Poison control 

Karma Cleanser: Will it come back to bite you?

Dear Karma Cleanser:

My dear friend Jeremy was diagnosed as HIV-positive a little more than five years ago. He has handled the news like a real champ, often playing the role of comforter and shoulder for his upset friends to cry on once he told them his news.

I was deeply affected by his diagnosis because he was the first person I ever knew who had become positive. I had a lot of learning to do in the next few months as I read everything I could find on the disease and discovered it is not the death sentence it was only a few years ago.

I am writing because an unexpected thing has now happened with Jeremy. He has told all of his friends that he believes himself to be "cured" of the disease. He's been reading books that teach the idea that positive thinking can lead to positive health and that negative realities (such as having to take several pills a day to fight a deadly disease) can be reversed just by focusing on ideas like "wellness" or "happiness." It's scary to me how easily a once-rational person like my friend can swallow this line of reasoning.

I have talked it over with another good friend of Jeremy's and we think we should have a sort of intervention with him. We don't want him to go off his meds just because some best-selling miracle book convinces him that he's cured of an incurable disease.

I am also worried that the corny cure-all books are all that Jeremy has left to cling to, and if we take those away then his health really will start to fade. I just feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. How can I be a good friend without completely damning myself in the process?

– Poison Control

We detect an alarming lapse in logic in your approach to this problem. You're surprised to see your friend responding to a belief system that you find irrational and superstitious, because everyone knows that positive thinking won't cause a person to become HIV-negative. However, you're also afraid that the warm fuzzies are actually helping to boost your buddy's immune system, at least in the short term. So which is it? Either happy thoughts help or they don't help, and it sounds to us like you're trying to hedge your bets toward either outcome.

Perhaps it's time for a middle path. There's no need to play know-it-all parent here and knock the wind out of your friend's new-agey sails, a tactic that would probably only breed resentment anyway. You also need not sit idly by as Jeremy jaunts away on an ill-advised drug holiday. Rather than an intervention, how about a discussion – one that lets your dear friend know that you care about his health and you're not quite convinced that The Secret should be his only medicine.

Been bad? karmacleanser@gmail.com

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