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 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
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 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 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
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT