What if you are in the middle of a jungle, not very far from a hospital, and you are bitten by a venomous snake. Would you make an effort to get up and reach the hospital to get the antidote? Usually the survival instinct pulls you up and takes you to the doorsteps of the doctor.
Now consider that you live a regular life and one day you get tested positive for HIV. Why can’t the survival instinct kick in immediately, and make you seek the right help as soon as possible? This is a question I ask myself now, after I made peace with the HIV in me. Looking back, I remember how much it affected me and how important it was that I went along with it.
Everything was going fine, until I fell sick, for I never fell sick often before. The first time didn’t scare me, but when sooner I fell ill the second time, I freaked out. I gave my blood sample for an HIV test and I was anxious for the result. It had tested positive. The anxiety drove me to google and I started reading online and found how there can be false positive results. How I wished that I was one of those lucky people!
Phase I: Get the right medical and personal support because it matters!
I do not know how many stages of grief I went through. But I know that without my close friends, I certainly would have taken more time to look at myself in a positive light. These are the friends that make one laugh even at the most difficult of situations. After my diagnosis, the first thing I did was to identify those people that would love me for everything that I am. These friends of mine did not question me. They did not shower pity. For them, I was a friend, a friend in a difficult situation.
So with their help, I figured out some hospital. I went to the emergency unit on a Saturday and the junior doctor told me that he was taking care of other important cases and that he did not have time for me that day. He was right that I was not then in an emergency situation. But he had no knowledge on how his sane explanation would hurt a newly diagnosed person in distress.
Then with time I figured out a good doctor. The last thing on my mind was a worry about my finances. I did not want to think about how much I would spend but neither did my first doctor. So I ended up having good consultations and counselling with a good doctor, at a price that could have been cautiously reduced by a better doctor.
Every blood test that I then went through followed up with an anxious wait for the result. I had to be sure that my body was listening to me and that the medicines were working well. But this anxiety did not go away until I changed my doctor, thanks to a friend. He suggested me this doctor who made me feel that he wanted the best for me. The doctor thought about my future and about how I must not spend unnecessarily. He said that each rupee saved then would be saved for my future expenses. He made me realise that the best medicine for the situation, or in the hindsight for any situation, was to be happy. Then I slowly stopped being anxious and then my body listened to me, almost immediately.
Phase II: Acceptance from Self Vs Others
After the initial phase where I sorted out my health, I wanted to find out if strangers would accept me. With this attempt, I ended up being caught in the constant need to be validated by someone. I wanted to be assured that I was worth as much then as I was without HIV. I sought acceptance from online forums and I found sympathy readily available there for those who were infected by a transfusion or by an unfaithful partner. But the same niceness vanished if a person had acquired HIV through a sexual misfortune. I then started to wonder if the world was fine with men and women dying of HIV, if they hadn’t followed someone’s idea of morality.
Those were the times when I cried easily. I cried a lot. Some were tears of joy, of gratitude to my friends who accepted me for whoever I was. Some of my tears were tears for no reason. I cried then because that was natural to me. I cried silent tears in a bus, in the middle of the road or when I was home alone. But I felt a sense of relief that I did not owe anything to my family which accepted me completely. Somehow it seemed natural because a family normally sticks together expecting nothing in return.
After few months, I started feeling more confident to come out to people. It was blissful. There were some people who were afraid for their lives and some who were putting my emotions first. There were some who wanted nothing to do with me and some who wanted to be there for me at any moment. Life dawned upon me and I realised that it was important that I felt wonderful about myself. Once I reached there, the hurt by someone else was very short lived. At the end of the day I knew who I was. I knew that I was surrounded by beautiful people and those that chose to be away or be nasty had no space in my thoughts. I didn’t even feel the necessity to hate them.
Phase III: Happiness is a choice! Choose it!
It was at this juncture that I understood how dirty I had felt about myself until that point. I had felt dirty for not being the right choice for someone, only because I was positive. I had felt like a slut, whom people were afraid to kiss. I had felt dirty for being the disgrace to my family. And that realisation changed it all for me. I stopped screaming for an external validation. I did not anymore want to be someone else’s idea of right or wrong. All that mattered to me from then on was my internal validation. I knew from deep within that I was a wonderful person and that I was the best friend or the best partner one could get.
At around the same time, I started investing more time in my selfish conquests. I wanted to play my small role in making any newly diagnosed person’s life better. I did not want him or her, if possible, to go through all the tough phases to accept themselves completely. My friends and acquaintances asked for my help to talk to their newly diagnosed friends. That was a unique satisfaction. I did not want anyone to feel grateful for my support. I felt content being the right person at the right time in their lives.
I am HIV positive and I am not having my life any other way. I am more accepting of everything. I am less fixated on the white and the black, or the right and the wrong. I always remember that I am no one to judge someone else, for I never can know the complete story and the past of someone. You may be a positive person who is not very fortunate in all situations. But fortune arrives when you help yourself. You are the first person and the best person to love yourself. You are your best comfort. Remember that “this too shall pass”.
Editor’s note: For personal reasons, the writer chose to remain anonymous.