Sharing is (Self) Caring
I think there's an important distinction to be made between sharing publicly and sharing in general. Sharing publicly is not a requirement for working through shame. I think that sharing in general, on the other hand, is.
Shame is not natural - it's a social construct. Something we're taught to feel. Shame wouldn't exist if we grew up free to learn, explore and grow without the judgement of others. Shame is man (and corporation) made, and it thrives on secrecy. So when we have this "deep dark secret" that we expend a lot of energy guarding, we're inherently telling ourselves that part of us is unworthy, that part of us deserves to be hidden. I don't know about you, but that doesn't seem like an environment conducive to forgiveness and acceptance to me. Brene Brown doesn't think so either - she says that shame can't survive being spoken. So let's talk about speaking it.
When we think about opening up to someone our brains scroll through a million and one scenarios about how it could go terribly wrong. I'll save the usual, "what about, how it could go terribly right?" for another day. How about this instead: what is your relationship to fear now, and what do you want it to be? There's no right or wrong answer here - only the one that's right for you. And keep in mind, what may have worked for you two years ago, might not serve you now. Before your diagnosis, maybe your greatest fear was disappointing your parents and it functioned as a motivator in your life that didn't feel detrimental at the time. But after your diagnosis, that same fear has grown into something so dysfunctional that it's crippling. It's no longer serving you so what can you do to shift it?
Now, sharing your own baggage with certain people might just be a no-go - I've spoken to people who have very traditional or religious parents who they're afraid will react disapprovingly - and that's okay. Know that that’s the choice you’re making. There's no rule written that says, "you must tell everyone you love." I do however think it's important to acknowledge (especially if you're otherwise close to these people in your lives) the message you’re sending yourself when their assumed thoughts, feelings, and values outweigh yours. True acceptance doesn't mean that everyone in your world accepts you. It just means that you accept you, in spite of what some people might not understand. Yes, this can be a hard process to navigate through. And the more time we spend wishing our results were wrong, wishing we could go back in time, cursing the person we contracted it from, the less time we’re focused on us & our relationships in the here and now.
Sometimes when we're deciding who we might share with, we "test the waters." For instance: "I brought up STIs casually with a friend and his reaction was the worst. He was so judgmental, so I definitely can't tell him." We're trying to see what sort of risk we're taking, I get it, but the conclusion drawn is a false one. Before I told the masses, I had a friend make a herpes joke - I felt so worthless. And then after I shared my story he was so supportive and could now see herpes through a new lens. We can't be surprised when people in our lives react with the limited & very narrow information they've been taught. Especially the people we love. Maybe instead of them viewing us through the herpes lens, they'll view herpes through their lens of us (that's the goal y'all!).
People often ask, "how did you learn to accept this? What can I do?" and my answer is always the same: 1) try to be kind to yourself. If it helps, treat yourself like you would your best friend or 5 year old you or your 5 year old child. You're dealing with change, and change isn't easy, especially when it's unexpected. 2) If you’re feeling sensitive, try to limit your research to sites like the CDC, WebMD, Planned Parenthood, and members of the HANDS network - avoid Reddit and Google images if you notice they create unnecessary fear and anxiety for you. 3) Do the things you love to do - the things that make you, you. Staying in touch with how you haven't changed can make you have feel less significant. & 4) Tell someone(s). Find someone you can confide in so you don't feel alone. The more support you create for yourself, the better.
So when I encourage you to share, I hope that you'll reach out to a trusted friend or family member. And if you don't have one of those, try a therapist, support group, or me. Carrying the weight of shame around alone can be crushing. As humans we naturally crave community and connection - we're social beings. So it's a wonder that in our most vulnerable moments we've been conditioned to isolate instead of reach out for help.
Whether you feel called to shout it from the rooftops, or to share it confidentially with a licensed therapist, or something in between (that sweet sweet gray area), know that you're not the only one dealing with this and that the act of talking about it out loud is you giving yourself permission to be in your life.
Not sure where to go from here? Baby step challenge: set up a call with me or reach out to one of the other HANDS members - you know we have it, so there's no judgment there. Automatic safe space :)
Looking to push yourself further out of your comfort zone? Tell that one person in your life you've been wanting to tell. It might not go well, it might go great. Such is being alive. If you're craving an honest connection with this person (parent, sibling, cousin, friend, coworker, etc.), listen to yourself - trust your gut.
Want to try something else? Sit down and journal (I'm a journaler - if you're not, just jot down some notes on your phone) through the question: "what would I do if I wasn't afraid of what people might think about me?" And just notice what comes up. No ones going to read or grade your answers, so be completely honest with yourself - this is for you.
We often feel stuck because we don't see any other ways to cope. There are new choices that can be made - even if they feel small, they can make a world of difference. So commit yourself to a new choice today. Be open to failure. See what happens. Welcome to trial and error. Sometimes it's trial and success.