I just found out that my bestfriend told all my other close friends that I am HIV positive.
I felt so betrayed.
I know she means well as she only told our closest of friends. Yet still, she has no idea how overwhelming any (both consented and all the more the unconsented) disclosure can be.
I just came out to my colleagues at work in a staff meeting. My ever supportive boss who knows my health status has advised it so that my needs are appropriately addressed while working together.
Opening up is never easy. Some of them already knew from others (which I got depressed about) while others are hearing it for the first time. My priest friend, who is openly living with HIV, has oriented me of the three steps that people usually respond to someone disclosing their HIV status.
Step one: judgment.
“Giunsa nimo pagkuha (How did you get it)?” a colleague asked when it was her turn to respond. As a fellow health worker, I know she knows and I understand her curiosity, but going into the who, when, where, and why of my infection is one of my dreaded processes that digs old wounds.
Step two: pity.
“Ayaw na kaayo paghagu. Gakahadlok ko sa panahon nga mapareha ka sa mga niwang na kaayo nga nakahigda sa hospital ug himalatyon na (Don’t stress yourself anymore. I fear for the time that you will be the same as the ones who are already too emaciated and dying in the hospital),” another colleague said.
I can conduct an HIV 101 session, but this definitely was not the time. Going back into that dark place of self-blame and self-pity in a space where others have many questions is such a burden. In a state of vulnerability, I am in no capacity to clarify or justify any of my experiences to others. All I need is to be heard.
This is one of the experiences that has shown me the great need for support for friends and family who are also affected by the virus. As a PLHIV, it needs much self-empowerment and strength to guide others through these responses of judgment and pity. They are indeed natural but are really not helpful to the one disclosing. Creating a safe space for disclosure is such a crucial step in properly helping people like us. No PLHIV should go through this alone and that is what we hope to do in our support groups in The Well.
Step three: emphatic support.
“Ingni mi unsaon pagtabang nimo (Tell us how we can help you),” the one beside me finally said.
I was able to finally breathe when I heard this. There was finally neither judgment nor pity, just those few words that sincerely meant that they care and want to help.
It felt lighter to come to the office everyday after that meeting. We all felt much closer as this secret has always been a barrier.
My priest friend shared his positive support on this development. “Openness will not only bring support, but also help them in dealing correctly with PLHIV. You will always be able to say to them, ‘that’s not the sort of response I need now’ and they will understand.”
Now I face this premature coming out to my closest of friends.
No matter how good the intention is, it is still the PLHIV’s prerogative to tell or not.
Coming into terms with accepting one’s health status is not an easy process and PLHIV should be given the enough time and the safe space to deal with it.
With the current advances in medicine, it is true that living with HIV is not a death sentence anymore particularly if one adopts healthier and safer lifestyle choices. Yet everyone still has to be reminded that it is not the virus that kills but the stigma.
My priest friend offered this advice to me when he knew about my problem. “Everytime someone finds out or you tell someone you open yourself up to an uninformed rejection. But you open yourself up to being in a place where no one can hurt you anymore, because you know who you are, and if others can’t accept it, it’s their problem. If any of your friends reject you then they did not deserve you.”
I know disclosure to my immediate family and friends is essential for the support I need. I know in my own time I will be able to get through this and for now I am just grateful for the support I have.
“The more open you become, the less fear you will have someone finding out. It will be soon be time for you to speak to your mother. You don’t want her finding out from someone else because they thought she knew. True liberation is where there is no fear someone will find out. You simply are who you always were, an incredibly beautiful special creation of God.” My priest friend lastly added in our chat on Viber.
To my bestfriend: I know you love me and I love you too. Let’s just take it one step at a time. We have to walk before we can run.