Talking About Your HIV Status with Loved Ones

When discussing your HIV or AIDS diagnosis with your loved ones, it is important to remember that their knowledge of HIV/AIDS is probably limited. In many cases, their knowledge base may be incorrect due to the ongoing stigmatization and fear about what it is and what it means. Since its official discovery in the early 1980s, our knowledge of what HIV and AIDS are and how they’ve evolved has changed dramatically. Unfortunately, people have clung to outdated information. A lack of widespread education and awareness is largely to blame for this, so when a loved one finds out you have HIV or AIDS, they may react out of fear: fear for you and what it means for your life, fear for them and whether or not they’ve been “exposed,” and fear of the unknown- what happens next?

You can’t predict how your loved ones will react, but you can prepare by arming yourself with as much information as possible. It is important to educate yourself as thoroughly and accurately as possible. There is a lot of information on the internet, but it is best to stick to sources that are medically based, like www.aids.gov or www.thebody.com, both of which serve to educate people, not scare them. You also don’t want to overwhelm your loved ones with too much information at once, so sticking to the basics is often best.

What do the basics include? First and foremost, a positive diagnosis is not a death sentence. HIV and AIDS are not considered terminal illnesses. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, and it is possible to live the rest of your life being HIV positive, but never progressing to AIDS. The difference is your t-cells, or white blood cell count. Because HIV compromises your immune system, it lowers the number of white blood cells in your body that fight off infections. With treatment, living a healthy lifestyle, and medical monitoring, your t-cell count can stay above 200; if it falls below 200 at any point, that is when a person is considered to have AIDS. While this irrevocably damages the immune system, it still doesn’t mean you can’t live a happy, healthy, long life. Doing that includes taking your medications consistently, eating healthy, exercising- all things you should be doing regardless. Another important basic fact is that HIV is not transmitted by things like sharing utensils, kissing, holding hands, hugging, sneezing on someone, toilet seats, handrails, or any of the ways a person may catch things like the common cold. HIV can only be transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk.

Your loved ones may be overwhelmed at first, but as they become more educated and see you are taking care of yourself, it will become easier to process. Often, counseling can help with this, especially if the counselor has experience working with HIV/AIDS. An accurate understanding of what is happening to your body is important for you and those you love, but your mental health as you navigate your diagnosis is critical to how you handle it and should be a priority just as your physical health is.

Sociopaths Among Us

They’re everywhere. You’ve worked with them, talked to them on the plane ride home, and perhaps even dated them. That’s right. I dated one for 3 years before I realized it.

A sociopath is someone who has no conscious. Much like babies and kids grow up learning the language being spoken around them, sociopaths grow up learning how to react to situations to “fit in.” For example, when a co-worker comes into the office and is crying about her 16 year old dog she just had to put down, the sociopath feels nothing. He knows, however, that he’s supposed to care so he reacts with feigned empathy.

When I say the word sociopath, it might conjure up images of Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and Dr. Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, and you would be accurate. Those folks are all indeed sociopaths. But you might be surprised to learn that CEO’s typically have the same psychological make-up as those infamous serial killers. (Well, Charles Manson not so much, but you know what I mean.)

How can you tell if someone’s a sociopath?

1) Sociopaths are very charming. You might find yourself waiting in anticipation to see what the person is going to do next. They are able to act as though they’re very interested in you but are usually assessing the person and situation to see what they can get out of it.

2) Grandiose stories are another tell-tale sign. Charles Manson would invent wild stories about being the modern day Jesus and leading his “family” into an underground cave where they would hide until it was time to rise up and take over the world. Sound crazy? He had a group of about 20 sane, otherwise average, people believing it for a long period of time.

3) Sociopaths are always going to want to have the last word. They’ll always win. And they’ll be unapologetic about their actions and what it took to get there. They figure that everyone’s the same as them and, therefore, it’s a fair game. They’re great at justifying bad behaviors. They typically like to “one-up” others and get agitated or angry if someone tries to prove them wrong. This makes me think of the business card scene in American Psycho. If you’ve never seen it, you can check it out on YouTube.

There are no known effective treatment methods for a sociopath. If you realize that you’re dealing with one, you have to assess the situation to adjust how to deal with it. As I mentioned earlier, being one doesn’t mean the person is violent or evil. Just be weary and move forward with caution.

Hope that helps!

TMI – Learning How to Filter

Attentional problems, ADHD or ADD is not a brain disease or medical condition as much as it is a life-skill deficiency concerning the ability to focus.  While it is true some people are able to achieve a higher level of focus through pharmaceuticals, you can develop the skill to focus for yourself thus, creating a stronger sense of mastery over your life.

We are exposed to lots of information daily.  Electronics, people, responsibilities and our own internal dialogue are constantly vying for our attention.  It happens so much so it is often difficult to turn it all off at night.

Most of what is assaulting us and demanding our attention is TMI (too much information).  Every notification, person asking for our time, the thing we have to do next and random thought will always assume to be the most important thing and the most deserving of our immediate attention.

We cannot rely on our environment or even our inner dialogue to dictate importance or priority.  We have to accept responsibility and learn to filter. Filtering is not an innate talent some people just “have;” anyone can learn to filter with practice and patience.  Ways to improve your ability to filter include:

  • Making a conscious choice to spend time on information you need to know right now, rather than information that is nice to know. Learning how to not distract yourself on “nice to know” information or “click-bait” is really half the battle of learning to filter.
  • Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can accurately pay attention to several pieces of information coming at you at the same time. Decide what is the most important for the given situation and focus on it.
  • Dedicate at least 15 minutes to a half hour every day “unplugged.” Give your mind, eyes and ears a chance to rest and regroup.

Some additional meditative practices I’ve used include:

  • Pretend you are sitting comfortably on the side of a busy highway intersection. There are no traffic signals or signs, leaving the busy traffic to fend for itself through the intersection.  You could go out into the intersection and start to direct traffic, but you do not.  Rather you focus on just sitting and watching the traffic, doing nothing to interfere.
  • Pretend you are in a very crowded room, such as at a party. You are having an intent conversation with someone whom you are very interested.  During this conversation, you are able to recognize people coming in and out of the room, people moving around and making noise, sometimes being disruptive or causing a commotion, but there is no need to give this activity more than a passing notice.  You can be aware of your surroundings and be free to return to your focus on this conversation.

Through daily practice, you fill find your ability to filter gets increasingly easy.  It really does improve your relationship with time and helps you feel more organized and in control.

The Reality of Bisexuality

Gay rights, marriage equality, the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, or foreign countries’ extreme positions on homosexuality: a lot has been happening to draw attention to the topic of homosexuality. At the same time, heterosexuality is considered “the norm” for many people; some even believe it is the only “acceptable” sexual preference. But what about the people who fall somewhere in between?

Bisexuality is a taboo topic, in both the gay and straight worlds. Often, people who identify as bisexual are not accepted in either community and experience discrimination from both. Many people don’t believe it even exists; that bisexuality is just a phase, or a stop on the way to determining whether someone is actually gay or straight, because you have to be one or the other. Or do you?

Bisexual as a label is confusing- how could one person be attracted to both sexes? The differences between male and female are obvious in many cases, but just like any one person can be attracted to two people of the same sex who are vastly different, the same is true for two people of opposite sexes. The attraction has little to do with body parts, and more to do with connection and chemistry.

Alfred Kinsey, a biologist and sexologist who studied human behavior and sexuality back in the 1940s and 50s, determined that a larger percentage of people fall somewhere between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual. He developed the Kinsey Scale, which is a way of representing where someone falls on a scale of 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual) and said, “The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.”

Scientifically, it makes perfect sense however, the social aspect seems to be what is confusing for people. There are many myths about bisexuality- bisexuals are promiscuous, they can’t be in monogamous relationships, they can’t make up their minds and want the best of both worlds, etc. None of that is true. As bisexual activist Robyn Ochs said, bisexuality is “the potential to be attracted- romantically and/or sexually- to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.” If someone who is bisexual is married or in a relationship, that does not mean their needs are not being met or that they have “chosen” to be straight or gay. Bisexuality doesn’t disappear in a monogamous relationship, but it doesn’t force someone to look outside either.

