Yesterday I had my first doctor's appointment for my HIV care in a year. Between the pandemic, remote learning with my daughter, and moving from NYC to upstate, life has been hectic to say the least. Before this I had been going to the same clinic since my diagnosis six years ago. It was affiliated with the local hospital and overall was not the best. I went through three doctors in my first three years there, the last being my doctor up until recently. Most times I went there, the wait for my appointment would be an hour long or so (even when I was just going back for my results). The nurses were probably the friendliest ones there. I always felt like just another number. It's a teaching hospital so I would always see one of the students and they would proceed to ask me the same questions they asked every single time I went in. Going over my chart on the computer and asking me about my medication. Then they would leave, my doctor would come in and he would basically give me my viral load and cd4 from the previous blood work I had done, ask a few more questions, and if I didn't have anything else of concern, that would be the end of it. Then another nurse would take my blood and I'd be on my way.
I thought this way was the norm until I started taking training for my peer certification and meeting other people in the field who were also living with HIV. A lot of people had friendly and personable relationships with their providers. They had been seeing them for years and had phone numbers and emails to reach them when they needed to. I had never had a number or email for my doctor. It was a struggle to even get to the front desk of the clinic on the phone, if I could at all.
I don't know if this experience is the reason why I always feel a little on edge when I have to go to my appointments. I mean, I am totally comfortable with my status. I've long accepted it and it was honestly a huge turning point in my life for me in a positive direction. But there's something about being at the clinic and having to get the blood work that's like a bad reminder. I usually feel very serious the whole day, maybe even a bit of an attitude. I just want to get in and get out.
I think part of me has this fear that one day I'm going to go in and find out something else is wrong with me. When I was diagnosed with HIV there were no obvious symptoms that made me think I was positive. I felt fine. I feel fine now too and in my mind I guess that's just not comforting to me anymore. Feeling fine doesn't necessarily mean anything. I do my best to take care of myself because I want to be here for a long time and I want to feel good and strong while I'm here, for myself and my family.
So after a whole year of not having to worry about that or feel those feelings, it all came back yesterday. I figured before my appointment I would walk around Target (I freaking love Target) and get some Starbucks before I headed there, thinking that would make me feel a little better. As I walked around the store, I felt like I couldn't catch my breath. My Apple watch showed my heart rate at about 100. That breathing and my heart rate pretty much lasted until I finally got to my appointment. The place is really nice. I definitely like it better than my previous clinic. The doctor, while not suuuper personable or extra friendly, wasn't rude or anything either. I felt much better once I left and it was all done. Though I've never been diagnosed, I know I do experience anxiety and have at times had small anxiety episodes like I did yesterday.
I share this to say to anyone else who may feel like this about their appointments, you're not alone. Although my status doesn't necessarily bother me anymore (and hasn't for a long time), I do have my moments where I'm just like, this fucking sucks. I think that's ok though. It's normal and I'm sure all of us have these feelings from time to time. I take comfort in knowing I'm not alone in this and there is a whole community here of strong women who have persevered and continue to do so.