Sometimes revealing an especially personal or difficult matter to others can change everything — for the better. Saying that is one thing, however, and doing it is something altogether different. Here Matt shares his life-changing decision to reveal his human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) diagnosis after a decade of “secrecy and shame.”

A Difficult Diagnosis

I was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2008. Someone anonymously reported having exposed me to HIV through a confidential tip line at my doctor’s office. My doctor called me personally and asked me to come in for an HIV test that very same day. He sat and talked with me as we waited for the results. When my test was positive, he hugged me as I cried. He took me for dinner after that and allowed me to process my feelings. He made sure I was not alone with my news.

I will forever be grateful for the kindness he showed me in such a dark moment. I felt safe. I felt seen. I trusted that he would look out for me. All the fears racing through my mind were calmed because of his kindness. I was very, very lucky to have such an amazing person in my life. Many people do not experience such kindness and love when they find out they are HIV positive. I am forever indebted to him for that day.

Matt’s diagnosis was not news he shared openly with others. For years, he kept it to himself. As time went on, this became a larger burden and more difficult to carry on his own from one day to the next. Ten years after learning he was HIV positive, he was ready to make it part of his public identity. But doing so was not easy.

The Risk, and Reward, of Vulnerability

After living with the illness for a decade, my secrecy and shame had caused me so much unnecessary pain. [In] December 2018, I decided to openly share my HIV status with the world on social media. I was finally ready to talk openly about my life, the choices I’ve made and how my passion for wellness keeps me going on a daily basis. It was the most frightening moment of my life as I watched my video upload to Instagram and Facebook. But the weight that was lifted from my soul… I can hardly describe the feeling of relief I experienced.

Since that day, I am PROUD to talk with people about my history as a gay man fighting deep-rooted shame. If my story has encouraged even one person, then I feel like my life has not been a waste.

Cultivating Courage, Managing Health

Good people in my life, a community of people who focus on health and wellness, are my source of courage. Because of them, I now share my story with confidence. I don’t feel judged. I don’t feel “dirty” because I am treated with respect and am valued for what I bring to the world.

I often pull away from people and stew in my loneliness. I feel unworthy of love. But there are always amazing people who pull me out of that darkness and show me love. I am so grateful for them.

In the past 13 years, I have had some health issues, but overall, I am a very healthy person. My diagnosis made me realize that I have to take my life and my health seriously. I have definitely struggled with mental health issues and depression. I’m not sure if this is related to my medications or if it’s just a part of my journey. But I am a fighter and I have people who believe in me. Without that, I am not sure I’d still be alive.

A New Perspective on Vulnerability

Redefine what vulnerability is. Look at it as one of the greatest gifts [that] life dishes out. It is a chance to make major life changes.

When my ego takes over and I “present” myself as someone strong, confident and living behind a veil of perfectionism, I am shutting the world out. I’m pouring all of my energy into the illusion I want others to see.

However, my vulnerable moments are when I feel the most authentic. When I’m hurting and am tired, I can no longer present an image to the world. I am stripped down, raw and real. I’ve found that people respond to THAT version of me MUCH better than they respond to the “ideal” I’ve worked so hard to be.

Human beings are hardwired to respond positively to authenticity. When we are feeling weak and vulnerable, it is a chance to ask for help. Doing so not only helps us to climb out of that darkness, but it makes another person feel valuable and needed. We all need to be needed!

The greatest gift we can give another person is to ask for their help. Vulnerable times are truly a gift and a chance to be real with other people.

Matt T.
Philadelphia, PA
Diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

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