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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Post: IAC (Second Day of Panels, 3)

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Disclosure: School & Work 

This is where is starts to get really personal. I will not reference the speakers names in this panel since it was their choice to disclose in this venue, they did not agree to have their names in SMART Youth's blog.

Now I was sent an email before the conference about this first workshop in a two part series of discussions around disclosure. This gave me ample amount of time to get excited for this workshop that would give me tips on how to address disclosure, and possibly show me if my past actions were the best for a certain situation. I was sure I would be prepared. I mean I've dealt with disclosure on so many different levels (strangers, friends, media forms, etc.) I had been prepared more for a lesson (like so many previous panels) that when I got a down to earth disclosure panel, when I heard the 5 panelist discuss their status and stories, I went into shock.

I don't know what came over me, but as soon as I heard two of the panelists talk about their experiences actually GROWING UP with HIV, I found it hard to hold my pen.

I was struck. Their stories relate to mine. I've always known there were youth like me, but now there really were YOUTH LIKE ME, here, in front of me.

I wasn't prepared. Far from it. The thought of rushing out of the room because of the frog starting to crawl up my throat was overwhelming, but I NEEDED to sit through this panel. I needed to hear more. I needed more proof that I truly was not alone with my story.

As the panelists continued to weave their stories into the tips and suggestions of their slide show, it was getting harder for me to suppress my emotions.

All I could think of as I heard their stories of disclosure were my own stories. Telling friends, and other people in our lives was never labeled as "disclosing" in my head. It finally had a title, and that tile definitely added some weight to those experiences as I thought back on them.

I have probably disclosed in every way, shape, and form.

The late night texts/emails/chats, on camera, in articles, over the phone, face-to-face, or someone else  disclosing for me.

Every ounce of anxiety from those situations was creeping back into my body. I desensitized myself to disclosure and at this moment it was crashing down onto me like a tidal wave.

Now I wasn't in my head the whole time for discussion. Far from it. I did manage to take some helpful notes about disclosure within school and the work place.

When disclosing to an Authoritative Figure in School, think about the WHYS:
  • Support/Understanding
  • If any health complications arise, you will have help
  • Help with studies
When disclosing to friends/classmates/roomies/peers, think about the 5 W's:
Who, What, When, Where, & Why?

When disclosing to an Authoritative Figure at Work, think about the WHYS:
  • Support/Understanding
  • Flexibility in work schedule
  • How to address work-related injuries
When disclosing to co-workers and peers, think about:
What are the pros & cons of disclosing to these fellow workers?

In conclusion, a quote that came from the panel was "Take Power & Ownership of Your Status, We are NOT HIV."

It really drove it home for me. The question and answer period from the audience was also very enlightening. I actually heard a story from a young women that sounded EXACTLY like mine, perinatal infection, and the only one out of her two siblings. I was sold. I was meant to stick it through this discussion, I was meant to be there. This was it. I finally found my answers.

I had been feeling so lonely, or more so, alone in the world of HIV. I have a great support system, I have friends, family, just wonderful people in my life, but none of which could answer the questions that have been brewing in my head about growing up and maturing with HIV.

I had to talk to this girl before she left the panel. I wanted mentors, and there was one who has just presented herself. (One of the panelist I had been in contact with a while back, but we have never crossed paths- I needed to get the audience member because I knew she would get lost in the crowd of the large conference.)

 I took deep breaths. In my head I was fine. I prepared in my head a little speech of how I would introduce myself, how I would love to stay in contact, how happy I didn't feel alone anymore.
Needless to say, the speech did not happen. I caught the girl and as soon as I opened my mouth I went short of breath. I uttered words that I never said before, "I've just never heard another story like mine..." and then it was over. The levees broke. I choked on my words, the tears were coming. She comforted me, gave me her contact information, and I ran off to the bathroom.

I had an interview right after the panel so I needed to get myself together. I stared in the mirror, a total emotional, sobbing mess, and tried so hard to tidy myself up. It was no use. The more I tried, the more I cried.

I wasn't even crying because I was upset, or sad, I was just... overwhelmed--- in the most positive way I have ever been overwhelmed. I found people. I belong. I'm doing something with my story, but I don't have to be alone. I can finally have someone to talk to about the big questions on relationships-kids-the future!

I cried because it all changed for the better at this moment. I would become a new person.
This was not all coherent in my head, or in my words when I finally had my mother rescue me from outside the bathroom. At that moment, I really needed her, and she was there, and I knew it was all going to be alright... once I wasn't waterlogged.

Of course, with my luck though, two of the amazing panelists went into and left the bathroom. I pointed them out to my mother, and as they exited to head back on to their daily lives, my mother did as mothers do: introduced me in my sobby state. (I Love This Woman!)

It was fine, I murmured some words on how much I appreciated the panel, and tried to articulate what the tears were for, and wound up getting the contact information for the panelist I wanted to talk to after the panel anyways.

Quick and painless. Hugs to go around. It was an awakening, revelation, just one of THOSE moments.

So here I am. Taking Power and Ownership of MY Status.

You're not getting it from a school poster, or from another to you, my mother to you, someone else to you; you're not getting it from a magazine, article, or documentary.

You're getting it from me. Maybe not face-to-face, but these are my words.

My name is Christina Rodriguez. I am one of the co-founders of SMART Youth. I am 20 years old (21 in November--- If you're curious). And I was born with HIV.

I know this opens me up to some tricky situations, but as stated before, my support system is one of the strongest I have ever seen.

Disclosure isn't new to me. This is just me finally making it mine.
Any questions, I'm an open book, please ask.

On the Metro with my very good friend from HS after the Red Hot Party!


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