I was moved to my own office, given fewer and fewer tasks, with less and less interaction with colleagues. I had the sense they really didn’t know what to do with me and felt the best way to handle it was to keep me away from everyone, or keep everyone away from me?
Disclosure Part 2
I see disclosure about HIV status as a two-pronged problem. You have the Friends and Family Disclosure, which I was extremely lucky with. They learned with me, making me feel so much more that I wasn’t in that nightmare alone and really supported me. We kept (and still do!) extra pills in various places ‘just in case’, we discuss how I am, we know the times I’m “pilly” (as I like to call it) and really, we consider it something we have. I do not take that for granted at all. There must be so many people out there who do not have that support and really have to handle it alone. A big part of my drive to write this blog is in the hope that maybe just one person is reading this who can take something positive from my experience.
Then there is the other disclosure, the public. Don’t forget it is me feeling exposed and “unimmune”. If that man coughs on the bus you get a rise of anger of “Excuse me, I have HIV! Can you not cough?!”. Its silly and egoistic and of course I don’t, but what about at work?
I worked at the same company throughout my HIV diagnosis/aftermath and still there when I started the degree. Over time I was promoted to quite a prominent, central position in the company and felt really respected. They had no idea I was going through but after I was ready and, given my lovely experience with my friends and family, finally felt comfortable telling them.
I told them because I expected the same sort of understanding I got from my friends and family rather than sympathy. In order for me to accept HIV, I felt I had to be open and “cool” with it as something that wasn’t brushed under the carpet.
The effect was a very slow, strangely drawn out process of isolation. I was moved to my own office, given fewer and fewer tasks, with less and less interaction with colleagues. I had the sense they really didn’t know what to do with me and felt the best way to handle it was to keep me away from everyone, or keep everyone away from me? In the end, every day I was essentially in solitary confinement with the tiniest amount of interaction from anyone. I stuck it out for one more year like that and then resigned. At the time I was getting more and more involved with completing the degree and the decision to leave was pretty easy. Looking back, I understood that not everyone could handle someone with HIV.
The effect of that experience though was again really positive. It was their problem, not mine. The people I wanted to have around me should be the people that wouldn’t have a problem with it. In a weird way it empowered me and fuelled me further to get over myself and accept me as I am. If I couldn’t do what I wanted other people to do, then that was a hypocracy that I had to sort out quickly.
It didn’t mean going around with banners, shouting from the rooftops but it did mean that it wasn’t a thing any more. It was just something else about me and to be treated as normally as “You know, I also play the piano?”. Weirdly the whole experience helped me more than they could ever have known. I never made HIV a thing in my jobs after and rather kept quiet or told as I saw fit to colleagues I felt comfortable enough to tell. That seems to have served me well. The biggest lesson learned was not to spot where someone had a problem and it really made me far more comfortable in my own skin.