Skip to main content

How therapy helped me cope with HIV

By Bridget Gordon
updated 10:58 AM EST, Sat February 8, 2014
Bridget Gordon
Bridget Gordon
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bridget Gordon: In 2000, I found out I have HIV, and that my new husband has it, too
  • Gordon: I was a wreck, I asked: How could this happen? Was this a death sentence?
  • She says luckily she found a therapist who helped her navigate her through the crisis
  • Gordon: For those who live with HIV/AIDS, access to mental health care is critical

Editor's note: Bridget Gordon, a former engineer living in Los Angeles, found out she was HIV positive in 2000. She has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2010 and was featured in an "Oprah: Where Are They Now" follow-up segment on the OWN Network. She is also the founder and chairwoman of the BridgetB Foundation, an organization that advocates mental health services for women with HIV. You can visit her Facebook page.

(CNN) -- I got an urgent call from the doctor. Come to my office immediately, he said. The test results have arrived.

A few days earlier, I suddenly felt so ill that I asked the doctor to test for everything and find out why I had been feeling this way.

Two months prior, my new husband and I returned from our honeymoon in the South Pacific. He became severely ill on the 11-hour flight home. His headache and high fever lasted for days but then went away before his doctor could determine the cause.

And now I felt horrible.

Nothing in life prepared me for the test results. Had the doctor said "you have diabetes," that would have made sense. My mother and grandfather had diabetes.

But when he said "you have HIV," it blew my mind! And it made no sense, no sense at all.

Obama: Work still to do in AIDS fight
Website provides HIV related news
Magic Johnson on his battle with HIV

In the next breath the doctor said "your husband needs a test" and "you need to contact everyone you've had sex with to tell them you have HIV, they all need to get tested."

"Fortunately for you," he said, "I have expertise in this area."

He sent me to his office's social worker who asked if my husband would become violent with news of the diagnosis. She filled the rest of our time together trying to connect with me, sharing stories of her excessive drinking habits, as if I could relate.

I called my husband and asked him to meet me at home. I broke the news to him about the diagnosis and got him tested.

My new husband also tested positive for HIV. The doctor told us that I had the disease for a long time and did not prescribe me any medication. He also said I gave my husband the virus so he prescribed antiretroviral drugs for him.

How could this happen? Was this a death sentence? How long did we have to live? What did we need to do? And oh my God! The doctor says I'd given my new husband a disease of the "wicked and amoral." Without any question, he and his staff decided I was a whore and/or addict. This was stunning! I was a wreck.

It was only later that I discovered e-mails that proved my husband had been living life on the "down low" -- secretly having unprotected sex with many men -- and had likely given me the disease.

That was 2000, more than 10 years ago. I still live. In fact, I thrive.

Looking back, I realized I was very fortunate. Several weeks after the diagnosis, I was referred to a therapist who really was an expert in HIV/AIDS. He was my sole support in navigating the strange and disturbing world of HIV. It was hard.

My therapist's first task was supporting me in finding a medical doctor with HIV/AIDS infectious disease credentials. Fortunately, I had the financial resources to pay for therapy as my life slowly and painfully unraveled.

For me, my therapist showed me why mental health care was as important in treating HIV as a knowledgeable, supportive medical doctor. But most others aren't so fortunate.

Fear of judgment and discrimination force people diagnosed with HIV or AIDS to live in isolation. Lack of money and access to support services prevent them from getting the emotional help required to cope in a life-affirming way. With the stigma of getting HIV/AIDS, coupled with the myth that life is over, I felt like the entire system was telling me to go into the corner and die.

But it doesn't have to be that way. For women like me -- heterosexual, vibrant, who may have contracted HIV through their male partner -- there needs to be more resources available to help us deal with the mental landmines that this situation creates.

Too many people in our society are grossly uninformed and still cling to misguided beliefs about HIV/AIDS. Consequently, the lack of accurate information about HIV/AIDS increases the risk of transmission and decreases the likelihood for women to escape the downward spiral.

At first, as a working professional and career engineer, I was fortunate to have access and the ability to pay for extensive mental health care. But tending to this crisis eventually cost me my career, and then the money ran out.

It wasn't until I was the subject of a segment on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" in September 2010 that my struggle started to gain more meaning. I found there were many more women out there like me.

According to Kathleen J. Sikkema, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, "Persons living with HIV/AIDS have disproportionately high rates of psychiatric disorders, with mood and anxiety disorders being the most common."

Yes. That was me.

Depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Can't go to sleep. Can't get out of bed. These were all foreign concepts to me until I was diagnosed. I had little background in dealing with mental illness, HIV and even less experience in how to get help.

So I launched the BridgetB Foundation. "BridgetB" was my Jane Doe alias used during a lengthy court battle with my former husband, a battle that went all the way to the California State Supreme Court and resulted in a $12.5 million negligence and fraud judgment against him. And no, I have yet to see a penny from him.

The new foundation is dedicated to providing access to mental and other health services for American women with HIV while respecting their need for privacy. We have a lot of work to do.

HIV is deadly serious, but it doesn't have to be a death sentence. However, without access to mental health services to help women cope with the inevitable struggles, too often it is.

Today, I am doing well. The loves of my life -- my daughter, her father (both HIV negative) -- and I are living each day to its fullest. And we know tomorrow will be even better. We got help.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bridget Gordon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT