I’m 28. I tested positive for HIV today. I have all the education to know precisely how grave this is (and is not) as well as a network of friends and family that are stunning me with their fortitude right now.
But Coke, I am so lost. I imagined this moment a hundred times, but I have no idea what to actually do now that it’s happened. How do I move forward from here and allow this experience and permanent life change to enrich my experience? I am filled with terror right now, but the deepest one is that my life will just continue status quo, only with an added layer of crippling regret and internal stigma that will diminish me. How do I handle this?
Many years ago, I had a day like you’re having today. I didn’t test positive for HIV, but you’ll have to trust me when I tell you that the news I got was equally life-changing and equally devastating.
I know exactly what you mean about the existential terror of the status quo — that dreadful feeling of sameness that comes from the world not even noticing how suddenly awake you are. You’ll walk around like that for days, maybe weeks, a completely different shade from everyone else. Some days brighter. Some days dimmer, but never quite matching the intensity of your surroundings.
I also get that you’re lost, but I can’t tell you where to go from here. Nobody can. You have to figure that out for yourself. Don’t worry. You will. Unfortunately, you can’t skip ahead to the part where your life is enriched from the experience. You gotta go through some shit first, and it’s gonna be fucked up for a while.
In the meantime, the best advice I can give you in this moment is to go out tonight and have a really good meal. Go to your favorite restaurant. Order your favorite dish.
I know that seems trite, but it’s not meant to be. I’m quite serious. When I was having a day like you’re having today, that was the single best piece of advice that anyone gave me — go treat yourself to a special meal. Take advantage of how awake you are.
Have an extravagant dinner and notice everything about it. Get dessert. Indulge. Use all your senses and be present in your terror and let your perspective shift just a little bit — that’s all, just the tiniest little shift — and let that be the place where you start, and then just go from there.