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Blogging is therapeutic. For those living with or affected by infectious diseases, it can be a way to connect with those whose lives mirror their own.
Brooke Davidoff, diagnosed HIV positive in January 2010, blogs about her life as a newlywed and a first-time mom. Brooke’s life turned upside down during her pregnancy, when she had a routine blood test for HIV and discovered she was positive. “If there was no baby, I’d still have no idea,” she blogged.
Brooke started blogging “. . . to express myself, I don’t know how not to. When I was diagnosed, I searched for stuff written by other HIV positive females to relate to, and I had a very hard time finding what I was looking for. So I began to write it for other women like me who needed to know they are not alone.”
Sabina is a 15-year-old girl who loves volleyball and dancing. She’s slogging through a year of treatment for hepatitis C and blogs about it “. . . to share my experience of HCV treatment for children or adults who are starting or already started their treatment. I know that treatment can be difficult and painful, I would just like to give another perspective. I just want to help out and be there for other kids or adults.”
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, calls on her education and research experience each time she blogs about STDs. Ever the teacher, Elizabeth says, “There is a lot of secrecy and stigma surrounding STDs. I blog about STDs not only to address the misconceptions about them, but to make them a topic of discussion.
“Some people think that having an STD means that they’re dirty or ruined, that infection marks them as a slut or somehow undesirable—all of which is ridiculous. Still, these feelings are common in people who have had bad experiences disclosing an STD to a partner, or who have simply internalized the stigma that is widely present in American society.
“People make jokes, and not kind ones, about STD infection, but the truth is that STDs are just diseases like any other. Yes, they are often preventable, and people should do their best to prevent them, but acquiring an STD doesn’t make you a bad person.”
Are you ready to blog?
It’s easy to get started. There’s no cost, other than your time, and, if you’re speaking from personal experience, what it costs you to speak from your heart.
Brooke blogs to share with women like herself, and to let her friends and family know that she’s OK. “I think I’m helping other people feel more normal…the stigma hopefully will diminish in time.”
Blogging can be a positive experience, but there are emotional risks.
“I think that if more people blogged about STDs it might help reduce some of the stigma associated with them,” says Elizabeth. “However, I think it’s important to acknowledge that doing so is not without risks. Publicly acknowledging an STD infection may change the way that people around you treat you. It may even affect your employment—although it shouldn’t.”
It’s OK to not share every single thing in your life. Write honestly, but don’t fret about keeping some details private. It is your life, so you define the boundaries beyond which you’re not comfortable sharing.
If you write about it, they will come, but be prepared for the readers’ thoughts that may cascade upon you. Some comments you’ll treasure and some, well, let’s just say they’ll raise the eyebrows.
“I check daily for new comments and emails,” says Brooke. “The ones that touch me the most are people who found out the same way I did, or the ones who decided to have a baby after reading my story.”
There’s a yin yang to blogging, as there is elsewhere in life. Be prepared for the nasties you’ll find in the comments section of your blog.
“Although blogging can be a wonderful way to gather personal support, it may also have less positive results,” explains Elizabeth. “Comments can be negative, or even cruel and vindictive. It may be worth blogging anonymously if you are concerned about your privacy and the ramifications for exposure in your daily life; however, it is very difficult to ‘guarantee’ that your identity will not become known. This is particularly true if you are discussing sensitive issues such as those involving your sexuality.”
Bloggers always get the last word, and that’s no less true for our guests today.
Brooke on HIV: I live a normal life other than taking pills every day. I’m waiting to see what the disease does to me. I think all of us sit and wonder when it’s going to kick in, and what it’s going to do.
If you’re having unprotected sex, get tested. You never know. There are really no symptoms that would lead you to get the test, it’s better to know and get on meds now than find out when it’s too late and you’re really sick.
Sabina on HCV: [I want people to know] that we’re not harmful to others as long as we don’t share blood transferring items, such as razors, and toothbrushes. And that having HCV [hepatitis C virus] doesn’t set you apart from others even though it’s a serious virus.
Elizabeth on STDs: I don’t think you have to blog about STDs to help destigmatize them. Make a point of having open and honest discussions of sexuality with your partners and your family. Don’t allow people to get away with making cruel comments about infectious diseases or even “cute” jokes. And, finally, remember that a lot of the stigma surrounding STDs has to do with ignorance. Educate yourself—about how common STDs are, about testing, and about prevention—so that you can educate the people around you.