Sick as your secrets

It wouldn’t be a Sparrowhawk Christmas without my dad giving us each gifts from either Poundland, a hardware or convenience store and it was no exception the holiday just gone by. To give him credit we always make use of whatever it is we are lucky enough to unwrap and this year I was actually excited with the opportunities of what I could create with one of mine – a ‘paint your own [plastic] mask’. I’ve always been intrigued with masks, they symbolise so many different things from one extreme to the other; they can indicate strength and power and at the same time signify fear or anxiety.

I’m always on the look out to add images or pieces to my Visual AIDS profile – having a creative means of escape helps me relax and detach myself from my analytical, cyclic working week, so I got thinking about masks in relation to HIV and the obvious thing that sprang to mind was disclosure.

The burden of carrying around a status in secret is often overlooked, we’re sometimes so concerned thinking about what telling people might do to us we don’t consider the consequences of telling nobody. It surprises me how many people I speak to have never told anyone ‘in person’ other than the medical staff they come into contact with during their routine appointments.

Instead of becoming something you can forget about, it can become all you think of. Worrying who might know, if people are gossiping about you. Did someone see you leave the sexual health clinic? Will anyone notice if you attend a local support group? What if my friends find my medication in the house? You can put up a mask, but HIV can saturate the inside of it.

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And in doing so instead of keeping that one thing about you private I think you might risk letting on something isn’t quite right.

As the paint dried on my mask I realised with the Poundland plastic being of the cheap variety the colours on the inside were visible from the outside, ‘VIH’ gradually appearing across the stark white face. ‘VIH’ in some languages is HIV, Virus de la inmunodeficiencia humana in Spanish or Virus de l’immunodéficience humaine in French. A head full of HIV conveying the chaos inside in an indirect and insentient way.  Much like many of us do when we’re keeping shtum about our status. Those close to us might not know what’s going on, but they’ll have an idea, an inkling – human beings are quite good at working out when someone isn’t themselves.

Ultimately the choice is for each individual to make. HIV isn’t deception, people are fearful because of the stigma that exists, because they worry about the damages the revelation might cause to their relationships with the people around them.

I chose to trust my instincts, that my friends and family would love me know matter what, and that risk paid off. I know that’s not going to be the same for everyone but at least since I disclosed my status to people I could concentrate on life and not the virus whirling around my head, trying to flee from my mind.

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