Coming out as HIV-positive is an experience unlike any other, and comparisons with coming out as gay are not necessarily helpful. That earlier declaration may have been greeted with cries of “I already knew!” but your HIV status is not something which is visible. Because it’s hidden you may feel that it carries much heavier repercussions - and consequently, it’s understandable that your stress levels and anxiety could spiral.
Gone are the days when HIV was a death sentence. Effective medication is now available, and you can expect to live a full and healthy life if treated early. Keep reminding yourself of this - and read up and speak to professionals about the treatments available. Support is crucial when you get that diagnosis. There’s plenty available; reach out for it - you’re not alone.
Your first emotion - which may overwhelm you - is likely to be fear. How will people react? Will they shun you? Will others view you as disease-ridden and infectious? Will you ever find a relationship? The questions will be endless, and you need to keep a check on them. Don’t catastrophize. Speak to one of the specialist services if you need to. You can break through the fear barrier - and the other side won’t be nearly as bad as you’re predicting. It never is!
You’re likely to be worried about other people’s reactions - those you work with, your friends, your family. Are you going to feel awkward? But what does this matter? You have no control over what other people think about you, and your self-esteem should not be built upon their opinions. Any negative reactions are about other people’s issues - not yours.
Learn all there is to know about your status, but crucially from professionals. Don’t go trawling the internet for inaccurate information, which will only panic you. Once you’re in full possession of the facts, set yourself up as an educator. Not everyone, believe it or not, is aware that being HIV positive does not equate to dying from AIDS, for example. Fight through the stigma by explaining the reality calmly. There will always be bigots out there, but most rational human beings are willing to listen, learn and challenge their beliefs.
Anyone can get HIV. It doesn’t mean that you’re “dirty” or “reckless” or “a slut,” or any of those other unhelpful labels. Continuously blaming yourself is only going to lead to more guilt - and possibly push you into self-destructive behavior. Acknowledge those feelings and then work with professionals or those close friends you can trust to move on.
Yes, there may well be people who react negatively to your coming out - and their opinions may well change over time. But if they don’t, do you need them in your life? Those who are important will stick with you - and your bold declaration and the discussions that follow are likely to open your relationship to new levels, making it stronger than ever.
Start to view yourself in a different way: as an ambassador for your community, as an example to others in your openness and courage. Of course, there’s still much work to be done to break down prejudice towards HIV positive people, but you can become part of that movement for change. Walk tall and proud - and never apologize for who you are.
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