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George's LGBTea: Fighting HIV Pill Fatigue

I’ve been taking one pill a day for a little over 4 years now, and I must admit that every day is still a struggle. It is a fact that I know I need to take my pill once-a-day to stay undetectable with my HIV and healthy. It is a fact that I fully understand what can happen if I don’t take my medication. It is also a fact that none of these change how hard the process of doing something in an almost robotic fashion for the rest of my life has, literally, become a tough pill to swallow.

It is one of the parts of being “in care” that I don’t think we get to discuss enough. The assumption that you are diagnosed with HIV, go to get your labs, get prescribed your medication and everything after that is fine. But I went almost 30 years of my life without having the requirement of taking a pill every day. Breaking that isn’t something that just happens overnight, and as with most things, when done multiple times in a row, the body gets tired and longs for something different.

The truth of the matter is no matter how tired I become of taking my pill once-a-day, I know that it is helping to extend my life, keep me healthy, and protect others around me. So, for that reason and more, I push past fatigue and take my daily medication. The great thing is, over the years I’ve learned a few techniques that help me to not become so tired of the once-a-day regimen.


  1. Taking it with a vitamin


For me, part of the reason that it’s hard to just take the pill is because it’s a reminder that I have the HIV virus. Growing up, I only took a pill or medicine if I was feeling sick. I only took an aspirin if I was having a headache. Getting up every morning and taking a pill when I feel okay to help me “not get sick” can be bothersome. So, I often opt to take it daily with my multi-vitamin. Taking it with my multi-vitamin is a way to almost trick my mind into making it more about overall health, and less about the virus.


  1. Using an alarm


As often as one may forget to take a pill, some of us are just over it and subconsciously just not taking it. Sometimes it takes me setting multiple alarms and reminders to do so. So even if I miss it within the first alarm, by the time the second one comes I know that it’s serious and I need to take care of myself and take my medication.


  1. Not taking it at the exact same time daily (within a 15-minute period)


Even with the alarm, things can become robotic if you are taking it at the exact same time every day while using the alarm. So, I alternate each day within 15 minutes of the time I took it the day before. So, Monday I may take it at 9:00 am, Tuesday at 9:10am, Wednesday at 9:05 and so on. This way, my mind isn’t preparing for the exact same time every day – which in my experience has led to being more frustrated.


  1. Taking it with food


This sounds simple but many people mess this up. If there is a certain meal that you know you will eat every day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) then schedule yourself to just take it with that meal. Some people don’t eat breakfast every day. So, if you are on a pill that requires food, taking it with breakfast every day may not work for you. I remember days I wouldn’t take my pill with breakfast, but rather with a cup of coffee. Being on a pill at the time that required I take it with food made that experience rough for several years. So, although my new medication doesn’t require a meal, it is much easier if I am doing it at a certain time of the day when I know I am going to be eating. Tying it into another interaction makes it less about the pill. 


  1. Having the pills where you can see them


I recently went to using a pill case for the week, which has done wonders for my adherence. I also keep my pill bottle in a place where I will see it daily so that I know if I forget or am trying to ignore it, I will have the reminder pushing me past the fatigue to take my medication.