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.
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.
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!
If you have kids, telling your children about your or their HIV status can be even more challenging, but also rewarding. Like other touchy topics -- such as bodies, puberty, and sex -- discussions about HIV, be it your own, their HIV or HIV in general, should be age appropriate. The National Pediatric HIV Resource Center has great information for parents who need guidance on disclosure. They can be reached at www.pedhivaids.org.
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.
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