The Days of Door-Slamming

When I was an adolescent, I had days where I felt like absolutely everything was wrong with me. I also had days where I felt like I was right and everybody else around me was wrong.  I remember having both sets of feelings - and many more - all on the same day. This all served as the perfect fuel for door-slamming, huffing, and furious scribbling of cringe-worthy emotional outbursts in secret journals.

Even though I like caring for adolescents as they work through establishing autonomy and all these emotionally charged developmental stages, I would not want to be a teenager again.

Adolescents in Kenya go through the very same processes as adolescents anywhere in the world (albeit they seem to do less door-slamming and journal scribbling than I did). The challenges of transforming into an adult become even more complicated, though, when you are HIV-infected and no one has told you this important information.

Door _kenya

This is what 15-year-old Dinah told me in clinic as we talked about what it was like before she knew that she had HIV: "You wonder what is wrong with you that no one will talk about. You worry that you are going to die or that your mother is going to die or that your sister is going to die. You learn to keep secret after secret after secret."

And then when Dinah found out that her mother had not been telling her the truth for all of these years - that 9 years of medicines for a "chest problem" were really for HIV, that HIV had killed her father, that HIV was inside of Dinah's blood and her mother's too - she had even more muddled, raging, confusing emotions. Fear and anger and despair. 

"I just thought I would die," admitted Dinah.

But time and counseling and processing and love can heal many wounds. Dinah has been counseled monthly by an experienced nurse in our pediatric HIV clinic at the referral hospital, and her mother stuck with her through the accusations and difficult questions, and Dinah has come to "accept this HIV", to accept the diagnosis and make strides towards facing her future with this virus. She's doing great in school, and she speaks aloud at the adolescents' support group with quite, firm determination about what it means to "live positively." She takes her medicines every day, and you would never know that Dinah has HIV.

We're trying to figure out how to bring this kind of helpful counseling and a better curriculum to help more adolescents through this tricky process in Kenya and other poor places. Here's to a healthy transition through the door-slamming years!

Posted at 20:07

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