The ability to find love and connection with another human being is something to be treasured, regardless of the label it comes with. The reality of bisexuality is this- no one likes being put into a box. Having someone else define you is something to be avoided, not sought after. The focus should be on love, not labels.

AnxietyTheory

A few months back, Dr. Dave told me about an article he read about anxiety. It was a very interesting theory of how we’ve evolved into the over-anxious society that we are today.

The theory goes like this: Back in the caveman days, we had to build our own shelter, hunt and forage for our food, and run from wild animals. I liken it to the Zombie Apocalypse. Under such circumstances, you would be in a constant state of survival. Your brain is constantly looking out for threats and danger. Often, your brain would find said danger and have to assess accordingly with a strategy plan.

Just last night, we were watching Walking Dead (don’t worry, no spoiler alerts) and discovered that the main characters had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and had trouble functioning in society because of it. PTSD causes the brain to be hyper-aware of surroundings and imagine threats that are not really there. There’s a lot more to PTSD but that aspect of it is like anxiety. It’s your brain being hyper-aware of its surroundings and exaggerating the potential threats.

So now that we no longer have to build our own shelter, hunt and forage for our food, and run from wild animals, what dangers actually exist for us? Instead of your arrow missing the deer that was going to feed your family through a good part of the winter, you’re now afraid of grocery stores. Instead of running from a wild bear, you’re now afraid of public speaking.

That being said, when your brain is constantly assessing the situation and looking for danger, when it finds nothing but being afraid of crowds or feeling really uncomfortable in social settings, you’re actually safer than you’ve ever been. The brain is looking, but it’s got nothing. It creates a heightened sense of danger. So the anxiety itself is actually a really good indication that there are no real threats to you whatsoever.

Knowing that has substantially curbed my own anxiety because, when I remind myself of this theory, I feel better about the situation that’s making me anxious. When it starts to come on, I can feel relieved that the “threat” or the “danger” I’m feeling is totally created by my brain out of sheer boredom.

For more tips on what helps with anxiety, read my other blogs at drdavidbakerhargrove.com. You can learn all about anchoring, sitting with anxiety, and using 54321 as coping mechanisms.

Hope that helps!

90-Day Self Love Challenge – Developing Awareness

Last summer, I met life coach and radio show host Lillian McDermott.  We were brought together because she wanted to do a show about raising awareness of the LGBT community.  We got along well and I’m now a permanent guest on the  2nd and 4th Tuesday show at 9 am.  During the September show, we were discussing depression and anxiety and I mentioned quite often, the root cause of depression and anxiety is a lack of selflove.  Lillian was very interested in how we can work to love ourselves more fully and together we embarked on developing the 90-Day Self Love Challenge.

I’ve often said the three most important relationships in your life are time, money and yourself (not in order of importance).  I say this because they are the only things that endure throughout the lifespan.  Everything else, everyone else has the potential to come and go.  However, you will always have to deal with time and unless you somehow manage to live on a deserted island and sustain yourself by living off the land there, you will always have to deal with money too.  Equally, you have to live with yourself everyday so it is very important neither time, money, nor you become your enemy.

Selflove is our most important task in this life and it will (and should) take a lifetime of work.  It’s like exercising.  You are never done.  It constantly needs attention and improvement.

So, Lillian and I set out to develop an action plan of how a person can get more selflove in his/her life.  We started off for the first 30 days with the focus on becoming more aware.  We spent days 1-25 identifying the 25 people in our lives that have made significant impacts. We focused on the positive and the growth opportunities we learned from people, while being aware of the positive growth from negative relationships. I had a past relationship in which the quality of that relationship was poor and very negative, I came out of it with a lot clarity about who I wanted to be and want I want my life to look like.  We can learn a lot from the negative experiences and people who have passed through our lives.  Each day is spent in reflection of that relationship and acknowledging the growth that came out of it.  It was very important to Lillian she contact everyone possible on her list to tell them about the impact they have made on her.  I preferred my reflection to be mostly with myself.  Everyone has a different path and recognizing what works for you is best.

