Nothing in the world can prepare you to hear these words
“I have HIV” or “I have AIDS”
How do you respond? What do you say? Do you express sympathy or concern? Do you go religious/spiritual? What do they expect from you? Why did this have to happen?
There is no limit to the spiral of questions that may come to mind when you first hear this phrase coming from a family member or friend. The first thing to remember is that they are the same person they were moments before they uttered those fateful words to you. Nothing has changed except you now know something new about them.
Relax. Release. Relate.
The first thing you need to do is position yourself to be a support person. They told you because you need to know. They may have told you because they need you to help them get through this difficult time.
What can you do?
1. Equip yourself- Do some research on the facts about HIV/AIDS. Ask doctors and/or specialist about the facts surrounding HIV/AIDS.
2. Check yourself- Do you have any biases regarding those with HIV/AIDS? Any preconceived notions? Have you let go of any stereotypes that you may have had?
3. Prepare yourself- Know that they may come to you for emotional support. Just as difficult as it was for you to hear that they had this virus. It was one thousand times as difficult for them to find out that they have this virus. They may be going through any one of several emotions from fear to anger to bitterness to depression. They need someone in their corner who they can turn to when they feel shaky; that someone may be you.
4. Support yourself- there are support groups available for people who are living with someone living with HIV/AIDS. Find one to join. You may want to suggest that they find a support group for themselves to attend also. It is a great help to hear from people who have gone through what you are experiencing. It is wonderful to know that you are not alone.
The most important thing you can do is to continue to treat them with the same dignity and respect that you treated them with before you knew their status. They don’t need to be isolated or treated any differently simply because they have HIV/AIDS. Their world will continue as normal and so will yours.