When you first learn that you are living with HIV, one of the immediate, dreaded thoughts that can come to mind is this: How will I ever tell my family and friends that I’m positive? What will they think of me?
What usually follows is a barrage of what-if scenarios of rejection and shame that flood your headspace, all before you utter those three little letters out loud. The trauma caused by these theoretical nightmares is often enough to keep you second-guessing who to tell and who to keep quiet around for far longer than it should.
The best way to stay healthy and manage your virus well is to create a support system of people who you love and trust. In order to do that, you need to get over your hang-ups and come out about your status to those who are important in your life. To help you get there, here are a few ways to make the process easier.
Talk to Other HIV-Positive People
It’s always better to crawl before you walk, and walk before your run. If you can, it helps to get advice from a person who has personal experience. Reach out to someone in your life who you know is HIV-positive. If nobody comes to mind, talk with someone you know who has at least dated someone with HIV. Seek out online support groups and look for a new friend who can give you good advice. Gaining a real life perspective can easily assuage any stress or apprehension you may have.
Arm Yourself With the Facts
Just like when you first found out, chances are the people you disclose your status to will have quite a few questions. Prepare yourself with some of the facts and figures about the state of HIV treatment to put their mind at ease. Once you allay their concerns about your health, you can graduate to deeper discussions. But make sure you get your facts straight by only using reputable sources: search topics on HIVPlusMag.com, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV site, and AIDSMap to start.
Take it One Person at a Time
Don’t worry about how everyone in your life will handle the news. Start with the person you're closest with, someone who supports you no matter what. After you've told the people in your inner circle, you can decide how to approach the rest of the world. Every time you say "HIV" out loud, it will get easier and easier.
It’s more than likely that your family and friends won’t know the most up-to-date information about HIV, and they may have stigmatizing beliefs about HIV-positive people. They may initially mistake your new HIV status as a terminal one, rather than the manageable chronic condition it is. Give them time to learn and process the information. Support them through this and they will likely return the favor. Remember, people who love you will probably be very concerned and upset at first. That’s because they are worried about you. It’s a natural reaction, just like the one you probably had when you first learned of your status. Be patient. In a month or two, you will be discussing your lab results and your T-cells in the same way you talk about your job and your love life.
Discussing HIV with someone who you care about is never easy. Then again, nothing worthwhile ever is. Be brave and believe that you’re worthy of love and support—because you are.