Days 26-30 are about becoming more aware of your how you go about your day. The focus is on being aware of your thoughts and where they take you.  What does your body language say about how you are around others and in different situations?  Spend the time focusing getting to know you.

I will address days 31-90 in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, I invite you to work on this 90-Day selflove challenge.  Go to www.whenyouneedafriend.com to learn more. At the website, you can listen live to me on the radio show on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month from 9a – 10a Eastern Time.

Let’s Talk About Oxytocin

           Oxytocin, often referred to as “the cuddle hormone” or “the bonding hormone,” seems to be appearing quite frequently in the news these days. I see articles about oxytocin everywhere I go, and as a couples counselor, I’m a big advocate for anything that increases cuddling or bonding; especially when it is something easy, natural, and doable without spending any money or even a whole lot of extra time.

            So what is it? Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the brain. Its primary function is intimacy: when released, it increases feelings of trust, love, connection and bonding. It is released in a variety of ways and situations, one of the most important of which is during childbirth. It helps move the labor process along, and also literally creates the mother-child bond. It is also released during physical contact with another person, whether that person is a friend or a partner or a relative.

            But oxytocin is so much more than that. The benefits of oxytocin are innumerable: in addition to facilitating bonding between people, it also lowers blood pressure, lowers cortisol (a stress hormone) levels, relieves pain and increases pain thresholds, decreases anxiety and aids in recovering from PTSD, helps develop better social skills, better self-esteem, better sleep, lowers the risk of heart disease, increases the functioning of the immune system and helps it to recover from illnesses more quickly, etc. It has even been found to reduce drug cravings in addicts.

            All of this, without having to spend money or put medicines or drugs into your body. So how do you increase your oxytocin levels? Very easily, actually. Touch. The simple act of human touch, whether it is platonic or romantic, releases oxytocin. When touch is given with intention and care, it releases even more oxytocin. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with another human being, that touch is even more effective in releasing higher levels of oxytocin. Higher levels of oxytocin lead to increased levels of trust, so it’s a cycle- the more you do it, the more you get, and the more easily and quickly it is produced in the future.

            If we look at oxytocin from a relationship perspective, its easily one of the most effective ways to increase your feeling of connection and bonding with your partner. It really is as simple as cuddling more, touching each other more, kissing more, focusing more on intentional loving physical touch. The immediate benefits of oxytocin are great, but the long-term benefits to a person’s mental and physical health really demonstrate why oxytocin is so important. Lack of physical touch is a major cause of depression, so it follows that increased physical touch can serve as an effective way to combat depression, but also serve as method for improving relationship connections and trust.

The Victim/Martyr Complex

One trend I have been noticing lately is the Victim/Martyr Complex. I had known of each of these separately but was surprised to see that folks can have both. Many years ago, I had a session with a mom of a 5 year old boy with autism. I had not been trained in this realm and knew nothing of it. When he broke out in a rage, the mother began to fluctuate between wanting me to feel sorry for her and being indignant at the fact that I didn’t know what to do. “See?” She asked. “See what I have to deal with? No one seems to want to help me or know how.”

When someone suffers from a Victim Complex, it’s all about shifting the blame. They feel as though they are never in control and the world happens TO them. If this person is late to work, it’s because of traffic. If s/he gets into arguments frequently, it’s because the other people in her/his life are mean and unmanageable. Nothing is ever the victim’s fault and the world tends to mercilessly beat them up.

A Martyr is someone who chooses to be in situations of extreme suffering and/or persecution. S/he tends to take on these situations and then want attention, acknowledgement, and sympathy from others for doing so. Having this type of recognition provides feelings of worth and meaning.

How do you know if you are dealing with someone with a Victim/Martyr mentality? Ask yourself the following questions: Is the suffering something that could be avoided? Is the person in an abusive relationship (or several abusive relationships)? Does the person typically complain about others not noticing or appreciating the sacrifices he/she makes? Do they have an exaggerated idea of their importance and how nothing and no one can function without them? Is their goal co-dependency?

