Your first day of living with HIV
Whether you predicted it, or it’s not what you expected, your HIV positive diagnosis has changed your life. When you were told your HIV test result, your mind went into a spin.
Either way, it’s the first day of living with your confirmed diagnosis. We understand it’s one of the toughest things to go through.
Reflecting on your life
One of the first things which might have crossed your mind is how or when it happened. Another common thought is who you contracted it from or whether you’re going to die. It’s normal to think and feel this way but you need to know that you’re going to be okay. HIV is now a manageable condition. Before you can commit to making the necessary changes, allow yourself to feel the overwhelming emotions that come with such a life-changing event.
Dealing with this diagnosis is an ongoing experience. Some days will be good and others not so much. You need to remind yourself that you did the best thing by getting tested. Even if the test wasn’t your choice, you’re being brave right now by facing the results and allowing it to settle in.
Anger, fear, anxiety, dread, betrayal, despair and hopelessness are going to come and go at different times. You don’t need to hide these emotions or suppress them. If you suddenly feel a wave of emotions, allow yourself to fully feel and express them. It’s okay to cry, to just keep running until you can’t run anymore, to go sit down somewhere and process it all. If you’re able and willing to keep a journal, it’s one of the best ways to reflect on your journey of coping. You can also speak to your loved ones, who can support you. By documenting your feelings externally, you’re not holding them inside so they won’t weigh you down as much, each day.
Too much information
Within a moment, your HIV positive diagnosis changed your life. In the 30-60mins that followed, you were probably bombarded with so much information that you had no idea how to process it. That’s also perfectly normal. You don’t need to be scared if you didn’t hear all of it, take it in or process it at the time.
Our AllLife team has spent some time going through the diagnosis journey in detail to help you make sense of everything. We’re here to help you return to a point where you feel in complete control again. Here are some of the things you need to know to successfully conquer your first day of living with HIV:
There is no such thing as a silly question
No matter what it is, no matter how silly or insignificant you might believe your question is, you have every right to ask it. Your doctor, nurse or clinic sister is able to help you work through anything that’s on your mind. If you don’t completely understand the answer given to you, ask for it to be reworded, or explained in simpler terms.
South African law observes something called a right to know. It means that you have the right to be made fully aware of everything that impacts you directly. This includes the law itself and your state of health. If you need to ask for another doctor, nurse or clinic sister, do so politely. You can also let your medical teams know if you prefer for your information to be provided in a specific language.
When you receive your test result, you might wonder where to find support, or how to connect with other people sharing the same ordeal. Your doctor, nurse or clinic sister will know about a lot of resources you can use, one of which is AllLife’s 24-hour HIV Helpline. You can call the helpline at any time, to talk about your fears, and other feelings. Ask qualified medical professionals your questions about any medicines or find out how you can regain control over your life.
Knowledge is power
Knowing your status and taking the HIV test was a brave and responsible move. Well done for your effort and for being brave enough to face that this, whatever outcome, may even exist.
Whatever emotions you’re feeling, you need to understand that it’s perfectly normal. What you can do to feel better about the situation is to educate yourself about HIV. Learn about all the ways in which you can manage it effectively. Ask questions and write down a list of the resources your medical team may refer you to.
Read more articles, like these available on our dedicated HIV website. You’ll learn about coping techniques, medication and lifestyle changes you can make. These are here to empower you to live a long and healthy life with HIV.
How reliable is an HIV test?
When it comes to HIV tests in South Africa, we can assure you that these are 100% reliable. The tests used to diagnose you were designed, created and constantly improved by expert scientists over many years.
Of course, if you have any doubts, speak to your doctor about it and discuss the possibility of a second test.
What does it even mean to be HIV positive?
If your test results come back as HIV positive it means that HIV, a virus, is present in your blood. Its full name, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is almost self-explanatory. The virus attacks your immune system, which becomes weaker and weaker. Eventually your body becomes unable to fight off other kinds of infections, even a basic flu. You can click here to read more about other HIV-related conditions like tuberculosis.
Once you are diagnosed, you’ll be placed onto a treatment programme, with medicine called antiretrovirals. This medicine strengthens your immune system, giving your body the fighting chance it needs to bounce back.
What should I do now?
It’s advisable to take a few days off work, and to get your doctor, nurse or clinic sister to give you a medical certificate. The medical motivation for your sick leave does not need to disclose to your employer that you are HIV positive. It only needs to state that you are being placed on treatment which requires bed rest for a specific number of days. Antiretrovirals (ARVs) that you are given, need to be started immediately. If you forgot how many to take or when to take them, make sure you call or visit your doctor to ask about this again. Write it down somewhere or send yourself an SMS you can easily find on your phone.
Set your reminders on your phone to take your medicine as instructed, and to pack it into your lunchbox for work if necessary. Your first few days on ARVs could result in some side effects. Nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches and feeling more tired than usual can be expected. It all depends on the strength of the medicine given to you. Ask for advice from your doctor on how long you may need to adjust to the treatment. Also check by when to come back if your body hasn’t settled into its routine.
Remember you can call our 24-hour HIV Helpline at any time for help in dealing with this situation.