Living with HIV and being in a domestic violence relationship often bring up similar issues. Domestic violence, like HIV, is something stigmatized and often hidden, with many people suffering in silence and isolation when what they really need is human contact and specific help. Both HIV and domestic violence are related to human interpersonal relationships, and both have high emotional stakes. The damage done by each is gradual and insidious, and gets worse with time if it is not stridently addressed in a comprehensive plan for help. Women are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence, but it’s important to note that men can be victims, too, and it can occur in opposite- and same-sex relationships.
If you’re like most people, by the time February comes, the New Year’s Resolutions you made January 1st are a distant memory. Despite our best-laid plans, it’s hard to make and sustain real changes in our lives, even when we know the changes are necessary or desirable. Living with HIV requires a lot of flexibility and being ready to make changes that will improve our mental or physical health.
Driving through West Hollywood these days, I often see the banners on streetlights and telephone poles with the faces of the “HIV Stops with Me” campaign poster-boys. This public health awareness/HIV prevention program is certainly high-profile, and like everyone else, I hope it does some good to reduce the sadly high number of new HIV infections every year in this country. But I’m not convinced of this campaign’s effectiveness.
Many recent articles in AIDS magazines that I’ve read recently have focused on HIV treatment decisions. They have addressed issues such as when to start therapy, when to change therapy, and even when to fire your doctor. These articles give a great deal of information and advice, but to me something seems missing. When people … Read moreDecisions, Decisions – and a Leap of Faith
Ever since the days of Prohibition in the 1920’s, or the 1938 camp film, “Reefer Madness”, substances and American politics have clashed in a way that goes far beyond the actual health risks of alcohol or “recreational” drugs and into a moralistic quagmire that leaves people confused and conflicted about just what to believe. I have seen this frequently in my work as a therapist with people who are living with HIV and have issues, or even just questions, about substance use, abuse, and addiction.
While thinking back on my experiences as a therapist who specializes in working with people living with HIV, it’s rewarding to think of how so many clients have made such dramatic improvements in their lives once they accessed mental health services as well as good medical care. They were able to overcome any fears of seeking out mental health treatment and learned how to cope with their particular situations.
My sister, animal rights activist and author Jill Howard Church of Atlanta, Georgia, recently wrote an excellent piece recently on the history of the portrayal of gay and lesbian characters on television, even though she is straight with a husband and two kids and I’m the gay one in the family. Feeling like I should return the literary favor, I decided to consider writing about some of her world as an animal rights activist and think about how that pertains to my area of HIV mental health as a psychotherapist living with HIV.
Many thanks to readers who have sent emails; I’m glad you enjoy this column. I want to start answering here some of the email I receive in case it helps others with similar questions:
I read Positive Outlook every month and I appreciate your discussions. I wondered if you could help me. Unlike so many in the U.S., I have good health insurance and a good social support system. However, ever since I found out I was positive about a year ago, I’ve been on a downward spiral. I haven’t been back to my doctor in many months, and I haven’t done anything to deal with HIV except have a confirmatory second test. I’m not in a good place because I find being diagnosed overwhelming. I just have one question: Where does someone start?
After living on the west coast for a number of years, the ritual of “spring cleaning” practiced by many in the Midwest and the East is a faded memory. But for many people in the country, warmer weather in the spring means opening the doors and windows that were shut all winter to keep out the cold. Once open, it’s time for things to move in and out more easily – sweeping the dust out the door and letting the new warm fragrant breeze in. It can also be a good time for home maintenance like re-painting walls, bringing in new furnishings, or cleaning out things to give away to charity.
In the earliest years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, many people were distressed by the appearance of nickel-sized purple lesions on their bodies and faces that were a visible sign of living with Kaposi’s Sarcoma, an AIDS-related opportunistic infection. The lesions involuntarily “outed” them as having the highly stigmatized disease of AIDS. Society’s reaction to patients with these visible symptoms often caused additional psychological distress to people who were already fighting a host of medical challenges in the days with almost no treatment options.