A few weeks after diagnosis

A few weeks after your HIV diagnosis, you may start to manage the reality of your HIV infection differently. Some people start to feel a lot calmer and more optimistic as they begin to understand how they will manage their HIV infection long term. Others may feel depressed or demoralised.

Fitting HIV into your life can be time consuming. It is normal to feel frustrated and stressed about the increased time required to juggle all of life’s demands. The good news is that your HIV diagnosis means you can take control of your health and your plans for the future. Are you treating yourself well? Ask yourself:

Am I eating well and trying to get enough sleep and exercise?

One of the most common effects of HIV is fatigue or chronic tiredness.

Sleep, good diet and exercise can reduce fatigue. HIV can prevent your body from absorbing food and nutrients and can cause weight loss. It is important to maintain a healthy body weight to sustain your body’s defences. Alternatively, being overweight can increase health risks such as diabetes or heart disease. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking, cycling, yoga and Pilates can address muscle wasting which is associated with both HIV and some HIV treatments.

Have I done something nice for myself?

It is important to look after your mental health, including reminding yourself that HIV is not a punishment – it is a virus that can be managed long term. Have you been treating yourself well? Consider doing something nice for yourself, like buying a book, seeing a movie, going for a swim or a walk, having a massage, or taking some time off work and having a holiday.

Have I set some goals?

Although your goals may change over time, setting some short term goals can help you stay focused. Maybe you want to join the gym, take up yoga, redecorate a room or pay off some debt. We’re all different and some people simply are not planners but if you feel ready, you may also want to set some longer term goals. Setting goals can help you work out how you’re feeling about things now… and also get you some great rewards down the track.

Have I found support?

If you haven’t yet told anyone you have HIV, have a think about who you may be able to trust. If you can’t think of anyone or if it seems too soon, consider talking to a peer support worker or counsellor at your local HIV organisation. They can provide support and can also help you work out who to tell and how you might tell them. You are not alone and do not need to deal with everything by yourself.

Staying social can make a big difference to how you handle things. For some ideas, check out AFAO’s Your Body Blueprint.

Have I told my partner?

Disclosure is a very personal process and can be daunting. If you are in a relationship but haven’t told your partner about your HIV diagnosis, you will need to think carefully about how, where and when you can broach the subject. Your HIV diagnosis may come as a shock to them, and they may be scared or confused. They might also need to be tested for HIV. Your doctor or HIV service organisation staff can provide support to help you work through this process.

It is important not to delay telling your partner for too long as the longer you leave it, the more difficult and complex it may become. Some people react badly to the idea that their partner has been keeping their HIV diagnosis a secret from them.

You will need to discuss sex as soon as possible so you can come to an agreement on safe sex practice. Be reassured, there are many thousands of people with HIV in Australia who are leading active and satisfying sexual lives with HIV-negative partners by practising safe sex. Consider making an appointment to see your doctor together to discuss risk of HIV transmission in your specific circumstances.

Do I need more information about my HIV infection?

If you need more information about your HIV infection, make another appointment to see your doctor. You can ask for a longer appointment if you think you’ll need it. It can be useful to go armed with a list of questions. Here are some common questions people ask:

  • How long do you think I will stay healthy?
  • Should I start treatment – even if I feel well?
  • Will there be side-effects from treatment?
  • What happens if I miss a dose?
  • Are there other medications or non-traditional therapies I should be using?
  • What should I change in my day to day life to stay healthy/improve my health?
  • Does it matter if I smoke?
  • Will alcohol or other recreational drugs have any effect on my HIV?
  • How physically active can I be?
  • How do I keep track of any physical developments related to my HIV?
  • How do I recognise complications or opportunistic infections?
  • What can I do to prevent them?
  • I’m feeling very anxious/ depressed. What can I do?
  • What can I do to avoid transmitting HIV?

Is smoking a big deal?

If you are HIV positive, stopping smoking is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health.

Smoking affects blood supply to your heart and other parts of your body. It reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and damages blood vessel walls. Smoking increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease (which can lead to gangrene and limb amputation). Smoking is particularly damaging for people with HIV because it will further weaken your immune system.

Stopping smoking improves your health within hours, with significant improvement in the following weeks and months. Your risk of cardiovascular disease will decrease rapidly within a year, and within two to six years it will be similar to that of a non-smoker. The risk of having a stroke begins to fall soon after quitting smoking, with most benefit experienced within two to five years. Some AIDS Councils and PLHIV (people living with HIV) organisations have programmes in place specifically for HIV-positive people who want to stop smoking. Check with your local AIDS Council or PLHIV organisation to see what support they can offer you.

Should I start treatment?

HIV treatment is now recommended for all people with HIV. Treatments are very effective at stopping the virus from reproducing, which allows the immune system to fight infection and slows disease progression. Recent research suggests starting treatment early will optimise your long-term health. Still, there are a range of issues to consider before you start, so talk to your doctor about when you want to start treatment and anything you can do to make sure you will be able to take your treatment exactly as prescribed. For more information, see Treatment.

What else do I need to know about how HIV will affect my body?

HIV and HIV treatments impact different parts of your body. Your doctor can provide individualised information about how HIV is affecting, or is likely to affect, your body and what you can do to maximise your health. You can get a brief overview from AFAO’s Your Body Blueprint.

“Love will always come along and I think there is always someone for everyone. Just because you are positive it doesn’t mean that nobody is going to love you.”

For more tips on healthy living, check out:

Giving up smoking is challenging. Remember:

  • Not everyone is successful the first time. It may take several attempts before you are smoke free. Each attempt brings you closer to your goal.
  • There are many strategies to help you quit and you may decide to use more than one. Get advice and support from Quitline (ph. 13 78 48). The more support you receive the more likely you will succeed.
  • Talk to your GP and your friends for emotional support. Having good people around you can only increase your chances of giving up.
  • There are now medications available to help you stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about whether these are suitable for you.