I am a 24 year-old gay man and I recently became HIV-positive.
I’m angry at myself for so badly screwing up my life. Basically I feel like I have flushed my future down the toilet. I’m also feeling very alone.
I haven’t told any of my friends because I am so afraid they will judge me. As far as I know, none of them are positive.
I’m not dating anyone and now I can’t see how I will ever be in a relationship. I see myself as damaged goods and don’t feel like anyone would want to date me.
Even if someone were interested in me, I think my sexual and romantic feelings are dead. Considering where they’ve gotten me, I don’t want to ever go down that road again.
I always imagined I’d have a husband, some kids, good health and a long life. Now there’s a giant question mark after all those dreams. So I don’t really know what I have to live for.
I am despondent. What can I do to feel better?
You can have a perfectly wonderful, fulfilling life, even if it doesn’t seem possible at this moment. Many people are successfully living with HIV.
The first thing you must do is find support. It’s an awful thing to feel as alone as you do with a seemingly terrible secret. The reality is you don’t need to be alone and HIV is no longer a disaster.
If you’re living in Washington, please contact Whitman-Walker Health Clinic. They offer a support group for people who are newly diagnosed with HIV (whitman-walker.org/service/
There, you’ll meet others who have been through everything you are now facing. They will be able to tell you and show you that you can have a fine, full life with HIV. You will gain a supportive peer group to talk with and learn from. All of this will help you feel better.
If you don’t live in D.C., please find the nearest HIV support group and go. It will help you save your own life.
Now may not be the time to tell all your friends, because you are feeling bad about yourself and may not have the strength or presence of mind to best take this step. But if you have any really close friends whom you can count on for loving support without judgment, telling them about your status may reduce your feelings of isolation and give you some relief.
Yes, it’s possible that some of your friends will be unsupportive or reject you, just as it’s possible that some men won’t be interested in dating you. But you will also have friends who will be there for you, just as there will be guys who are interested in you once you’re feeling better and back on your game.
I’m wondering how well you’re taking care of yourself. When we feel as awful as you describe feeling, it’s common to stop eating properly, exercising or getting adequate sleep. Without good self care, we spiral downward and feel even worse.
As you want to feel better, please make the effort to treat yourself well right now, even though you are feeling low. Doing so is likely to improve your mood.
I don’t know if alcohol and/or drug use was involved in your HIV conversion, as it is for so many gay men. Substance abuse is entrenched in LGBT culture as a means to push away the isolation, distress, anxiety, depression and pain that many of us face. But it actually makes everything worse.
If you are using or feeling tempted to use as a way to try and feel better, please seek out help for this right away. Again, Whitman-Walker in D.C. has a number of great substance treatment programs. If you live elsewhere, look for something similar, preferably gay-friendly. I know many people who are alive today because they started attending Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or similar 12-step groups. Others find help through alternatives such as SMART Recovery.
I know you are in a bleak and hopeless place right now, but don’t despair. You won’t always feel this way. Many people have walked the same path before you and are now thriving. If you take steps to move forward, you’ll be able to enjoy a life that can include the dreams you’ve had for yourself.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com