Being diagnosed with HIV will be one of the most significant events in your life. It’s very difficult to predict exactly what emotions and feelings you’ll experience in the first few hours and days after finding out you have HIV, as these vary so widely from person to person. However, commonly reported reactions include feeling numb, frightened, upset, tearful, desperate or angry – although it should be noted that other people have said they were relieved to have finally found out.
It might be difficult to appreciate this at the time, but finding out that you are HIV positive puts you in a position where you can start to take steps towards looking after your health. Although there’s no cure for HIV and it can still be fatal, there are treatments that mean that people with HIV can live much longer and healthier lives. The sooner your HIV infection is diagnosed, the sooner you can receive appropriate medical care.
The fact that you have HIV might be the only information you can absorb on the day of your diagnosis. You should have had post-test counselling after you received your test result, and you may have been able to ask a few questions at this stage. There are no right or wrong questions to ask, and don’t worry if you didn’t understand everything you were told. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to get more information later.
You’re not on your own
You don’t need to face HIV alone. You might choose to turn to those who are closest to you, loved ones, family or friends or to begin with you might not want to tell anyone you know and you might prefer to speak to a professional or to someone who has been through the same experience. No matter how long you have had HIV there’s a lot of professional support available. You might find that counselling helps you work out your experiences of HIV. If you feel that this might be useful then ask at your clinic what counselling is available?
There are lots of organisations offering support to people living with HIV. Two national helplines which you might find particularly useful both of which can provide information on HIV and are staffed by trained advisers who can help you talk through some of your feelings and help to put you in touch with local support.
These helplines are:
- THT Direct on 0845 122 1200.
- African AIDS Helpline on 0800 0967 500
Knowing that you’re not the only person going through your experiences might also be helpful, and some people find that meeting other HIV-positive people helps them to overcome their own feelings of stigma about having HIV. Some HIV organisations have events or support groups that you might find useful at different times, for example, groups for people who have been recently diagnosed. There are also support groups at some organisations for gay men with HIV, or African men and women. Don’t feel that you have to attend a group if you’re not comfortable with the idea, and don’t think you’ve made a mistake if you’ve reacted to HIV differently to somebody else.
For more information about local support you could ask someone at your HIV clinic, call one of the helplines above, or go to HIV Services on the Homepage of our website; we offer a range of 1-2-1 and group support including emotional support.