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What to do
Feb 28, 2002

I am 49, married, and have teenage daughters. My wife and I have known that I have been HIV+ since 89. We have never told anyone. I am suffering from lipodystrophy and have been avoiding my friends and family because of my ghoulish appearance. I am at the point where I am ready and willing to tell everyone of my HIV+ to save my sanity. But I worry about my parents and my daughters. So for now, we are holding off. What do you think?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Having to live with a secret as big as being HIV+ is exceptionally difficult and takes a negative emotional toll on everyone involved. It is a truism within the field of family therapy that secrets are always destructive to healthy family interactions. It sounds like you are ready to stop expending all the energy on hiding this secret.

I urge you to evaluate who are the most important people to tell first. Most likely that will be your children. In all likelihood they already know that something is "wrong" with you. It demonstrates alot of faith in their ability to cope with life's difficult realities to share honestly with them what you have been living with. Of course it will be frightening for them, but probably not as frightening as not knowing for sure what has been happening to their father.

You already have the support of your wife. Both of you need and deserve all the support you can get, which means sharing this with your families. If you had any other life threatening illness there would probably not be the same sense of caution and shame that prevented you from disclosing what is going on.

Therefore I urge you to proceed with telling your loved ones and no longer having to hide. Obviously people will have alot of questions about how did you get infected. You need to be prepared about whether or not you feel that is a relevant question to answer. Everyone will probably require alot of reassurance that you are not dying from AIDS, but are living with HIV as well as education about the illness.

This is a big step to take but I feel confident that even if not everyone is supportive, by being honest your quality of life and that of your wife and children will improve.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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