The problem is how you see the problem
Bridgette Picou

I have a question: Is your HIV a problem for you? Why or why not? If I asked you to identify the biggest problem it causes for you—could you? Is it stigma? Internalized stigma? Medication adherence? Is it navigating relationships (including the one with yourself)?

Next questions: How long have you been living with HIV and the same problem(s)? Have your coping skills evolved? Has your “problem” changed face over the years, or is it the same one or two on repeat?

Which leads me to this: What skills do you use to cope with HIV as a concept, lifestyle, and life process? Don’t worry, I’m not about to tell you what to do or how to do something about it; I’m not a therapist, and I damn sure don’t have all the answers. I am, however, working on me and how I see myself, and I just wanna make you take stock of your life with HIV for a second and do the same.

Problem solving involves looking at the problem, defining and analyzing the underlying concerns, then using your skills to facilitate change.

Consider this notion—which is actually one of my personal affirmations: The problem is how you see the problem. The Google definition of problem is “a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.”

Just reading the words “harmful” and “overcome” invokes some angst, right? I came across a definition once that seems less negative as it processes through the brain’s gray matter: A problem is the difference between what is and what could or should be.

How about that for seeing a problem differently? I don’t know about you, but “what could or should be” makes me feel a little optimistic as opposed to putting me in the struggle mindset of having to overcome. Problem solving involves looking at the problem, defining and analyzing the underlying concerns, then using your skills to facilitate change.

All too often in HIV we let the virus—and other people—define us. They label us and come to conclusions about a life they’ve never lived—and we let them. We get caught in endless cycles of what we know life could or should be, and yet let stigma and shame corner us into feeling differently. For example, sometimes I would resent taking a pill every day because I didn’t want to depend on a thing for my health. I’ve reframed the problem—it’s now my opportunity each day to ensure I’m here to do what my purpose says I need to do and I’m more grateful and gracious about it.

Another good example is love. I hear women say pretty often “he loves me even with HIV” or “he loves me in spite of HIV.” In my head I’ve also reframed that idea of being loved in spite of HIV and changed it to being loved with HIV. When we do things “in spite of,” it implies a certain disdain for the thing in question. It’s that you don’t like it, but you’ll tolerate or live with it anyway. The problem with allowing that is it’s an insidious and subtle kind of stigma, both external and internalized. You’ll settle for less than you deserve in a relationship because after all, you do have this thing that needs to be worked around. I don’t want to be tolerated on any level, and in a relationship, we better be working through, not around, issues that arise. Love the whole imperfect package or leave me alone. The problem isn’t HIV makes love and relationships hard. The problem is my relationship with those things and HIV.

So, let me ask again: Is your HIV a problem, or is how you see the problem your problem?

Be well. You matter.

Bridgette Picou is a licensed vocational nurse in Palm Springs, California. She uses her voice to speak for others as a member of the Board of Directors for HIV & Aging Research Project-Palm Springs (HARP-PS) and as a Community Advisory Board Member for The Well Project-HIV and Women. She is also an active HIV blogger and member of ANAC, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, Greater Palm Springs Chapter. Finding a voice in advocacy and activism is a natural progression, since she feels that every time she fights for someone else, she affirms her own life.