Peering Your Peers

Peering Your Peers

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My Pet Stigma’s

September 8, 2011 , , ,

So how many of you have sat in a doctor’s office and been told you have a possibly life changing (or ending) “complication”.  For example HCV (Hepatitis C).  It is not a fun position to be in and most people can not even comprehend the impact that hearing something like this has on you.  Not only because of the effects of the virus and subsequent medication but because of the stigma associated with it.  You are now going to be stereotyped and placed in a whole new category.

Unsafe, dirty, pushed away.  People now seem to fear you, holding you at arm’s length, seemingly afraid of catching what you have.  Last time I checked, HCV was not transmitted through eye contact.  The lack of social education for adults in our community is doing nothing to help quell the stigma’s that run rampant.

I went through the treatment and now have come out the other end all sparkling and clean, (sorta, kinda).  I do not ‘have’ to tell people I have HepC but I still warn sexual partners and people who may come in contact with my blood.  I don’t have to constantly face the stigma that is associated with HCV unless I choose to face it.  I have no problem walking up to someone, shaking their hand, telling them I have HCV at the same time to have them wrench their hand out of mine and rub it on their shirts or pants as if there is dirt there that they can wipe off.  I find things like that amusing and I use it as a chance to educate people as to the truth about HCV.

I will be honest, situations like that used to make me extremely uncomfortable.  As time goes on though I am beginning to understand that stigma is just another word for uneducated.  They say that fear is usually caused by lack of education, for example a child may be afraid of spiders, you talk to the child about that fear and find out the child thinks the spider will eat him/her.  (Maybe not every child but that is what my child thought).  It is a totally unfounded fear, once it is addressed and the individual educated on it then the fear goes away.

The number one stigma that I haven’t been able to figure out how to deal with is that I need to be handled with kid gloves and that usually leads to that blasted question I hear every day. “How are you doing? How are you really doing?”.  Sometimes it seems that people don’t think that an infected person can have a good day.  It is sincerely asked and people truly want to know but enough is enough.  Truthfully it is a question that makes me very uncomfortable now.  When something is wrong, I don’t want to tell people how I am.  Either they can’t or I don’t want them to, do anything about it or they fawn over me or worse yet show pity.  People don’t need to know every time I get a pain in my abdominal area or I have a headache.  I dont want advice from everyone on how to try to deal with the nightmares that plague me (I have recently found out they may be flashbacks and not nightmares).  Maybe I don’t want to tell people that I am confused about who I am or where I am going.  There is nothing that can be done to remedy that fact that sometimes medication makes me sick or gives me pain.  Not only that but every time I tell people how I am, or what issues I am dealing with, I run the risk of having to face new stigma’s.

I think back though to the moment in time when I was told I was positive.  Truthfully at the time I didn’t care.  At that point in my life I was surrounded by individuals with the same thing.  Now though I am not in that place.  I have made a decision to leave that lifestyle and in doing so have left my past peers behind.  I am now trying to fit into a level of society where I don’t believe I belong.  If I had known at the time I was diagnosed the stigma that I would have to deal with, I may have had a different reaction.

I have led a life full of stigma and am mentally capable of handling it in an appropriate manner.  The more I educate myself on HCV, the more capable I am of educating others.  Person by person.

So if one day you’re walking down the street and you ‘accidentally’ bump into a stranger.  Dont be afraid to shake their hand and introduce yourself.  That introduction maybe all that is needed to give you the opportunity to fight your stigma’s.  Face them without fear and let people see that you are not afraid or ashamed.  It makes you more powerful and gives you control.

“Hello, my name is Randy.  I am a bi-sexual male and a single father of two young children, I have HepatitisC that I caught from my past drug use, I am a male survivor of childhood abuse and I am pleased to meet you.”

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