Until very recently, when it came to telling people I was HIV positive, it felt like I was re-living my ‘coming out’ years all over again. (A part of my life I prefer not to dwell on too much).
The anticipation, knowing you going to have a difficult conversation with someone
The worry, of what they might say or do, that their opinion of you will change, and you will forever be known as ‘their friend with HIV’
The shame, the judgement, the fear
Trust me, I felt it all. But actually, after preparing myself for the worst outcome from everyone, I can honestly say that not a single person has said anything discouraging or insulting. In fact, I have had nothing but kindness, love and support.
My close friends were the first people that knew. I live in London, and as a result, like so many of us, live away from family. Friends down here are my family.
I wouldn’t say it was easy telling them; there was still the worry that they would see me as something different, or start unnecessarily worrying about me constantly. I considered just getting through it by myself and not burdening them, but soon felt that if I didn’t talk about it with someone I would explode.
A side note to any friends that may be reading this: it is in no way a reflection on the value of our friendship, but a state of mind you go through when you balance every possibility and outcome.
Some friends I found infinitely easier to tell than others, and it tended to be the ones that I had known the longest that were hardest to tell. Perhaps it was because we had memories from growing up together, and when you’re young you never imagine something like this could happen.
Thankfully, everyone I confided in offered nothing but love and support with no judgement.
What helped me – and I offer this as advice to anyone who may be struggling to talk to people – was knowing I could tell them “I will be ok.”
Unpleasant. Awkward. Necessary!
It’s never a nice conversation to have with anyone that they may be a risk they’ve been in contact with an STI. Especially the mother of all STI’s. But, it had to be done. At the end of the day someone’s life, and potentially many others, could be at risk. So I swallowed my pride and got on with it… I’d deal with my ego later.
My health advisor kindly offered to do this anonymously on my behalf, but I genuinely cared for the people that could be affected and wanted them to respect me for telling them personally… even if it could be an unfavourable outcome…
The way the virus works is there is an ‘incubation period’ of 2-6 weeks, from being infected to becoming ‘detectable’. As such it gives a timeframe of potential partners that could have caused the infection.
When the doctors diagnosed me as I was ‘seroconverting’, I knew who my potential partners were. It did also mean that I couldn’t have been the one to have given it to them, though I can’t say it made the calls any easier.
Seroconversion is the period of time when you go from being HIV- to HIV+ is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms, and takes place a few weeks after initial infection.
I picked up the phone, took a deep breath, re-arranged the pillows on my bed, took another deep breath, straightened the picture that had been askew for months, took another deep breath and called.
The phone-calls were easier than I thought they would be, and I hope that they respected me for talking to them personally… even if it was over the phone. I am still very close to them and they have supported me unconditionally since.
I am lucky to have a family full of love and support. Yet, as many people have already told me with their own experience of HIV, telling family members was hardest of all.
It really did feel like I was coming out all over again. I didn’t want any of them to worry about me because I knew I would be ok… even if I wasn’t at the time.
I chose not to tell any of them until I knew for sure either way. After all, there was no point in us all worrying about something unnecessarily. Once the diagnosis had been confirmed, I bit the bullet.
My brothers were both fine about it, offering support if I needed, but I think my Mum took a little time to get her head around it. Don’t forget, she, unlike my brothers, lived through the 80’s and 90’s when HIV was essentially a death sentence. She, like me at the start, knew little of the medical advances and treatment available now and little about the virus itself.
After explaining that I was being well looked after and with the right treatment I will live a next to normal life, things were fine. My mum is an incredibly strong woman and has supported me through thick and thin… and continues to do so. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if it wasn’t for the immense love and support that come from my family.
The point I am trying to make is that by educating others about the disease, its treatment and prevention, the less cause for concern there is. That’s not to say HIV shouldn’t be taken seriously… it absolutely should. But with a little understanding the stigma you feel when you are diagnosed will soon disappear.
As always, please share this blog. You’d be amazed at the amount of people who feel they can’t speak out about HIV and have lived with this burden for so long.
Saint Helena Pound