There is a HUGE stigma in relation to HIV. When you get diagnosed they tell you all these great things about how you will live a long time and that you can have kids, and live a long life. One thing that was not stressed to me was about disclosure. I was not told how hard it could be to tell someone or how important it is to not isolate yourself. I was not warned that everyone will not understand or that your wishes would not always be respected. When I did hear about disclosure it was mostly related to dating or sex. There was nothing about disclosure to family and friends which I found to be the most disappointing. I learned this the hard way. The purpose of writing this is to discuss some things I have learned about disclosure and give some useful tips for disclosure.
Do Not Isolate
When I first got diagnosed my roommate was the first to know naturally because she was with me when I found out and I was crying so bad I couldn’t keep it from her. She was supportive and she never told anyone. It took me a while to tell other people. I started with my aunt. She coped in her own way but it was a goo experience. I knew she could be trusted because I told her things in the past and it never got out. When I say don’t isolate yourself this is what I mean. Think of that person that you know you can trust and have trusted in the past. This may be an ideal person to talk to in the beginning. You need someone to get you out of your head. Don’t worry if you don’t have the right words to say but please get it out. If you are someone who feels like they can’t trust anyone, I suggest finding someone you don’t know that can help you. There are online forums and support groups that can listen to you. If possible you can get counseling as well even if it’s for a short while. Also you can reach out to people like me who have been there and would not mind listening and guiding you to resources.
Expectations are not a good thing in any situation but especially not with disclosure. Disclosure always has a risk in it. You risk your information being out there, you risk losing contact, you risk people telling your business and you also risk rejection. Take it from me the things you gain outweigh the risk you take. When I first was diagnosed I expected that if I told someone this about me I never had to deal with them rejecting me or telling someone. This was just not true. I have had mostly positive experiences and most people never told anyone to my knowledge but I have had people say things. I found out later it hurt. But, I realized the hurt only came from the fact I wasn’t really ready to disclose or a lack of acceptance for myself. Another expectation I had was. that if I disclosed I would get rejected so it stopped me from disclosing. I began to understand that if rejection happened it was ok because it showed me where I stood with a person and how serious they were about where we could potentially go. I also understood that I got more acceptance than rejection because more people are educated about the disease these days. Rejection does happen and it does hurt but everything in life teaches you and you grow from that. One expectation I needed to consider but didn’t was the questions may come flying but don’t assume they are ok and also people process differently. I have told people they ask a billion questions and they never talked to me again. I had people never ask questions, leave me alone and we been friends or had successful relationships. You really can never tell what will happen so hope for the best.
This is the hot topic for disclosure. How do you go about telling someone you are dating about your status? When should you tell them? Should you tell everyone that you date? There is no simple answer to these questions. Everything is about timing. Lets start with the when and the should. I think you should tell a person at a time that you are comfortable and before you get too invested. Whether someone accepts it is their personal decision, and waiting months and months won’t really change their feelings on the subject matter. I do not agree with telling on first dates because you miss an opportunity to get to know the person to see if you even like them enough to tell them about your status. You also don’t give them enough time to know you. So this also answers should you tell everybody you date, which is no. Some people you may not see a future with or it may not be someone you want to pursue. Telling them will cause you to feel like it was a mistake when you decide that you didn’t really like them. How to disclose to someone can be the tricky part. My suggestion in this is to speak confidently, be prepared for questions and state the facts. You don’t have to go into detail about how you got it or tell anything that makes you uncomfortable. Be prepared to educate though, because that helps with their understanding of the disease. Allow them space if they think that’s necessary. I learned through years of disclosure that I got a lot of respect by being honest and had a pretty decent dating life. Even if they didn’t understand I got some friends out of the deal. Now, you may get rejected but that’s fine look at it like someone who you wouldn’t want to date anyhow. HIV is your issue but it could have been anything that they didn’t accept like you having kids or some other illness. In this dating scene the power is in your hands not theirs. You get to choose and be selective.
When disclosing to those close to you sometimes the aftermath is the hardest. You may find it easy to tell them and they may seem ok with it. The hard part is them dealing with it. Sometimes they put that on you and it can be hard. So when disclosing to family make sure you are ready to educate and to direct them to sources. Also let them know how they can support you in this journey. You may also deal with them telling other people, which sometimes is okay. Your loved one needs to cope as well and have someone to talk to about it. You may not be at the capacity to talk and help with their healing. One thing that I can admit to is that I made the mistake of posting my YouTube video and not telling a lot of my family. So they found out with the rest of the world. Some were hurt and others just don’t talk about it. To be honest I didn’t want to keep saying it over and over again and I didn’t want the pity. The support I needed the most came from my family and I could have used that years ago. It may be hard but family members will love you unconditionally and give you the support you need to get through.
Are you Ready?
The biggest part of disclosure is are you ready? You have to be prepared for what can happen after you disclose. It’s not an easy thing to do and rejection can hurt. You can’t sit around and place life on hold because of it. After you get into care and begin to accept your status you will find disclosure to be easier. You will get to a place where what will happen won’t matter to you. When I disclosed in such a public way it was hard. My heart beat fast for hours. I had so many friends on Facebook from family to co-workers. I thought my job would be in jeopardy. This was all false evidence appearing real (fear). Nothing but love and support came from this video and until this day that is all it has been. I am proud that I took this leap because now I can be free from it. Its nothing you can say about me that I haven’t said about myself. Now I am working on getting my book published. I can’t believe it. It is because I choose faith over fear.
If you have a love one disclose to you or you need to show someone how. check this out My Loved One Told Me They Have HIV.