The Total Wellness Approach to Your HIV The importance of taking care of the whole self: mind, body, and spirit by Maria Davis To those living with HIV, I would like to start by acknowledging your struggle and your accomplishments. Receiving an HIV diagnosis can be scary and overwhelming. Diagnosis also marks the start of a lifelong journey towards managing and living with your HIV. When I was first diagnosed with HIV in 1995 and then with AIDS in 1998, there were limited resources available to learn about the disease, and how to manage it. There were no stories in the media about an African-American woman like myself living with HIV. I felt alone—like I had nowhere to turn. Remembering how I felt upon receiving my diagnosis is what inspired me to collaborate with Merck to help others who find themselves in the same situation. As an activist, I strive to spread awareness and knowledge about HIV. As a community member living with HIV, I hope to remind others living with HIV that they are important, valuable, and capable of living a life of joy and fulfillment. Taking the first steps can be hard. I know. Along with confronting the physical toll that HIV can take on your body, you must also face the stigma, confusion, and feelings of isolation that so often come with an HIV diagnosis. That’s why it’s important to go beyond just your physical health. I encourage everyone living with HIV to nurture your total self—body, mind, and spirit. Working towards achieving a life of health and wellness requires first finding your voice. Speak up about your needs, how HIV is affecting your life and the things that you want to change in order to live the best life that you can. A good starting place can be finding a treatment plan that helps you to maintain a healthy body. Open and honest conversation with your doctor is needed to determine the medications that are right for you. Pay attention to what your body needs and how you’re feeling. If something feels off, discuss this with your doctor. Prioritizing your individual needs, and maintaining an open and honest dialogue with your doctor, can help you to get the most out of your treatment plan. Support yourself in your HIV journey by making sure that your medication is a good fit for you. Photo by Andrew Kist Wellness cannot be achieved without also nurturing your mental health. HIV is much more than a physical illness. Stigma, ignorance, and feelings of isolation are very real symptoms of HIV that cannot be ignored. Speaking with a counselor, support group, or wellness coach can help you to move past the obstacles in your life that are keeping you from achieving your best self. Improving your mental health is a step that can be taken at any stage of your HIV journey. I have been living with this disease for over twenty years, but I am always searching for new ways to ensure that my mind is healthy and free from negativity. This year I have started to see a wellness coach to help me develop a wellness plan to set me on a positive path towards achieving my goals. Together, we explore any mental blocks that could be taking up space in my mind that could be otherwise open to positivity and growth. By removing these blocks, I am able to give my all to myself and to those around me. A wellness coach can be an important and active member of your support system, along with friends, family, and fellow members of the HIV community. A support system can be a defining factor in your HIV journey. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common among those living with HIV, especially around the time of diagnosis. These feelings can put a strain on existing relationships, and leave you reluctant or fearful to enter into new ones. Surrounding yourself with people that understand your struggle, your journey, and who know you apart from your HIV status is crucial in nurturing a healthy spirit. Sharing your experiences and your feelings can help you to validate your struggle and move past obstacles in a healthy and positive way. Lending help to others on their own journey with HIV is also a great way to nurture the spirit. Helping others to remember their worth and the valuable contributions that they bring to the world has helped me remember my own importance and potential. I know firsthand that living with HIV can be scary, confusing, and overwhelming, but developing a wellness plan has allowed me to identify my personal goals, and develop strategies to work towards them. I’ve been reminded of the importance of going after what brings me joy. I have reflected on the happiness that a long thoughtful drive can bring, on the excitement of traveling and exploring new places, and of the fulfillment that I feel through my work as an HIV advocate. A long, healthy, and meaningful life with HIV is in your power to achieve. Be an advocate for yourself—find your voice and your strength to work towards total health. Prioritize your body, your mind, and your spirit. Be the best person that you can be—for yourself and for others. I wish you luck on your journey to total health. —Maria Davis, HIV Activist, I Design Spokesperson The HIV educational campaign I Design campaign I Design came to a close at the end of 2017.