Finding out that you’re HIV positive can be a difficult experience for anyone. And although people often think about physical and sexual health in regards to HIV, it’s also important that you take care of your mental health during this time. Below are some important things to keep in mind and a description of the process which usually occurs here in Edmonton.
First thing: You’re not going to die.
At least not of HIV, or more accurately, AIDS-related complications. In Canada, people who are living with HIV and are on HIV medication have a life expectancy similar to that of the general population, particularly if they maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Second thing: Don’t worry about money.
If you have Alberta Healthcare, HIV medications are free.
Third thing: You can feel however you want, but…
This is your experience. You get to determine how you feel. Others do not. But, know that it will get better. If you need support, reach out to those you trust to be supportive, like family members or friends. And if you lack a support network and are in need of immediate help, contact the distress line at 780-482-HELP (4357).
Through conversations with several guys living with HIV in Edmonton, not knowing how the process works after diagnosis can be difficult. So we thought we’d clarify what happens most often:
After an HIV diagnosis, someone from the Edmonton STI Clinic will follow up with you to ask you some questions and get a list of sexual contacts. This is to ensure that others who may have also been exposed to HIV are notified and can get tested. Your name will not be shared with these contacts.
You will be referred to an HIV specialist within the Northern Alberta Program (NAP). It may be approximately one month before your first appointment. Although this isn’t ideal, don’t stress about your health. Changes in your viral load (the amount of HIV in your bloodstream) and CD4 count (the amount of important immune cells you have) typically occur very gradually and the additional month you’re waiting shouldn’t have a significantly negative impact on your health.
There are psychologists and social workers within NAP specifically for people living with HIV. If you need additional support, let the healthcare provider you meet after your diagnosis know so that you don’t have to wait to meet your HIV specialist for a referral. Also, HIV Edmonton has a staff member who focuses specifically on supporting GBQT men and runs a social group for GBQT poz men. To learn more about the support HIV Edmonton offers, you can e-mail Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When you meet with your HIV specialist you will discuss your current health, steps forward, and what treatment option is best for you. If you choose to start HIV treatment, you’ll get a prescription which can be picked up from the Rexall pharmacy at the Kaye Clinic (U of A) or the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
Over time, as a trend is established in regards to your viral load and CD4 count, or once you achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load, the frequency of your HIV appointments will usually decrease to approximately two times per year.
An HIV diagnosis is a significant happening in anyone’s life. But know that you can manage this. There is support available for coming to terms with this new chapter of your life. If you feel like you need it, make sure you reach out. It’s there for you.