Everyone reacts in their own way to their HIV-diagnosis. Some people a hit hard by it; for others, it takes a while to sink in. Who you hear it from can make a difference; someone you know and trust, such as your general practitioner, or someone you don’t know.
Maybe you have already been thinking it might be HIV. The diagnosis may hit you like a lightning bolt, shattering the warm fuzzy feeling of your pregnancy. Many people find it hard to come to terms with HIV, but ultimately get something positive out of it as well. This could be self-awareness, personal growth, or living more in the moment.
- You may get really shocked by your HIV diagnosis.
- It can take a while to come to terms with HIV.
- There are four phases of dealing with it: acceptance, allowing your feelings to surface, changing your attitude and moving on.
- It can be good to talk about your HIV diagnosis, either to people you know or to people you don’t know.
- Many people end up retaining something positive from their diagnosis, such as personal growth.
Anyone can catch HIV
Would it surprise you to know that many different kinds of people are living with HIV? There are various ways of getting HIV, and the virus does not discriminate. Even people you wouldn’t expect to, may have HIV.
In the Netherlands, around four in ten people with HIV are heterosexual, and six in ten are gay or bisexual. Approximately one in five people with HIV are female. In the Netherlands, about four in ten people with HIV are wholly or partly of foreign origin. There are various ways of catching HIV. Some people have been infected through sex, others through a blood transfusion, some from their mother during pregnancy or breastfeeding, and some people don’t know how they got HIV.
Some individuals may think they can judge people who have HIV, but ultimately anyone can catch HIV. There are still many outdated views on HIV, and this makes it important for HIV to be a normal topic of conversation. Especially now that the current treatment means people with HIV live as long as people without it, and that when the virus is sufficiently suppressed, it cannot be transmitted sexually.
Dealing with it
You will probably experience all kinds of thoughts and feelings if you’ve just been told you have HIV. This is completely normal. To be able to deal with it, many people go through a four-phase process, and these phases often overlap. Some people get back almost immediately to living their lives as normal, for others it takes months or years. The four phases are:
Possibly it may not really sink in at first. You just can’t believe it. You shove it to the back of your mind. It can take a while to accept you have HIV if you weren't really expecting it, if you got told the result insensitively in a telephone call, or if you didn't even know you were being tested for HIV. This is actually against the guidelines, but it does happen in a few cases; in hospitals or asylum seeker centres, for example.
You may have been struggling with your health for years and are relieved that you finally know the reason for this. This may sound strange to you, but some people think: ‘Now I don't have to worry about getting HIV, because I already have it.’ Nobody wants to get HIV, but you do have to deal with it for the rest of your life. You might blame yourself: ‘If only I'd been more careful...’ Or: ‘If only I hadn't been so naïve.’ You can't turn back time, and there is currently no medicine that can cure you of HIV.
Coming to terms with HIV in your relationship
The effect on your relationship when you are told you have HIV, while your partner doesn't, can differ in each case. Sometimes the partner is very supportive, but in other cases it can result in a lot of tension. Sometimes a partner needs time to get used to it. But sometimes HIV barely has any impact.
If you talk honestly to each other about your feelings, it's easier to be more considerate with each other. Possibly you feel guilty, or you don't feel equal any more. It can be complicated if your partner has been at risk of getting HIV from you. Some people feel an extra responsibility to prevent their partner from getting HIV; others feel that this is really a shared responsibility. Often people blame relationship problems on HIV, while the point is, you may have had relationship problems without HIV.
If your partner also has HIV, that sometimes makes it easier, or the relationship more equal. You might have contracted HIV separately. When there is a possibility that one of you got it from the other, that can create tension. When both partners are told they have HIV at more or less the same time, you often see a kind of pact: this binds us together, we will take care of each other from now on.
Coming to terms with HIV in your sex life
Simply knowing you have HIV can turn your sex life upside down. It won't be the case for everyone, but most people who have just tested positive for HIV put it out of their minds for a while. Take your time to process it. It's not weird to not feel like having sex right now. That is a normal reaction in this situation. It may do you good to seek intimacy though. That can give you support.
Most people find that their sex lives return to normal after a while. Once you’ve taken HIV medication long enough to suppress the virus, you don’t have to worry about transmitting HIV through sex. Undetectable=Untransmittable (in Dutch, n=n). So you don’t have to worry about passing on HIV to your partner. Talk to your specialised HIV doctor or HIV nurse about whether your virus is suppressed.
Talking about HIV?!
Many people benefit from talking about it with someone who is familiar with HIV. For example, you can talk about it with:
Brochures about hiv
- Living Positive
You’ve just learned that you have HIV? Or you have a close friend, a partner or family member who is living with HIV? This brochure provides information on living with HIV and points you towards more resources, support and opportunities to meet others. It is written by and for people with HIV
- Living positive in common language
Various topics are discussed that are important and about which questions arise when someone is diagnosed with HIV. About telling, medication, treatment, sex, work and healthy aging. Intended for people who have not yet mastered the language well or are not strong in the written word.