Having a disease changes your life, not only physically but socially and emotionally as well. Once you officially are diagnosed with something you can never go back. Recovering from the disease doesn’t mean you never head it; it will always be a part of you. What does change is your perspective of the world. There is a big difference from thinking you have a disease, knowing you do have it, and getting over it.
Thinking you may have a disease, but not really knowing for sure is a difficult place to be in. You don’t actually know what to fear because you don’t know if you have a disease; therefore you probably fear everything more intensely. I believe that, if you think you have a disease there is some part of you that deep down knows if you have the disease or not. Whether you want to admit that to yourself or not is a different story. Prior knew he was sick, but he didn’t want to admit it in this case to Louis, not his own self (Angles In America). Because Prior loved Louis so much and they were so close, Prior admitting he had AIDS to Louis was essentially him admitting it to himself. “AIDS, in which people are understood as ill before they are ill; which produces a seemingly innumerable array of symptoms-illness; for which there are only palliatives; and which brings to many a social death the proceeds the physical one” (Sontag 155). Once Prior officially was diagnosed he would have the disease and he would be ill, even before he was physically sick. He would be seen as ill by society and by his own self. Ignoring the diagnosis is sometimes easier than being ill.
The official diagnosis is hard to deal with. Not only do you have to deal with it, but also you have to live with it until either the disease kills you or for years past getting better from the disease. Sontag says, “Infected means ill, from that point forward” (155). Once you are diagnosed, you are for sure infected. If you are infected you are sick and people will treat you that way. “From the beginning the construction of the illness had depended on notions that separated one group of people from another-the sick from the well” (Sontag 155). Being diagnosed with a disease, especially AIDS, completely separates you from the rest of society. People do not want to be around you when you are sick. That is partly because they are afraid of contracting the disease and partly because being ill is not pleasant, it is not easy to look at or deal with. Sometimes you don’t want to be around the diseased person so much that you will leave them, even if they are your significant other. (Louis, I’m calling you out here).
After being diagnosed and “cured” life still goes on, but never the same way. You either die from the disease or live the rest of your life infected and treated differently. Living with a disease is hard to deal with internally. You have to remind yourself everyday the just because you have this disease it doesn’t mean you are sick. It is a reminder that you were sick. Sontag describes diseases as “punishment for living unhealthy lives” (153). Being “punished” for getting a disease is a horribly unhealthy mindset to constantly live with. That is the mindset that we as a society generally have towards diseases though, especially in the 1980s and 1990s with AIDS. In the end of the HBO movie Prior becomes healthy again and can continue living a life. He lives with AIDS, but he has to somehow find a way to move on each day (Angles In America). He does move on, but he knows that each day he is living with AIDS and one day it will kill him.
Being diagnosed with cancer, AIDS, or another disease is a difficult thing to deal with. You have to be brave enough to actually go in and get diagnosed by a doctor, deal with what that means for you and your life, and find a way to live until the disease ends up killing you. This is especially true before the minimum when medication was not as advanced as it is today. Prior found all this out he hard way by being diagnosed with AIDS.
Angels in America (2001) HBO, Amazon Prime.
Sontag, Susan. “AIDS and its Metaphors.” The Disability Studies Reader. Ed. Lennard Davis. New York: Routledge, 2006.