Where are my HIV+ friends? HIV and loneliness.

positive-peers-hiv-friends

Friendship is a wildly underrated medication.
- Anna Deavere Smith

Friendships are simply necessary. πŸ’› Friends provide more than just giving you a shoulder to cry on. 😘😒 They also positively impact your health. HIV+ friends are just as important to your well-being as eating right and exercising, and you know we're all about that.

But when you have been diagnosed with HIV, you might feel lonely – especially if you start rethinking your friendships or worrying about which friend you can tell. Even when joining an HIV support group like Positive Peers, you might be cautious, giving everyone the side-eye πŸ‘€ and wondering who you can really trust.

But with time and effort, we promise you can build up those friendships. The friends that lift you up during and after your diagnosis will become your tried and true, thick and thin, your "I'll text you 50 times a day and feel no shame" friends. πŸ˜πŸ“² They'll become your HIV friends – friends you can trust with your diagnosis and who support your well-being.

What does a good friendship look like?

A good friend knows that life throws a lot of curveballs and will stay by your side no matter what comes your way. A good friend is someone you can be open with. When you can be honest and communicate your feelings, you help establish trust. Trust is the foundation of friendship. You should enjoy spending time with this person. And they should make you feel good about being yourself. Most importantly, a good HIV+ friend is empathetic and shows they care by validating your feelings.

Friendships aren't just for Snapchatting or going out to the clubs. They:

● Increase your sense of belonging and purpose πŸ™ŒπŸΎπŸ‘πŸΎ
● Boost your happiness 😊
● Encourage you to change unhealthy habits πŸ’ͺ🏾
● Reduce stress 😘😒
● Help you cope with adverse events ✊🏾

Why do I feel lonely?

In addition to worrying about who you can lean on right now, you are dealing with trauma. Receiving an HIV diagnosis is considered traumatic. Trauma occurs when an event is emotionally disturbing or feels life-threatening. Trauma not only impacts your feeling of safety but also shapes the way you think of relationships. You might be worried about who you have to tell and if it's safe to confide in a friend.

Friendships are complex, and the fear of negative reactions from friends when you are processing an HIV+ diagnosis is normal. Remember when your friend made fun of your secret crush and how much that stung? 😑 Yeah, this news is way bigger, right? We're not going to sugarcoat it; sometimes, sharing an HIV diagnosis with a friend doesn't go the way it should, and that's pretty stigmatizing.

Bad friendships

We recently read about Paige Rawl, who has lived with HIV since birth. When she was twelve, she told her best friend at school about her diagnosis. That friend told their schoolmates, and they responded by mocking and excluding her. Obviously, her best friend was no best friend. And that stinks.

Do you know what else stinks? Paige is probably not the only one out there with a similar story.

If you end up dealing with a bad friend, consider avoiding or reducing contact with them. βœ‹πŸΎ Look, we all slip up at times and say the wrong thing. A good friend will apologize and work to regain your trust. A toxic friend will enjoy spreading secrets, even when you've asked them to keep personal information private.

How to make new friends

Some medical doctors wish they could "prescribe friendships for everyone." But the older you get, the harder it seems to make friends.

For many, the biggest challenge to making friends is a lack of trust. As we grow up, we have greater self-awareness. We are more afraid of being judged, rejected, disliked, or hurt. To trust new people, we have to be open and vulnerable, and that's difficult if we've been hurt before.

If you've experienced rejection when disclosing your HIV status like Paige, it can be tough to want to go through that again. But it's so important that you keep on trying.

Here are some quick-fire tips πŸ”₯ on how to create a friendship with someone you like but aren't sure about:

  • A little at a time: Make friends for 10 minutes a day. There's no need to jump into spending hours on end together. A little goes a long way, especially when we all have busy schedules.
  • Be present: When you are with friends, make the most of it. Try not to spend too much time glued to your phone, but actually be engaged and focused on each other. It makes that time more memorable and meaningful.
  • Your vulnerability is your strength: Share personal information slowly instead of all at once. But do share little by little, as you feel comfortable. There are risks, but there is also the potential to form meaningful, long-lasting connections.

HIV+ friends: they're already out there

Many of the 1.2 million people living with HIV in America face stigma and misunderstanding. Some have been isolated from friends and are dealing with loneliness. An obvious solution is to make friends with other HIV-positive people and share experiences.

Luckily, technology πŸ“² has advanced and put us more in touch than ever before. It gives us a real opportunity to connect with people that have the same experiences. The challenge now is finding the right community.

If you're struggling, why not try our Positive Peers app? It's a confidential tool, connecting people living with HIV between the ages of 13-34. It offers healthcare information, social networking, and self-management tools to support HIV-related, holistic care.

Your best friend might already be out there on the app, waiting to meet someone like you. We hope you find each other soon, and good luck!

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