I am an avid reader of your column. I tested positive for HIV about six years ago at the age of 23. I decided to keep my status a secret, and apart from my doctor, no one else knows about it. As a young woman who is dating, I have been approached by several men including some who confess they are HIV positive.
Two years ago, I found someone and fell in love with him. Shortly after meeting him, he told me he was HIV positive. We have been dating all this while but I feel guilty about keeping my status a secret from him. I don’t know how to tell him that I am HIV positive too, or how he will take it seeing I have kept this a secret for so long.
Although you have secretive about your status, I want to thank you for finally talking about it. Admission helps one come to terms with the status and the impact it may bring. You will never control or shield yourself from what people think or say—good or bad. The best way to deal with it is to build a healthy self-image. So, I encourage you to be easy on yourself. Don’t judge yourself too much. Accept the facts as they are—you are positive. That is a great start.
Second, disclosure can only come where we are confident and ready to accept people reactions. That said, you may need to be careful how you navigate this path. First, there is need for sensitivity so as to who disclosure is made. Not every Tom, Dick and Harry needs to know about your condition.
Second, be objective and not pessimistic. Know that sickness is not a death certificate. HIV and Aids can be managed and you end up living a long life. Third, when you are sure that he is the man you want to spend the rest of your life with, let him know your feelings. Assure him that you may have kept your status silent because of the fear of rejection.
Fourth, his reaction will reveal a lot about him and what he stands for. After all, he willingly disclosed his status to you. Let him know that he has the right to say whatever he thinks but you felt that this was the right time to disclose.
Take your time
If you are committed to any relationship, the way forward is to work through issues one by one. Ensure you do this under the right environment. Do not allow anyone to look down on you or blame you unnecessarily. In the end, be committed to keeping the right attitude. Do not be tempted to force yourself to talk or discuss the issue if you are not ready emotionally. While I fully appreciate your desire to have a steady relationship that could lead to marriage, I am cognisant of the fact that this will take time and patience. However, I must also indicate that marriage is not the ultimate source of meaning and self-confidence that we seek after in this life. A good marriage is a daily journey of disclosure, love and commitment regardless of the tough times.
Sadly, we live in a society that still tolerates stigma against persons living with HIV. To this end, there are many living with HIV that fear sharing about their status as seen in the way you are processing your own situation. You must take courage to live your life. But, your greatest challenges not really your boyfriend or your parents. Your greatest challenge is to accept your status, feel safe and have the freedom to speak about it without entraining judgement and intimidation from others or judging yourself harshly. Your identity is not defined by your status. Life is bigger than your status. As I mentioned earlier, one of the liberating forces is to accept your status followed by making a choice to live in freedom not a prison. You are not less of a human being because of your HIV status. The view you have of self is key to your freedom.
Finally, despite your status, you are young and have the capacity to enjoy a life without regret. So, start by being willing to remain open about your condition. You have a lot to teach your family through this situation. Don’t live in self-condemnation but rather be consumed by what the future will be if you live in freedom. Because your status is manageable, my hope is for you to come out and share with others without fear. Confront your fears with truth. After all, what is the worst thing that could happen? Living in denial will only hurt you in the long run.
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