Don’t Worry, I’ll Be Okay! How to Break the News to Your Family That You’re HIV Positive (Tips on HIV Disclosure)
There are many things we might be afraid of telling our families, especially to those families that are on the more conservative side. But, would you rather have the burden carrying a secret, like being HIV positive, around with you forever, or would you prefer to be open and honest with those closest to you? Ultimately, your personal life is just that– personal. It will be up to you to decide when you’re ready to let them know of your health status, and until that time comes, the best thing to do is educate yourself about living with HIV. And once you know everything you can learn about it, you might find that breaking the news to them might not be as scary as you originally thought.
I can still remember when I first found out about Jim’s (my cousin) condition. So many things came flooding into my mind – the death scene with Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia,” Pedro from “The Real World,” the musical “Rent,” and a myriad of other pop culture references. I still remember my saying “can’t you pick a less controversial topic for me to support?” Thankfully, he laughed and admitted humor is what helped him get over his sadness, anger and denial.
I have seen my family come together to rally around Jim and give him a tremendous amount of love and support– they would try to move a mountain if they thought it would help. If you are considering revealing your condition to your family, keep in mind your status is 100% up to you. However, your family could be a great source of support and being open could ultimately bring everyone closer. Expressing your feelings can be very cathartic and diminish any “shame” factor you might be experiencing. It’s also probably best they find out from you and not someone else. The fact they know you are being upfront and honest could go a long way in helping them be at peace with your status.
Choosing the right time to share
There is really no “right” or “wrong” way to tell your family about your condition. However, sharing this kind of news may not be best for groups. It will be much easier to reveal this information to those who are closest to you individually, in-person. By slowly breaking the news in a one-on-one situation, you won’t have to worry about the reactions you might expect from an entire group of people. Just keep in mind that the longer you postpone the news, you are not really protecting them by not telling them.
When you loved ones know the facts, it will be that much easier for them to realize that people with HIV can actually lead long, healthy lives with the proper medication and care. In fact, it is far more manageable today than it once was and we are currently making technological and medical strides at a rate unheard of before. In addition, HIV can be a wake up call to pursue passions in life – don’t hesitate to try for your dreams since you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Although telling others you’re HIV positive may seem like the most difficult thing you’ve had to do, the burden of carrying a secret alone could be even harder.
Be prepared to answer their questions
You might consider approaching educating your family the same way your doctor told you about your diagnosis. Education is key and your best bet is to have all the necessary information on-hand and ready to launch. Most individuals that aren’t completely informed about HIV will generally react out of ignorance; however, you have the power of changing their perspective!
Offer to answer any questions your family may have as best as you can with the knowledge you have. I would recommend being simple, direct and making sure you feel physically well at the time. Remember, you don’t have to face something like this alone, and your healthcare provider can direct you towards support groups and individuals who will help with the disclosure process.
Why should you tell?
Living with HIV is nothing that you should be ashamed about; however, it might be a good idea to be careful as to who you inform. There are plenty of good reasons why you should tell certain individuals that you’re HIV positive.
As much as you may not believe it right now, sharing your health status with those closest to you can result in gaining both emotional and practical support. In addition, if you have been diagnosed with HIV and are currently sexually active, it is your responsibility to share this information in order to protect that person from developing it as well. In fact, some states make it illegal to knowingly infect others, so don’t put yourself at legal risk or endanger the health of your partners!
Who else should you tell?
Breaking the news that you are HIV positive can be a tough thing, and it only makes sense to tell those who you trust indefinitely. If you’re not completely ready to tell your family, you will certainly want to inform your health care providers, your past sex or needle-sharing partners and future sex partners.
When thinking of who else to tell, consider whether or not if a certain individual will hurt you physically or emotionally and whether or not he/she will discriminate against you. Those who don’t have the ability to support you during this time are likely not worth your worries.
Remember that you’re not alone
You can persevere! It has taken this disease to make my cousin see life as something more than a job, more than paying bills and more than making everyone else happy. His strength and courage inspires me to work hard each and every day. In any case, keep your chin up, keep your head on straight, be good to yourself and enjoy life!
In a perfect world, family members and friends would be the easiest people to share your personal life with. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. They may feel hurt, fearful and/or angry about your condition, but keeping this kind of secret from them can ultimately be more painful. Prepare for the worst, but expect the best!
(Publisher’s note: Thanks, Virginia for this guest post. I sincerely appreciate it! – josh)
Virginia Cunningham is a health enthusiast and mother living in the Los Angeles area. Her writing, in collaboration with NorthWest, covers all things health, from personal wellness and fitness, to holistic therapies and medicine. She is honored to have had the opportunity to share her tips to those who have been diagnosed with HIV, and encourages them to always look on the bright side!