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Being HIV-positive and Healthy
Living well with HIV and fulfilling your potential
HIV is now considered to be a 'long-term chronic condition'. This means that HIV affects your health over a long time. However, taking your antiretroviral medication every day will allow you to keep healthy with HIV and have a long life expectancy.
With this in mind, it’s really important to keep thinking about your long-term personal goals... are you looking to go to college? Travel? Find ways to make new friends? Get an amazing job? Do you see yourself married? Living where you grew up, or living somewhere else? Having children? (This IS possible without passing HIV to your children or your partner).
It’s good to chat to your healthcare worker about what’s most important to YOU about YOUR FUTURE so that he or she can help you to make sure that HIV doesn't hold you back!
“I am going to go to uni, i am going to stay with my boyfriend and i'm going to have an amazing future.” - Jay, HIV-positive young person
Staying happy and stress-free
Living with HIV can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to take over your life. It is a good idea to identify the people that you know you can go to for support – for some that is family, for others it could be a youth worker, somebody from your religious or faith community, a friend or a teacher. For many young people, their health worker or doctor is the main source of support. To find an HIV service near you, have a look at this online resource - ' HIV and AIDS services worldwide'.
One of the main ways you can make sure you get the support you need is to join a peer support group for young people living with HIV, if there is one near where you live. This is where a group of young people meet up to share experiences, get support, make new friends and be themselves! Ask your healthcare provider – they may know of things like this in your country or area.
A good way to start feeling connected to people going through similar things to you is by reading about the experiences of other HIV-positive young people.
There is a lot of information that’s wrong or not true out there about HIV – if you’ve heard anything that worries you, contact your health worker or AVERT. It’s good to gain confidence in your condition - tell your doctor if you don’t understand their jargon (complicated, scientific or medical words).
Taking your medication
The really important thing is to make sure that you feel able to take your medication properly. If you find this really hard, you’re not alone – and sometimes healthcare staff can make things worse by making you feel rubbish for ‘doing badly’ with your medication.
Many HIV-positive young people don’t experience problems with taking antiretroviral medication – they find it easy to remember, they feel no side-effects and they have no trouble working out how to fit taking their medication into their daily routine. Other people have found it difficult because:
- They experience side-effects like nausea
- They find that pills are difficult to swallow / medicines can taste horrible!
- They find that practical things like carrying medication, or water to swallow them, can be hard to remember.
“At first it was so hard to me ‘cause it made me feel so bad and sick too, but then I got used to it, I am now fine.” - 16 year old boy, Tanzania
It’s your healthcare provider’s job to help you to do this. Try to explain any difficulties you have faced with your medicine – even if it’s something like staying over at a friend’s house and taking the medication without them seeing - they may be able to give you some good advice.
When you first start taking your medication it can be good to practice with swallowing sweets.
“Growing up with HIV I didn't understand, ‘Why me?’ I also didn't understand why I had to take so much medication at the time. So at one point I stopped taking my medication. I would hide it under plants and things of that sort. My Levels were high, very high and if didn't move with my sister in law and brother I would be very, very sick.” - J.O. aged 19
To help you with your medication, Pozitude have developed an app that you can download if you have a smartphone, to help you remember to take your medication.
Eating healthily and good nutrition
Everyone needs a balanced diet to stay healthy. This means you need to eat healthily from each of the following food groups each day:
- Carbohydrates – to give you energy
- Proteins – to build your muscles
- Dairy – to provide extra calories and protein
- Fats & sugars – small amounts to provide extra calories
- Fruits & vegetables – to provide fibre, vitamins and minerals
As someone living with HIV, you will need more of each of these types of foods. This is because your body breaks down the food you eat in a different way, and so you need more nutrients to stay healthy.
To help maintain your immune system, make sure you keep your vitamin and mineral levels high – you can do this by taking a multivitamin tablet, and eating 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day.
Fitness, exercise and keeping fit
- Cardiovascular – this increases your heart rate to help blood flow right around your body, delivering oxygen to your muscles. Try running, swimming, dancing or riding a bike.
- Strength – this increases the strength of your muscles by lifting weights for a period of time and then repeating. Try lifting objects of weight, even a tin of baked beans will do!
- Flexibility – this stretches different parts of your body to strengthen your muscles and joints. 1 Try stretching before and after any exercise you do, and different yoga positions.
Not only is exercise good for your body, it can also get rid of stress, tension or boredom, and be a great way to hang out with your friends…or make new friends!
Seeing healthcare staff
Some young people find that the healthcare staff they get seen by are always different, and this makes it harder to build a positive relationship with them. See if you can request to see a particular person that you like who respects you. Ask if there is a way of giving your health worker feedback on how well they communicate with you!
When you grow up with HIV, it can be really hard to change from child health-services to adult-services. You may have had a nurse that you’ve known for a long time and are close to. You may want to ask for extra support at this time, particularly with remembering to take your medication or coping with the general stresses of life. Try to find out how other people have coped with this, if you are at a peer support group get advice from others. Don't give up on your medication!