If you are dealing with someone who suffers from this (a mother-in-law, a boss, a partner, etc…), what do you do? Manage expectations, don’t take it personally, and understand that the person most likely does not see what’s going on and, therefore, doesn’t want “help”. Depending on how well you know the person, you might gently suggest therapy. If you do not know her/him well, you will want to disengage helps in potential arguments and manage your feelings and thoughts about the situation.

Hope this helps!

 

What Is Love? (or How Do I Put My Ego Aside To Get What I Really Want?)

Recently a client asked me, “What is love?”  I sat there in silence for many moments, because I really wanted to give him a simple answer.  A concise sentence he could take with him and use. There is no easy answer.  I think if I could come up with a simple answer, I would be very rich.  I also know if a simple answer could be easy to attain, someone way before my time would have thought it up prior to now.

We all can agree love is complex, but we also often confuse things for love that are definitely not love, making things all the more baffling.  We think it is love, when it is really ego. In the past, I was a guest columnist on a website that provides information about dealing with affairs. Readers on the site repeatedly asked questions, “How do I make my partner talk about the affair? How do I make my partner go to counseling?  How do I make my partner realize how much he/she has hurt me?” When I responded “You can’t make anyone do anything,” the plea I often get back is “But I love him/her!” That is actually not love at all, but ego and control.

So, I’m sitting in my office chair and all of this is running through my mind. I’m pretty sure I know what love is not.  The question still remains, “What is love?  I came up with this:  I think love is the willingness to do the hard work necessary every day to affect the best possible outcome, with care and concern for all present.

Love is about what you are willing to give, not about what you think you should get. To be willing to operate under that principle is indeed hard work.  Moreover, having care and concern for the best possible outcome, doesn’t always mean happiness and roses.  Sometimes doing the best thing is not only difficult, but sometimes hard to talk about and even worse, hard to hear.

A major mistake we make in our attempt to build meaningful lasting relationships is operating from the guiding principle; “The success of this relationship depends on how well you meet all my expectations of you.”  It invariably leads to difficulty and resentment at some point, because other people are not us and they never will be.  We can’t even live up to our own expectations of ourselves, so how can we expect more from others?  It’s a waste of time. Focus your energy instead on this simple question: “Am I being the person today I would want to be in a relationship with?”  Ask it often and see what happens.

Mental Health Boot Camp

We don’t pay attention.  Not really.  You probably tend to think you are very aware of your surroundings and what everyone is doing and why, but research and statistics tell a different story.  We really don’t pay attention to a lot going on around us.  There is so much to do and so many people, places and things vying for our attention, we tend to be focused on what we discern is the most important and discard the rest.  More importantly, we really don’t pay attention to ourselves.  There is a lot going on up in our brains, but we ignore most of it.  True a lot of it can be unimportant chatter, like the angry rant of a squirrel, but some of it describes who we are, how we see our reality and most importantly how we confirm and develop that reality around us.

I find most of our problems lie in we don’t listen to ourselves and what the continuous narrative up there is telling us about our lives. I created Mental Health Boot Camp out of a need to connect to a client who wasn’t doing well in therapy.  He said to me one day, “I think I would just rather drive my car into a pole.” His depression was so severe and he was having extreme difficulty in connecting to himself and motivating himself to work on treatment.

 Mental Health Boot Camp is a kind of journaling program used in a new way to help clients.  There is an enormous amount of research to support how the simple act of writing down our thoughts can help us gain a new understanding of ourselves, develop clarity of thought and help us use the thought process we have to overcome life’s obstacles and problems.

Through Mental Health Boot Camp, clients have become able to see themselves in a stronger, more positive light and recognize they have all the skills they need to obtain more peace, happiness and fulfillment in life.  Mental Health Boot Camp just helps provide the direction. The client I mentioned above eventually went on to college, became self sufficient, got into a relationship and…well…became happy.

Mental Health Boot Camp is really a matter of knowing how to direct your energies to their best use.