Imagine being in the prime of your life and living a fun and newly liberated existence and then in a matter of years having that stolen from you as you watch your friends die one by one constantly wondering if you will be next.
This is what happened to an entire generation of gay men during the AIDS pandemic and they lived through that pain, fear and heartache day in and day out for over a decade. Now fast forward 30 years later. Despite surviving there are very few who understand or even comprehend what you feel except for a small majority of fellow survivors. You are constantly haunted by those black days and the ghosts and memories of those you loved and lost. You are filled with a guilt of having survived while all those around you were snatched from this world.
This is AIDS Survivor Syndrome.
AIDS Survivor Syndrome describes the spectrum of sustained trauma survivorship. It is psychological state resulting from living through HIV/AIDS pandemic affecting those who made it through the plague unscathed and those who became HIV-positive in the 1980s and 1990s, when having HIV was considered a terminal diagnosis and the constellation of physical, psychological and emotional symptoms that a person (either HIV-negative or HIV-positive) may experience after living through intense grief and trauma during the years of the AIDS epidemic and after.
AIDS Survivor Syndrome is not PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It is a “syndemic” of psycho-social health issues that exists on a spectrum. It varies by degrees of intensity, and it affects those who survived the worst decades of HIV. The sustained accumulation of trauma from living through the early decades of the disease distinguishes AIDS Survivor Syndrome from the more commonly known Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in which trauma typically involves a single event or events of limited duration. PTSD is misdiagnosis or a partial diagnosis at best.
“People who are HIV-negative, who lived through the AIDS epidemic may have survivors guilt,” said Dusty Araujo, a coordinator for the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network. “They were in the trenches, too—caring for friends and watching them die. They were marching, protesting, and trying to create change. Some people who are HIV-negative went through the same struggles, so for them to find community and support is important, too.”