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Is my experience common?
Aug 21, 2001

Michael,

I found out 18 months ago that I'm poz. Am a 46 year old gay male.

My problem is that a number of important people in my life have distanced themselves from me since I told them of my status: both my brothers (my only immediate family), and some formerly close friends.

I think they distanced themselves in part for fear that I will become a burden to them. At present I am well and have good results from treatment.

But it has been very painful to be cut off from the support I'd hoped for when I told these people.

This is particularly so with my brothers, neither of whom seem capable of really talking about the issues in any open way. (Both are married with kids.) We haven't spoken for a year now.

Others are supportive but I find none know how to talk about being HIV positive, which is like living in limbo.

Is this due to HIV and its history or more due to feelings of inadequacy in talking about serious illness generally, do you think?

I've thought about joining a gay peer support group for positive men. Do they tend to work well, in your experience?

I've had some one-on-one counselling with a social worker but stopped that a while ago. It was very helpful, but I'm finding now that I need to talk again.

I certainly don't find I can talk to my friends about the thoughts I have. They just want to think positive and not discuss the concerns and experiences.

I also find now that I am ambivalent about the idea of telling people of my status. I've just had too many indifferent reactions to think it's a good idea. This is not good as I often feel I want to tell some people but don't for fear of their reaction. Then I find myself resenting them and myself for the situation.

I know that I've come to terms with my HIV status to a much greater degree than initially when I was panicked and shocked. I wonder if things will improve in time or does it always remain a preoccupation and source of ongoing uncertainty in one's life.

Thanks for any thoughts you have.

S

Response from Mr. Shernoff

I am really sorry to hear that the people who you thought you were closest to are unable to show up for you during this extremely challenging period in your life. Unfortunately you are not alone in having people either distance themselves or just not know how to ask about and talk about your feelings and concerns, as well as their own.

Having peers, whether gay or not who are also infected and wrestling with the same concerns, to discuss both practical matters as well as emotional ones is crucial for remaining healthy both physically and psychologically. For this reason I urge you to contact a local AIDS service organization and join an ongoing support gorup. Hopefully this will also provide you with the opportunity to make other positive friends as well as have a support group to participate in.

I do think that it is worth your taking the risk, (after all what do you have to lose) of telling everyone who you were close to who have let you down, that you are hurt and surprised by their not engaging you in conversations about your condition so that your being HIV positive would not become the reson for the relationships to be as strained as they currently are. Another way to try to jump start these convbersations is to outright ask them their thoughts and feelings aobut your being HIV positive and acknowledging that your health condition must have an impact upon them as well, and you would love to hear directly from them all of their thoughts and feelings about your having HIV. If you are able to do this either in a letter, e mail or phone call in as loving and gentle way as possible perhaps some communication will be opened up. You can also ask your family if they would be willing to go to some family therapy sessions to talk about the current situation.

There is a vast amount of hard scientific research that demonstrates that people who have a life threatening illness of any kind do better both in terms of a prognosis as well as quality of life with more support, especially from family.

I hope that things turn around for you, but whether or not they do, do join a support group and seek out opportunities for socializing with other POZ people. Trying to meet other HIV+ gay men for freindship and or dating might also be a constructive use of your time and energy.

Best of luck.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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