Taking responsibility for your health when you're living with HIV

This isn’t a video game where you can earn new lives. You only get one life, and it’s up to you to do your best with the one you’ve got.

OK, so there is some similarity to a video game: Staying healthy with HIV is like earning extra shields to keep your player strong.

HIV attacks the immune system, so you have to do all you can to strengthen your immune system. You also need a strong mind to create a plan and stick to it.

Start with Goals


By: Ann Avery, MD, Infectious Disease Physician at MetroHealth Medical Center

If you owned a big business like Nike, you’d create goals for how many shoes you want to sell. You’d promise big bonuses to all your managers for making their goals.

You can do the same when you manage your health. Create a list of daily goals and give yourself rewards for meeting them.

What are some sample goals?

  • Taking meds exactly as prescribed
  • Getting exercise every day
  • Eating a healthy diet (You can get pretty specific with this one, like a goal of eating more leafy greens, or quitting your soda addiction, or avoiding the fast-food drive-thrus... any little change in eating habits can help!)
  • Keeping a positive attitude
  • Practicing safer sex
  • Avoiding drugs and excessive drinking
  • Helping other people who are HIV-positive
  • Doing things that make you happy
  • Accomplishing these goals will keep your mind and body in balance and make it easier for your immune system to fight off HIV.

Sticking to Your Goals


Just writing down your goals is the most important first step. Seeing them on paper makes them real.

When your doctor or counselor is telling you how to stay healthy, add their advice to your list of goals.

You may even want to share your goals with someone else – if you tell your best friend your goal of exercising 30 minutes a day, they can help hold you accountable (they may even want to go on the bike ride or walk with you!)

Of course it’s not enough to list your goals or tell a friend. You have to actually work to achieve them.

The key to achievement is to give yourself rewards for meeting your goals. You don’t have to reward yourself with money or expensive gifts.

Keep it simple and reward your achievements by doing a little bit more of something you’re really into. Play an extra level on your favorite game, watch an extra episode of your favorite TV show — it can be anything that makes you happy (as long as it’s safe and legal, of course).


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Another strategy is to give yourself a score. Give yourself one point for making each of your goals, and count your total at the end of the day. That gives you a score to beat the next day.

You can’t know how good it feels to accomplish goals until you actually do it. You deserve every possible chance to feel good about your life. Meeting goals gives you those chances.

Put Yourself in Charge of Your Life


When you find out you’re HIV positive, it feels like you’ve lost all control of your life. There’s this virus inside you and all these doctors, counselors and articles like this one are telling you what to do.

Maybe the biggest challenge of being HIV positive is feeling good about yourself. You may be feeling uncomfortable feelings, like fear, anxiety or regret.

The best way to feel good about yourself is to treat your body and your mind well. The trouble is, you don’t know if you can — until you try.

But if you give yourself goals and figure out how to achieve them, you’ll start feeling like you’re in control of your life.

Once you’re in control, you’re calling the shots. That sense of control will give you the confidence you need to thrive for the rest of your life.

Positive Peers is made possible through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, HIV/AIDS Bureau Special Projects of National Significance (SPNS) Grant to The MetroHealth System. Click here for more information about the SPNS grant initiative.
Positive Peers is a private app for young people living with HIV. Learn how you can earn rewards for your participation.