Telling Others About Your HIV
Telling others you're living with HIV can be scary, painful and hard. In the long run, it's usually not as hard as the heavy burden of secrecy. One of the most frequent comments from readers responding to the Wise Words survey was that you wanted information on how to best disclose your HIV status to people in your lives. While there's no one best way, there are a few things to think about in advance that might help.
Common reasons why some people choose not to disclose is that others may find it hard to accept your HIV status; some may even discriminate against you because of it. Discrimination within one's family or friends can really hurt. Discrimination at work can hurt, too, but it is also illegal.
The pros may be that sharing your status can feel empowering and can foster a new sense of closeness among friends, family, and loved ones. Not hiding your HIV status from doctors or other healthcare providers can help ensure that you get the most appropriate care, too. Disclosure can also reduce the risk of HIV transmission to others, and it can lead to better, healthier sexual relationships.
Remember, you don't have to tell everybody, only those who you trust and want or need to tell. Give yourself time to determine who these people are and how you want to tell them.
Sometimes it's easiest to first disclose to someone who has been through it themselves, like a friend or family member living with HIV or members of support group or someone who has disclosed another serious illness.
If you don't know anyone living with HIV, or don't have access to a support group, calling an HIV hotline and telling an operator you have HIV can break the ice. They are used to these kinds of calls. They won't judge you; they will understand. They might even be willing to work with you, through role-play or just by listening, to help you find the language and courage to tell others.
Blurting things out all at once is certainly one way of getting out the fact that you're positive. But healthy disclosure is a process that may require many discussions and contemplations.
Think of disclosing your HIV as the beginning of a new dialogue with the ones you most love and trust. Not only will they learn about you through this process, but you'll learn a lot about yourself as well. The starting point may be your saying "I have something to tell you -- I have HIV." But chances are, that isn't going to be the final word.
Setting the stage for disclosure can make a big difference. Think about where you want to tell -- a place where you feel comfortable and safe. If possible, line up some place safe for you to go after the initial disclosure, like a friend's house or a support group.
Consider bringing a few pamphlets about HIV or an HIV hotline card for the person you're telling. Not only might they use these resources later but having them helps that person know you're not alone, that there's support for you -- and for them. Consider bringing someone who already knows you're living with HIV.
Remember that their first reaction is not going to be their last. Like you, those who you love need time to adjust to this new information. Finally, be brave and proud of the decision you've made!
You do not have to tell your employer you have HIV. Confidentiality of medical information is part of your right to privacy. The only situation in which an employee may need to reveal their status is on the application for Family and Medical Leave. Even then, the information must remain in a separate, private file to which only the director of human resources or you have access. Legally, it cannot be shared with anyone else. If it is, and discrimination results, the employee could sue the employer.
If you have any questions about disclosing for employee or benefits purposes (like insurance, disability, or medical leave), contact an employee benefits counselor or an HIV or legal advocate before disclosing.
This article was provided by Project Inform. It is a part of the publication WISE Words. Visit Project Inform's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.