A Sober's Guide to Overcoming HIV Depression
Foreword: No proven effect but it's worth the try. Last time I was in PGH, there's a form asked for me to be filled out. It's a correlation between depression and HIV. And if results show that I am depressed, the kind student said that I could be referred to a psychiatrist for proper consultation and guidance. So I answer the test and voila, not depressed. Below are the things that I thought would be nice to share for those newly-diagnosed PLHIVs. These are exclusively from my experience so I am sure some things won't apply to you. But you consider, maybe it's bound to help one way or another.
1. If you suspect that you are at risk of contracting HIV, get yourself tested. Running away from HIV test--and in the long run from your status--won't make you feel any better. If it gets down to it, not taking a test in spite of perceived risk on your part will only make matters worse. You will feel good by not knowing your status (out of fear) only for a moment, but when the systemic symptoms are already showing, it's gonna be tough.
2. Get help. I will have a solid stand on this: Family-first policy. I know that we have different domestic setup and that some HIV positive gay men are still in the closet but if you can, get help from your family. If you think your family just won't understand you, reach out to your close friends. To whom you will get help and support is a judgment call.
3. Do not seclude yourself. It's not entirely about having HIV. It's about knowing you have HIV. And when you know you have the virus, it sets a trainwreck of depressive thoughts in your head. The more you seclude yourself, the more the devil is playing with your idle mind. Go out there and find distraction.
4. Pay your Philhealth account. Every HIV positive here in the Philippines knows how important Philhealth remittance is. If you're voluntarily paying for your contributions, better. Because at least you are keeping tab of it. If your employer are always late in remitting your contributions, make sure that your local treatment hub knows about it so you can prove that you are not remiss with your obligations, but your employer is. This is to let them know that the remittance of your premium contribution is not within your hands anymore.
5. Share your experience. It need not have to be with a company. Much better if you can volunteer, but if you don't, keep a blog, a social media account or an open line for pieces of advice. For all we know, a newly-diagnosed HIV patient who is depressed and lost may be out there. Keeping a journal of your transformation and coping mechanism will help them. Do it for them.
6. Pray. In deference to apatheists, this one is entirely personal and subjective. Then again, go there and renew your sense of faith. The bitter part of acquiring HIV, especially in the Philippine context where male-to-male sex is the most viable transmission, is that it seems to be looked upon as a maleficent karma on our promiscuity or lack of sexual restraint. Renewing your faith, as I can attest, will dampen the stigma associated with the condition. In times of moral danger, sometimes the best hope is to cling to the Man Upstairs. If you know deep inside you're sorry and willing to change, no amount of stinging remark will ever get you.
7. Drink your ARVs as soon as possible. When I was diagnosed back in 2011 my CD4 count was well above the 200-mark. My doctor gave me an option, which means that I can defer drinking my ARVs. But I asked for her honest-to-goodness opinion and she recommended to discount the figure and push on with the ARVs. I did. Now, I am back within the healthy range.
8. Be fit in all sense and aspect of your life: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Go hit the gym. Help other people. Do away with stressors. Hush a prayer. Sleep long. It's not necessary for you to go on a Juju cleanse or a six-pack abs. Just make sure that in common human experience, you are functioning well. Don't just settle with "Yes, I'm okay." Make it, "I feel damn alive."
9. Instead of asking why, ask how. Finding out you have HIV won't turn the movement of tides. It's already there. As defeating as it sounds, asking why won't do anything good. Why prompts us to look for answer. Sure we can ask that but it is dangerous to be fixated to looking for answers that won't come a day after, a week, a month or years. Our having HIV will make sense when we have already change our inner core. How do we change our inner core? How do we stop from poisoning our thoughts with hopelessness? Simple, ask How? How can I move on? How can I move past the situation? By asking how, we look for solutions more proximate than the answers that would fill our whys. How elicits action. Why hopes for a distant answer. Action to how is more at our disposal than answers to why. At a time when we are at the most vulnerable, ask yourself, "How can I rise up from here?"
10. Forgive yourself. You have a special circumstance as to why you contracted the disease. Maybe you've had unprotected sex. Maybe due to syringe sharing. And all sorts of reasons attendant to it as well: apathy to condom use, lack of knowledge about HIV, misinformation about transmission, or simple carelessness. Whatever those are, it's good for you to look back and admit it to yourself that you erred, that you've had a lapse of judgment, and you know you could have done better. You can only do so much running away from your mistakes. Time will come, it will catch up on you. It will be better if once in a while, you admit that you made a mistake. Forgive yourself first because in so doing, you befriend your past. Your mistakes will not haunt but actually will guide you in arriving at a wiser and more mature decision when the situation presents itself again: "I will use condom always. I'll be very picky with my sexual encounters, if not keep my sexual encounters to a low. I will make a conscious effort by not infecting others." When you forgive yourself, you're bound to be kinder and more gentler with other people. And it will make you want to preserve those who are not yet infected. Forgive yourself, because it's the only way to carry the burden of your past and make them light.
They say that the toughest battle belong to the strongest soldier. If any, we should look at HIV as a chance to pull ourselves together and redefine our lives. HIV is human immunodeficiency syndrome. Right. But I'd rather make a more positive note out of it. HIV: Here Is Victory.