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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Post: IAC (Third Day of Panels,1)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Disclosure: Relationships

I only planned on attending one panel for this day since the SMART Bus would be arriving mid-day so the women and youth of the programs could come see the International AIDS Conference. I had some buddies coming down on this bus, so I wanted to make sure I had enough time to spend with them before they got back on the bus to New York City.

Since this was the second (and final) panel about disclosure I needed to make time for this panel as well. Not only because the first workshop was so inspiring and life changing, but because I'm in a relationship... to put it simply.

I was curious as to what I should think about, what I should discuss, if I've covered all of my bases.
(It's only been a year, so I know there is a lot in store for this relationship... but I just wanted some reassurance that I am on the right track).

During this panel they presented more slides than the last one. Each panelist took a different stage of "Relationships", spoke about the notes, and gave some summary on their own experience with disclosure to a significant other.

Stage 1: Getting to Know Each other
I have to admit, I ran a little late (blame my buddy) and only came in at the end of this part.
I figured this was the "more than friends" sort of stage, feeling the other person out, and trying to figure out if putting in more effort is worth the time.

My boyfriend and I were in this stage for around... 7 years... so... I think we had a pretty good handle on what could come next.

Stage 2: Dating
Then here is where the anxiety-inducing stuff comes in.

Reasons to Disclose:
  • Ready for sex
  • Partner questions
  • Emotional support
Dual Disclosure was a new term but not a new concept that I learned at this point. This is when while disclosing your HIV status you also have to disclose your HISTORY. This includes (but is not limited to), Mental Health, Sexuality, Gender, Drug Use...

Along with this also comes the discussion of your family and their experiences.

Pre- Disclosure:
  • Establish trust & respect
  • Prepare for rejection
  • Create a disclosure dialouge
  • Support System
Think about:
What are you going to say?
What do you want them to know? (about HIV or in general)

Now, I've encountered all of this, but never realized I was DUAL Disclosing. It is true though. Disclosing isn't just saying, "So... I'm HIV Positive".

Disclosing is swallowing the knot in your throat, sweating profusely, heart rate increasing, deep breaths, and hoping it all turns out okay, then saying,

"So... My father contracted AIDS probably through his drug use and infected my mother. Both were unaware of their statuses until he finally got very sick and was tested. Then my mother, myself, older sister, and younger brother were tested. I was the only one who came back positive out of my siblings. Oh, and by the way, when I was a junior in high school I went through a depression, skipped on my medication doses and hid them in my sock drawer."

Seems so easy when written, right? Trust me, it is not. It has taken me around... four years to perfect this mini paragraph, and every time I have to tell someone face to face, it never comes out this articulate.

Well... my relationship was a little different... we weren't exactly in the "Dating" stage when I decided to disclose to him. Actually, I hadn't talked to him in two years... and we were just meeting up again... and I decided that after 7 years of "knowing" each other... I should probably get this thing over with.

I thought about it for weeks before our "hang out" session was set for. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I had anxiety attacks out of nowhere... I was freaking out.

I decided I would write every detail in the most coherent order on index cards, and then use those as my reference points when I finally had the nerve to say it.

During the ride to meet him, I remember as I was traveling from the stop before his, sounds started to drift away, all I could hear was my heart in my chest. I was starting to get hot (in a fully air conditioned train car). I wanted to world to swallow me whole. I wanted to go back home. I wanted to run away, turn back around, and forget this situation altogether.

But... I didn't. This was one of my biggest disclosing challenges, and I had to face it and finally see what happens.
I had it in my head that if he reacted negatively, I'd simply just leave, and that would be the end.
I had no idea what would happen if he reacted... positively...

We sat in his room for almost two hours as I tried to avoid the conversation completely.
After his pestering, I couldn't avoid it much longer.

I retrieved my index cards from my bag, avoided eye contact, and tried my best not to feel like vomiting.

I didn't get around to reading the cards, I just blurted and rambled, and tried my best to say everything and make it all clear. I just started tearing the cards up slowing into my lap as I fumbled.
After it was done, we sat in silence for what seemed like forever.

And then he just asked if he could hug me... and... then I didn't get home until 4 AM.

How I disclosed to my boyfriend would go under the list of "Safer Disclosure"(yay!), but I am a culprit for disclosing in "Less Safe" ways: :(
  • In Public (Starbucks...)
  • Text, email, phone (Text, email, facebook chat...)
  • When there isn't enough time for questions (NEVER)
  • When you have feelings of guilt, depression, or insecurity (Well... disclosing just makes me feel sad)
  • After intimate actions (Nopes)
  • After a fight (Nah)
  • Before breaking up (Only have one boyfriend before this guy now and I disclosed while we were friends. My mom said, "It's better to lose a friend than have your heart broken.")
Make sure to have resources, answers to questions that may be asked, and your support system ready for anything!

Stage 3: Intimacy
Before engaging in this part of the relationship, consider:
  • The expectations of the relationship
  • If it's a Mature & Thoughtful decision
  • If there is a mutual understanding
The key is to keep your partner negative (if that is what their status is) so this means SAFE SEX!
There is a spectrum from No Risk- Minimal Risk- High Risk

No Risk includes: If it's used for SAFE SEX then you use it, having and undetectable (less that 20) viral load, and knowing the facts

Minimal Risk includes: Using condoms, certain sexual acts pose less risk of transmission than others
High Risk includes: Inconsistent use with condoms/ unprotected sex, and any other way of transmission (This is not very thoughtful!)

Sex is scary in general (well in my opinion at least), adding in the risk of HIV transmission (even any other Sexually Transmitted Infections) just makes it an unappealing act overall.
Safe Sex, Safe Sex, SAFE SEX!

Stage 4: Long-Term Love
This is when the relationship is two or more years.

The couple is continuing to reduce the risk and makes testing a routine.

There are other components to making a relationship work than just the HIV aspect.

At this point in the relationship the discussion of family planning may come into the picture.

So depending on if the female or male is infected this can mean:
Female: Trying to reduce the risk of Vertical Transmission (Mother-to-Child)
Male: Trying to reduce the risk of infected partner and child (during conception)

A tricky area. Especially for me since I have not been surrounded by the information of how to get preggers without putting my partner and child at risk.

Again, I am only 20, this is not the information my doctor cares if I know about at the moment. There are other things on my plate. But I am the type of girl who likes to know in advance what I'm getting myself into before any future decision is made!

That is beside the point though.

Long-Term Love is self explanatory. The relationship is working because there is communication and most importantly, LOVE!

So that is how the panel ended. It was fun to hear all the other relationship stories from the panelist. Especially the last panelist who has been with her boyfriend for 10 (or 11?) years! It gave me hope... I still get anxious about whether it is worth it for anyone to stick around with me since I seem to have a complex situation. But if her boyfriend has been with her for basically a decade... then maybe... maybe I can actually do this... maybe it really doesn't matter that much.

Maybe The Beatles really did get it right, maybe "All We Need Is Love".

Just some guy I thought was cute... Just Kidding! Yeah, It's my boo.

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