Just a few weeks ago I wrote about my thoughts around disclosing my HIV status. At the time of writing that post I had never had to disclose in intimate relationships because I’ve been single and celibate for 18 years. However, in my general everyday life and interactions with people I am right out there with my status. I speak in the media, I’m the HIV+ director for the Pacific Region on the board of the Canadian AIDS Society, I blog here—I obviously have no qualms when it comes to sharing my experience of living with HIV. I am fearless in the public arena, but when I sit down with the intention of disclosing to someone I care about, I lose all composure.
Most recently I did disclose to someone I care about and it was just as terrifying as I thought it would be, but I survived and our friendship is intact.
It was only our second date, but I felt I needed to tell him up front. I’ve struggled with when to disclose. Do I tell right away or let affections grow and then share the knowledge? I’ve decided I prefer to not build up emotions. I prefer to be up front from the beginning. I’m sure I feel this way because the person who infected me did not tell me, at any point, of his positive status. I’m very conscious of being transparent with people.
In the days leading up to our date and my inevitable disclosure, I was both nervous and excited. I was nervous because, well, do I really need to tell you why? And excited because I was confident that the man I was going to share my truth with would honour it and not judge. Guess what? I did choose wisely. He was calm and compassionate. He was also a little funny at just the right moment. Thank goodness for humour!
We had just finished having a discussion about how frustrating we find people who don’t say what they need to say. Hmmm, perfect opportunity to say what I needed to say. I took a deep breath and told him I needed to tell him something. There was something about me that he needed to know. Then I got really weird. My breathing got fast and shallow, my voice changed pitch and got louder, my eyes filled with tears, and I clutched a pillow to my chest. My emotions were highly charged in that moment.
I just blurted out, “I’ve been celibate for 18 years and I’m HIV positive.” I started babbling, so I stopped myself and allowed space for what I had just said to sit there between us.
His first question was, “How has it affected your health?” Wow. I had chosen wisely. Here was an empathetic person. Thank you. He proceeded to ask me more caring questions, none of which were judgemental. I truly felt safe. Initially it was terrifying and I’m quite sure my apparent anxiety freaked him out somewhat, but the whole experience quickly became yet one more honest conversation with a new friend.
My first disclosure experience could have gone completely differently. But it didn’t. My first disclosure experience has strengthened me and I trust it will only become easier. I’m not particularly eager to disclose again in a dating context, but I will. I’m glad I told him right up front. I’m not entertaining thoughts about what could have happened if I had waited to disclose because what went down between the two of us that day was amazing. Some new synaptic connections have been established; there are few new grooves on my brain.
Have you ever done something that was so completely terrifying that it altered you at a cellular level? I’ve always been a courageous person and the first time I noticed the refining power of moving through fear was when I was 8 years old and I slept out in my tree fort overnight. By myself. In the dark. Just me. Out in a field. Far from home. Did I mention I was all alone? The next morning I was so jazzed by what I had accomplished, and that experience established a pattern of facing my fears in my receptive psyche. I’ve not looked back and I don’t regret being a courageous person.
I understand courage as being open and receptive to life, and engaging with my whole being despite any perceived or real dangers. Being courageous does not include checking out of life. I like the “heart” in the word courage. At the root of courage is coeur, French for heart. I believe we must have an open and receptive heart to be courageous. It can be a vulnerable place to be, but it can also be the sweetest, most transcendent place. I choose to live from my heart. Always.