Community True Life & Opinions Telling my family I’m living with HIV is the best thing I’ve done HIV+me with Ruaidhri O’Baoill | @RuaidhriOB I had flown home especially for the weekend. I had spent the previous three months obsessing over the exact choice of words and how, when and even where in the house I said it. By the time I arrived at home I was an emotional and exhausted wreck. We had not long finished our dinner when I saw my younger brother who, sitting on the opposite side of the table, gave me a look as to say ‘go on, tell them’. It was then I proceeded to break down in tears as I told my parents I was HIV-positive. At the start, I decided that I was only going to disclose my status to a close group of friends and that telling my family was going to be put on hold. There were a few reasons for this but there were two that were more important than any of the others. Firstly, I had moved away from home and at that time I was only managing to get back twice a year. I felt that if I told them so soon after being diagnosed everything would have been far more dramatic and they would have either made me fly back home or would have come to London themselves. At that moment in time I was not ready to face them. I needed my own time to process this. I needed my own space to work out how I felt about myself, being HIV-positive and my future. Secondly and probably the deciding factor was that I felt that I needed to tell them I was positive with a positive! I thought that the best way for me to do this was to take control of my health, which I knew would have been their number one concern. As a result I decided that I was only going to tell them when I was undetectable. This way I could somehow soften the blow and hopefully reassure them that everything was going to work out in the end. Mum and Dad joined my brother at the kitchen table and after months of planning my speech, everything crumbled to pieces and what I actually said was a blubbering mess. Silence was met with crying which was followed by many, many hugs. I had told my brother a few weeks beforehand as I felt I wouldn’t be able to completely do this on my own. He reacted with a level of maturity and honesty that pretty much floored me. This response and also being there with me especially that weekend, has been far more important to me than he will ever know. Mum took the news the hardest, as unbeknownst to me she admitted that ever since I came out this was her was biggest fear. Dad remained quite calm and asked a lot of questions which I was prepared for. I made sure I brought every piece of literature I had home with me. That was my strategy. The more I could educate and dispel any myths the better chance they had of understanding and accepting the situation I now found myself in. The chat, which felt like it went on for hours, was brought to a surprising end when we all had a much needed, albeit slightly awkward, giggle. Dad happened to comment on how positive I was being with everything. I replied, jokingly, asking if we could all not use the word positive just yet. Looking back I definitely feel this was our family breakthrough moment which my Dad and his innocent choice of words should take full credit for! Over the past two years I have always been very mindful that although it is me who is living with HIV it is also my family and friends who are going through it with me at the same time. I’ve always ensured that I have made myself available to them for any questions, concerns or fears they may have. Since I came out, again, my family have not only continued their incredible level of support and love but have continuously taken me by surprise with how they have handled it. Only recently my Mum, who has been enjoying the social media aspect of life ‘i.e. Facebook’, took it upon herself to respond to the somewhat harsher critics of one of my previous articles. Initially I was concerned because I am very aware of the soulless maliciousness that can come with social media and didn’t especially want my Mum involved in that. However I was wrong as she made very sure that her voice was heard, and I cannot thank her enough. We all come from different families and I know that some will be more supportive than others. There is no law to say you need to disclose your status to your family. I did because I wanted to. I did because I knew that they would have been completely heartbroken if I took away the opportunity for them to help me. If I didn’t have them right there lifting my head up when it fell, encouraging me to be honest with how I felt and simply just loving me, I wouldn’t be the happy boy I am today. You’ve done me very proud. Ruaidhri was diagnosed HIV-positive in August 2014. He’s an HIV activist with a keen interest around stopping stigma within the gay community. In his spare time he likes to stalk Victoria Beckham and run after plastic bags on a windy day. HIV+LIFE Family and friends Whether or not you tell your family may depend on how close you are to them and how much support you can expect from them. If you feel their concern will become a burden for you, possibly because of an extreme emotional response or even the possibility that they may reject you, then it may be better not to tell them. If there is a family member that you are particularly close to, you might want to talk to them first and find out whether they think it would be useful to tell the rest of your family. They may even be able to help you disclose your status to other family members. You could think about who in your family you first told that you were gay, or who was most supportive. It may seem daunting, but disclosing to a family member can actually lead to a stronger relationship. By showing someone that you can turn to them for support and trust them with personal information, they may feel closer to you. These discussions could also help them to feel more able to share any difficulties that they are having in their life. How your family reacts at first may be very different from the way they behave after they have had time to better understand what living with HIV means. An emotional response could be followed by help and support, or vice versa. It very much depends on the individual you are disclosing to and how well informed they are. By being clear about your reason for telling them (whether it’s for support, because you want someone to listen or just because you want them to know) they may be able to respond in a more positive way. There are many misconceptions and myths about HIV, so those close to you may become very scared for you when you tell them you have HIV. Where possible, be prepared to provide information; they may have questions and concerns that you could answer which would reassure them and help them to understand what your diagnosis means. Some people find talking to close friends easier than telling their families, especially if their friends are more informed about HIV. Friends can also provide a different point of view from family members. While it is important to think carefully about who you tell, it’s also important to remember that everyone needs someone to talk to from time to time. It’s possible that you may already know some gay friends who have HIV. It’s also possible that in telling one of your friends, you find out that they also have HIV. Telling a friend who has HIV may mean that you get some useful support and advice from someone who has been through the same emotions and feelings as you. Having a close circle of friends who you can confide in will help to relieve some of the pressure you may feel in dealing with HIV on your own. As with your family, be prepared to answer any questions they may have. Your friends may well need reassurance about what having HIV means as much as you need support from them. Remember though that since your friends may be worried after hearing that you have HIV, they may feel the need to talk to other friends who may not already know. If you don’t want this to happen, be clear with them that you want them to keep the news to themselves. Support More details about the risks of different sexual acts, both for HIV and for other STIs, can be found in the section How risky is...? on GMFA’s website. Visit www.gmfa.org.uk/sex. GMFA has a section of its website dedicated to gay men living with HIV. Visit www.gmfa.org.uk/living-with-hiv.