeing/growing-older-ageing> [Accessed 30 September 2020].

Avert. 2020. Living With HIV Personal Stories And Experiences. [online] Available at: <https://www.avert.org/living-with-hiv/stories> [Accessed 30 September 2020].

San Francisco AIDS Foundation. 2020. Can I Breastfeed My Baby If I Have HIV? – San Francisco AIDS Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.sfaf.org/collections/beta/can-i-breastfeed-my-baby-if-i-have-hiv/> [Accessed 30 September 2020].

US Department of Veteran Affairs. 2020. Can A Couple In Which One Person Is HIV Positive Conceive A Baby Without The Uninfected Partner Becoming Infected?. [online] Available at: <https://www.hiv.va.gov/patient/faqs/conceiving-with-mixed-HIV-status-couple.asp> [Accessed 30 September 2020].

WHO. 2020. Breast Is Always Best, Even For HIV-Positive Mothers. [online] Available at: <https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/88/1/10-030110/en/> [Accessed 30 September 2020].

We all have questions.

Below are some of the answers to the most common questions that you need to know.

What is usually the first sign of HIV?

After getting infected with HIV, most patients only experience moderate flu-like symptoms. Typically, the illness is sudden in onset and is characterised by fever, swelling of the lymph glands, a measles-like rash all over the body and ulcers in the mouth and sometimes on the genitalia.

What are the 4 stages of HIV?

  • Stage 1: Infection – Exposure to infected bodily fluids.
  • Stage 2: Asymptomatic – HIV quickly spreads and the patient becomes seropositive for HIV antibodies.
  • Stage 3: Symptomatic – The immune system is now engaged in a constant battle with the rapidly replicating virus.
  • Stage 4: AIDS – At this stage, the patient’s CD4+ count is 200 cells per mm3 or less.

How soon can HIV be detected by a blood test?

No test can detect HIV immediately after infection. The time between initial infection and a detectable viral load is called the window period. It can take anywhere from 2-12 weeks to after exposure detect whether you are HIV-positive or not, depending on which testing method is used.

How long does it take to show symptoms of HIV?

Following initial infection, there is a period of intense, unchecked viral replication that occurs. It usually takes two to four weeks after infection and can last about one to two weeks, after which there tends to be a slight recovery, and the infected individual is considered to be seropositive for HIV antibodies.

How is HIV transmitted?

HIV is transmitted from one person to another through the exchange of body fluids. The main method of transmission in South Africa is through unprotected sexual activity.

Does HIV test affect life insurance?

Being HIV-positive can affect standard life insurance policies, particularly if your status changes from HIV-negative to HIV-positive within a particular age range. That’s why AllLife covers all lives. Your HIV status doesn’t prevent you from getting cover with us.

Can HIV-positive women have children?

Yes, HIV-positive women can enjoy healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy HIV-negative babies. Through the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme has been highly effective in reducing transmission risk to under 1%.

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