The Disclosure Back-To-School Special

I respect the heaviness inherent in this topic. The consequences of disclosure can vary wildly from one person to another. A lot depends on where you live and attitudes in your community about HIV.

Sadly, stigma isn't just relegated to strangers. The precariousness of one's social support system is a painful reason why many decide to keep their HIV status a secret. I had a wonderful support system when I was diagnosed, yet it still took me a very long time to confide in anyone.

Why did I keep quiet?

There were lots of reasons why I kept quiet. By kept quiet I mean that I didn't utter the words HIV or AIDS. Thinking about that isn't easy but it's important. There was a long time when the word for something I was living with was too scary to utter.

These days, of course, I wear my status like a badge of honor. I am thankful for the friends I wouldn't have met if our medical realities didn't introduce us.

That said, I completely understand if you're choosing the silent treatment right now. Or find yourself wondering how someone in your life would react if you told them you are HIV positive. I didn't want to talk about my HIV status for nearly a decade after my diagnosis.

I never imagined I would.

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Getting kicked out of school

When I was 11 I had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school and back. Kidding, but my tale of woe does include a school. That I got kicked out of after I tested positive. To add insult to injury the darn school was only 3 blocks from where I lived.

I missed the last 2 weeks of sixth grade. Mercifully, I was allowed back just in time for junior high school. But on the first day a flyer got passed out in home room. It informed every student at school that someone there had HIV.

Let the rumors swirl.

There was no internet back then, so there is a God. But that flyer was like a mass email, I guess, and it gave the amateur sleuths a great lead by showcasing how my rare disease, hemophilia, was a link to HIV exposure and infection at the time.

From that moment on, I worried so much more about people knowing I had HIV than I did about the potential impact on my health. Sure, that thought was horrifying. But the health ramifications were in a future that could be 2 months or 2 years away.

Not everyone knew it was me, but word did get around. Through high school, I never said anything about it to anyone, insuring that there could never be my personal stamp on the intel. I trusted my friends and I'm sure I spoke in coded language in rare moments.

But I couldn't pretend I didn't have HIV if I had spilled the beans to any of them, now could I?

Turning the corner

At age 20 I turned a corner. Opening up about HIV was less of a decision, and more of a lightening bolt of unforeseen cosmic energy. I was powerless not to oblige. I had no idea I loved to write, but the words spilled out when I put up a website about living with HIV. And the best aspects about public disclosure?

I'd never have to "find the right time" to tell someone! Nope - just send them to my website.

I don't regret not disclosing sooner. I went with my heart and protected it at all costs. The best peace of mind after breaking the seal was realizing that, if someone had a problem with my HIV status (or anyone else's) then I didn't want to be around them anyway.

This or That

On a bad day, do you prefer to:

Ultimately, you decide

There were a couple of times back in the earlier days when disclosure was on the tip of my tongue and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Don't worry if that sounds all too familiar. You've just read an entire article about disclosure. You are taking more steps in the right direction than you might be aware of.

And this may or may not mean that, ultimately, you decide to disclose. You know yourself and your situation better than I do. Just know that you can keep your HIV status to yourself, but it's not a dirty secret...

Like all of life's experiences along the way, HIV is just one more thing that makes you beautiful, unique you.

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