As someone who has been living with HIV since 2007 and was recently diagnosed as having bi-polar disorder, I understand what it’s like to operate from an emotional deficit.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem within their lifespan, and I happen to be one of them. There has been research that has demonstrated the heightened prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders among Black gay men. Imagine the added layers of stress one is subjected to after an HIV-positive diagnosis. As AIDS.gov’s HIV Basics page on HIV and mental health explains, mental health refers to your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Your mental health affects how you think, feel, and act, and it also helps determine how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. That’s important for all people, including people living with HIV. When you have positive mental health, you are often able to function better in life and especially in relationships. You’re also often better able to decipher what may be hindering you from experiencing the types of relationships you deserve. When I began to realize that the emotionally fulfilling relationships I desired were escaping me because I hadn’t unpacked my “stuff” yet, I subsequently reached out for help, which allowed me to make healthier choices for myself in regards to love and who I allowed in my life intimately.
It was especially important for me to acknowledge that I needed help and that it was OK to seek it. I understood that I wasn’t equipped with the necessary tools to discern between what was good for me and what was just good to me. That’s the problem with having an unhealthy perception of your reality; you make decisions that rival your best judgment. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been surprisingly empowering to realize that neither HIV nor mental illness defines me. I define them both by reclaiming my narrative and putting a face to the disease and illness that has plagued my community for decades. Today, I want you to ask yourself the hard questions: Do I honestly feel good about myself and do I feel good about the decisions I’ve made? If you answer no to either of these, I challenge you to do something about it!
Visit the HIV/AIDS Basics page for more information on Mental Health and HIV.