Worrying about whether you’ve been infected with HIV can drive you nuts. All that stress is bad for your health..
There’s always a chance you’ll test negative and all your worrying was a waste. There are tons of misconceptions about how HIV gets transmitted. Some people who think they have been exposed have nothing to fear.
Let’s hope that’s true, but let’s also be realistic. If you’ve ever had unprotected sex (and who hasn’t?), there’s a chance you could be infected.
If that’s the case, you most definitely need to get tested and find out for sure. Here’s why:
Facing your fears helps you defeat them
People put off getting tested because they’re afraid. It’s a sensible fear, because HIV is a serious health threat — but only if you do nothing about it.
The questions race through your mind: What will my parents think? How will my brothers and sisters react? Will I ever have sex again? Will my friends ever talk to me again? Why was I so careless?
These questions might stay bouncing around in your head if you don’t know your HIV status. Once you know, you’ll be equipped to deal with them once and for all.
It’s impossible to predict how people will react if they learn you have HIV. The only people who have to know are the ones you could infect (or may have infected already, and they can be told anonymously).
As for everybody else, it’s none of their business unless you want it to be.
So, the main challenge is looking your fear in the face and saying “okay, it’s bad enough to be afraid, but it’s even worse not knowing.” Knowledge is power. No matter the result, there are options available to help ensure you remain in good health.
What about HIV stigma?
You might not be able to keep your HIV status secret. You could tell a family member and hope they can keep a secret, and find out 24 hours later they’ve blabbed it to the whole world. HIV stigma is real. Some people don’t understand HIV and are fearful of what they don’t know. However, with the right education, you’d be surprised how quickly people come around.
People you’ve known all your life might start treating you like a stranger. But that’s not a sure thing. People who truly care for you will be there for you. The rest are not the kind of people you need in your life anyway, right?
Today’s HIV drugs are so effective that they can keep someone living with HIV just as healthy as someone who is HIV negative. In fact, if someone takes their HIV meds as prescribed by their doctor, they can even reduce the amount of HIV in their blood to the point of being undetectable. Undetectable = untransmittable.
Using a condom and taking meds everyday make it impossible to pass the virus to other people. People living with HIV need to tell their partner(s) about their status before they have sex. So this is useful to bring up in that conversation when things start heading towards the hot and heavy. Prep is a possibility too, as another barrier to keep HIV from transmitting to the negative partner(s).
But a lot of people just don’t know these facts. Their thinking is stuck in the 1980s and early 1990s, before powerful anti-retroviral drugs and PrEP came on the scene.
Whatever they think is all about them not knowing the facts about HIV. It’s not about you. They have no right to judge you.
One surprising (and amazing) fact about being HIV positive
If you learn that you’re HIV positive and get to know other people living with HIV, you’ll soon find out something you never expected:
A lot of people’s lives change for the better after they learn they have HIV.
This happens because they have to take direct action to save their own lives. Once they learn they can face their fears, get into a treatment program and do everything it takes to stop HIV, they realize something else:
They’re calling the shots in their life now.
That gives people a sense of confidence they may never have had before. They can set goals and get things done in ways they never imagined possible before their diagnosis.
Knowing you can change your life for the better is one of the most powerful things you can learn, and it’s true no matter what the result of your test may be.
But you’ll never find out if you don’t get tested.
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.