DEAR AMY: Several years ago, I was diagnosed with HIV. At the time, my husband, who thankfully is not infected, and I decided that we would wait a year before telling anyone.
It has been four years now and I have yet to tell anyone. I have a conservative family and it took me a long time to even come out to them, and the thought of having to tell them is scary to me. Not only that, but there is an embarrassment factor — the fact that I did not take care of my body or take the proper precautions to prevent myself from becoming infected.
Is it my responsibility to tell the people in my life about this disease? Do they have a right to know? I worry about my family’s reaction, and I also don’t want them to treat me any differently. — Getting Better
DEAR GETTING BETTER: I realize there is a stigma attached to HIV, but it might help you to attain some clarity here if you could see this as a health concern that is chronic but manageable and ultimately concerns only you and any sexual partners.
So, imagine you have lupus. Would you disclose this to your parents? You might if you were having symptoms. Otherwise, maybe not. Disclosing a health condition is a very intimate act; before you do it, you must trust that the person can receive the news and react in an appropriate way.
I shared your question with Kelly Ducheny, a psychologist and director of behavioral health at Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago. As a counselor who deals with individuals and couples wrestling with this issue, she has a ready answer: “It is completely every individual person’s choice whom they tell — and how and when, or if they tell. You are under no obligation to disclose anything about your HIV status. Furthermore, there is not one option that is healthier than another.
“If you do decide to tell people, have a plan for how to disclose it and have support standing by. Understand that there is a processing period when people receive this news, and their initial reaction may not be their permanent reaction.”
DEAR AMY: My brother-in-law comes over to our house on a regular basis (mostly to see my wife, who is his sister), but instead of sitting down, he just stands in the middle of the living room and holds a conversation while my wife and I are seated.
I sit in the dining room and wait for my wife to ask or tell him to “have a seat,” but she does not.
Yesterday he stood there for more than a half an hour — and I just think it’s rude and disrespectful, don’t you think? — Peeved
DEAR PEEVED: I agree. I can’t believe your wife — and/or you — don’t offer this poor man a seat. And a glass of ice tea. Your household’s behavior definitely falls into the rude category. Your brother-in-law is not being rude. He is standing because he has not been invited to sit.
I can only assume that you and your wife don’t actually want this man to get too comfy in your home, hence your (mutual) ungraciousness.
DEAR AMY: I enjoyed your answer to “Wife and Mom,” who wrote about her husband’s issue over their son’s long hair. My second son started letting his hair grow in junior high. My wife and I wisely left him alone. When it reached his collar, the school sent a note home with him requesting us to enforce a dress code.
I replied, in writing, that they should be more interested in what was inside his head than outside, and the matter was dropped, reluctantly, by them.
Guess who became a hero to his son? By the time he graduated from high school, his hair was almost to his waist. He went on to graduate from college with honors, and now he has a successful career, a good marriage and two great kids of his own.
And his hair is comfortably above his collar. — Robert in Conn.
DEAR ROBERT: I have enjoyed reading dozens of responses to this question from fellow survivors of the hair wars.