HIV 101














Maintaining an Optimistic
Attitude after HIV Diagnosis

By: Jesse McKenzie Jr.

The year was 2002; I became sick too often to not have noticed. I had rarely been sick, of course except for the occasional flu or cold, which was hard to not contract in New England, but otherwise I had to go out of my way to get sick. Four months had passed with Bronchitis, the common cold, the flu, and two separate cases of strep throat. I finally talked to my doctor, whom knew I was gay, and we decided to have an HIV test conducted. Needless to say, the result was positive.

At first I was devastated, as any who had been through this experience can attest to. In one word my world became “secluded,” as I felt I was the only one there. I felt alone, afraid and confused. So many questions to even contemplate all of them, which made me feel overwhelmed. What would I do? How would my life change? Will I die? How will my family and friends react? Will they disown me?

To answer those questions, I did tell a few of my friends and family. Instead of avoiding my life and leaving me alone to deal with this, they stuck by me more than ever before. They told me they loved me no matter what and they would be there, and they have not strayed from that promise. Yes, at first they were sad, as to be expected, but I was surprised by their knowledge of the disease or willingness to learn. The only thing that mattered to me was they were still in my life. I loved them and they loved me.

I will not say I did not have my moments of wanting to give up, because I did have those. Not enough to want to end my life, but to discontinue living a healthy, fun life. My self-esteem was affected more than anything else. Life has always been very special to me, mostly because of my friends and some family members. They stood by me through almost everything I had been through. Having my close friends there, not to comfort me in the trying times, but to make me laugh and just be in my presence was enough. It took quite a long time after the diagnosis to have the desire to want to live life to its fullest, but I knew I had to start somewhere. If I was using my friends and family as an excuse, so be it. At least, in my mind, it was a kick-start I needed. Although, I do admit now, I should have been the kick-start I needed.

It took about a year before I finally came to that reasoning: to live my life to the fullest and fight through this wrung in the ladder, so I could continue upward in my journey, instead of heading in the opposite direction. It was not an overnight process; however, I wish it were at times. It was a daily commitment I had to pursue. I had to wake up every morning and convince myself I was worth the time and effort. When I went to bed, I would have to again convince myself the end result would be beneficial.

When there were days that I would not want to get out of bed, and there were those days, I would not let my mind focus on the setbacks. I would just accept there would be those days. It was how I managed the next day that mattered. One day of bed rest was enough, any more than that and I knew I would fall into that pattern and I would not be fulfilling my desire, my dream of living. If I awoke the next morning wanting to stay in bed and not face the world, I would force myself to get up, jump in the shower, and go somewhere. There were many days that it was only to the backyard, but at least I was outside enjoying life’s creatures, and the beauty of the world.

It was not until a few years later, maybe two or three, I learned how important that decision was for me. My doctor was impressed with my CD4 counts being higher than some people that had the disease for the same amount of time. My viral load was low as well, again, lower than some. I asked the doctor if it was because of my positive attitude? Although she could not scientifically, at the time, conclude that was the reason, she did say that it didn’t hurt. The mind has a powerful effect on the body. It can strengthen us or weaken us. I have come to the conclusion that it was because of my optimistic outlook that I remained healthier than some people. I did not work out or exercise, as I should have been, nor was I on medication at this point, so this was the only answer I could come to.

I am not, however, saying that one should forfeit medication to just a positive attitude. I am saying that it does help. A positive attitude has a significant role in combating this disease, along with medication. Maybe we need both to finally put an end to this disease, this nuisance that tries to manipulate our minds and bodies.

It had been eight years since I was diagnosed. I was advised by my doctor that I should be put on medication. My CD4 had reached the lowest ever for me of 299. I obviously agreed. I went eight years before I was put on a regimen. I faced that battle. I conquered my fears. Now, I had another conquest to fight, another step in the ladder to rise up to, which I was going to accomplish. I knew I would do the best to my ability for this next fight because I had overcome my first few.

At present, 12 years after the initial diagnosis, I could not be happier. I have found the love of my life (almost five years together) I am two years into obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, love the city I live in (even though it is far away from my friends and family), my CD4 is over 700 and viral load is undetectable and have maintained my relationship with friends and family throughout all these years and throughout the trying times. I can only focus on the things I can control. I cannot control the disease entirely, but I can control how my mind operates. Do I want to live in a depressed state and assume that this disease is going to kill me - or do I live and have fun? Obviously, I am choosing the latter. I want to reach the top of that ladder someday, which I will. I will climb to the top, smile and say I did it, and I will not be alone. My family, friends and partner will all be there together. That first decision to live life, after the diagnosis, was the best decision I could have possibly made. I chose to live, not have the disease live my life for me. I will not be conquered, nor will I bow down to something I am stronger than. Someday there will be a cure; I will be ready, strong, and waiting for it. In the meantime, I am going to be happy, experience this beautiful planet and everything in it, and complete my journey up my ladder.
















































































































































































































































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This magazine is intended to enhance your relationship with your doctor - not replace it! Medical treatments and products should always be discussed with a licensed physician who has experience treating HIV and AIDS!