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SHOWING our FACES; DISCLOSURE and DISCRETION

January 29, 2011

I applaud and celebrate “showing our faces”,   especially when I’ve kept mine hidden for over 20 years.  But this feat did not come easily and the floorplan was carefully set.  I did take many precautions before allowing people to peak into my life.  I knew a lot of people were suspicious, after all they did know that my husband died of AIDS.  I never spoke a word of my HIV while my children were in school (with the exception of a counsellor).  I feared for their safety or maybe I was using them as a mask for my own fears.

There are, however, good practical reasons today for discretion regarding disclosure of your diagnosis.  Insurance companies might turn you down.  How will your employer and co-workers react?  How will your children’s school and peers react?  It might require doing a little homework before you share your status.

As for myself, my children were well into their 20’s (though, once again, they too were suspicious, as were my brothers and sisters),and everybody knew AIDS and John were not my favorite subject.  My co-workers learnt of my diagnosis slowly, as my health deteriorated and I began working half-time; took many sick leaves, till finally I was on full-time disability.  When I began receiving palliative care, there was no way the elephant in the living room could be ignored; and we embarked on a different journey.

You never know of course, how people will react.  One friend I told, fainted.  Another friend took the news so hard, she collapsed in my arms and I had to console her and then there’s the friend I never saw again.  Prior to my husband’s diagnosis, we had a small group of friends who spoke so negatively about AIDS that when John was in the hospital. dying, I broke off all those relationships.  Despite living in the same city, I never spoke to them again.  If I ever saw any of them, I would cross the street, I changed my shopping routine.  I avoided them like the plague.  But life is funny, because just this past Christmas, one of these friends saw my “face” on Facebook.  She wrote to me about her life, how she was thinking of me and praying for me.  I know I will respond to her, because forgiveness is important to me.  I still haven’t done it though…

Looking at the pros and cons of disclosure, I need to add that I shared my diagnosis when I felt it was safe for me to do.  I don’t have to worry about a job anymore.  I receive health benefits.  My chidren are  adults.  And I like the feeling of being who I am, and learning, even at this stage of my life, more of who I am.   Unfortunately, on a cautionary note, just this past spring, I applied to live in an assisted-living facility, but when I told the director I had HIV (because I thought it was safe in 2010) to do so, she turned down my application, because, as she put it, “she had to think of the other residents”.

I found a new facility of course, and yes they are aware of my HIV and besides who wants to live where you’re not wanted.  Ultimately, we take risks when we disclose our diagnosis.  But this is what:  a girl like me, is all about isn’t?  We take risks for ourselves and for those who can’t yet.        BON COURAGE!

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