How Do I Get Him To Talk About It?
Jul 17, 1997
My best friend and flat mate of 3 years found out he was HIV positive about 1 year ago. He knows I am there for him always and that I would give my life for him to be 'well' again. I don't know what to expect from the HIV...when will he get sick? How do I get him to join a discussion group? He is the only gay friend in our 'straight' group of friends, so he doesn't really have anyone he can talk to or turn to expect for me. He never wants to talk about it, and I don't want to push, but he has this disease now, and he must learn about it and it's effects. Whenever I try to bring this topic up, he changes it. I don't want to push him, but I know that if I do it'll be all out in the open for him. He means so much to me, and I don't want him to have his 'eyes shut' during this time in his life.
Response from Mr. Shernoff
You are absolutely correct that it is important that your flat mate educate himself and not become isolated with his feelings. Have you tried to ask him why he is reluctant to talk about it with you?
For many people it is easier to deny the reality than deal with it. For others it is just too painful and frightening to face openly. But especially today with combination treatments, making sure that he is getting good medical care is essential to his longevity and well being. Many HIV infected people feel shame about how they got infected. Some are ashamed of being gay or having had sex with men or just having unprotected sex int his era of lethal sexually transmitted diseases. Others feel ashamed of having shot drugs. How ever people contracted HIV there is still a stigma attached to the illness that makes it difficult for some people to be open about the condition and talk openly even with people they love and trust.
Here are some suggestions that I hope are helpful. Since he is obviously not ready to talk with you, might you be able to go online and research information that will be crucial for him? There are so many excellent HIV resources online where you can either just get information or even talk with other HIV infected people. Look at the pages on this site for newly diagnosed people or those who need an AIDS 101. Or go to my web site (http://www.gaypsychotherapy.com) and click on links to bring up several of the most comprehensive HIV sites on the internet, such as AEGIS and AIDS-info.com. I think you should explore these sites and become familiar with them and then share them with your friend. Perhaps you could even take him there one time while you are online and see if he is interested in participating on his own.
Where do the two of you live? Is there an AIDS service organization near by where you can research available psychological resources like a support group for newly diagnosed people that you can also let him know exists?
Finally if he is adamant about not doing anything to help himself, let him alone about this, but with the proviso that if and when he is ever ready to talk with you, you will be there to listen and be of help to him by sharing the numerous resources you have located for him. He is lucky to have a friend like you.
-- Michael Shernoff, MSW
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