Has Having HIV Split the Public You From the Private You? | myHIVteam

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Has Having HIV Split the Public You From the Private You?

Medically reviewed by Ifeanyi Nwaka, M.D.
Posted on May 14, 2024

Living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can often feel like inhabiting two worlds simultaneously. In private, it may be easier to accept and embrace yourself freely, whereas in public, you may feel the need to hide your HIV status. Many people with HIV describe toeing the line between disclosure and privacy. This applies to all types of relationships, including those with family, friends, work colleagues, and romantic partners.

Read on to discover how members of myHIVteam discuss the unique challenge of balancing their private and personal identities.

Private Versus Public Selves

One member of myHIVteam asked the group, “How is the ‘public you’ different from the ’private you’?”

Members agreed that there’s a stark difference between their two selves. Some said that they were more lively in public than in private:

  • “The public me is outgoing and loud. The private me is shy and a loner.”
  • “The public me is out, proud, and maybe too noisy with friends and family sometimes. Privately, it’s being the opposite: withdrawn, alone but not lonely, contemplative, etc.”
  • “Socially, I’m pretty outgoing and friendly. At home, I love being quiet and silent most of the time. One might describe me emotionally as an introvert.”
  • “The private side of me is stoic and reserved but rock steady. The public side of my personality is outgoing and dynamic.”

Others said that their personality remained the same no matter what. “Little or no difference, public or private, I’m just me,” one member wrote. Another shared, “I’m the same both public and private. But it took me 22 years to get to this point in my life.” A third said, “I am the same in both situations because whatcha see is whatcha get.”

To Disclose or Not To Disclose

There are real risks to disclosing your HIV status to the wrong people, often causing a necessary divide between the public and private selves. As one member put it, “Not all of the public knows my private business.” The question of who needs to know your HIV status, whether sexual partners, family members, or close friends, can cause a lot of anxiety.

“Disclosure is good, but you have to do it wisely,” one member shared. “I think at times, there is no need to tell everyone close to you.” Read about more tips for disclosure here.

Mental Health and HIV

Living with differences between your two personae may cause mental health concerns. The proportion of people living with HIV who have depression is estimated to be almost 17 percent, and 23 percent have anxiety. Not being able to share these feelings openly with others who don’t know your HIV status can be difficult.

Members of myHIVteam are passionate that mental health is just as important as physical health when living with HIV. “Mental health should be studied and addressed [in all people] with HIV infection by primary care physicians and HIV facilities,” one member shared.

There are many resources available to help you overcome life’s challenges. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, a therapist, a psychologist, or members of myHIVteam to discuss these complex feelings and how they relate to your HIV status.

The Journey to Self-Acceptance

Many members find that, with time and life experience, they’re able to achieve a careful balance between their private and public personae. Some even say there’s no difference between their two selves. One member said, “Most people know now that I’m me no matter what they say or think. I love those that I don’t even like, and that’s very hard to do, but it’s how I learn to love myself in the midst of it all.”

Another member shared their journey to self-acceptance over time: “Back then, I had created a separate person and even adopted a different name, Dave, instead of David. David was the one who was a misfit that everyone picked on and bullied and nobody liked. So I created Dave, an extrovert who did everything that David was told he could not do. Now I am in the process of blending the two together because I was actually both.”

No matter where you are in your HIV journey, you deserve to feel like yourself whether you’re in public or private. In fact, having acceptance and compassion for yourself can be of critical importance in effectively treating your HIV infection and living a healthy life. Self-acceptance and compassion can facilitate a strong relationship with your health care provider, improving your medical care and motivating you to take your HIV medication (antiretroviral therapy). The journey to self-acceptance can be tumultuous, but fellow members of myHIVteam are here to help you feel comfortable in your skin.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myHIVteam, the social network for people with HIV and their loved ones, more than 41,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with HIV.

Do you feel like there’s a difference between your private and public selves? How has living with HIV affected your social interactions and self-image? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on May 14, 2024
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Ifeanyi Nwaka, M.D. earned his medical degree from the American University of Antigua College of Medicine. Learn more about him here.
Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here.

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