Learning your own story

Introduction

In this training we’ll be talking a lot about sharing your story. This includes disclosing your experience, finding your boundaries and identifying triggers, and learning skills for self-care and reflection. As you learn these skills you become more self-aware and more capable of bringing your own experience and skills to the navigator-client relationship.

Sensitive topics

Sharing your experience is essential for building rapport and supporting clients facing similar challenges.

However, you need to know which parts of your story are sensitive or difficult to talk about. This is essential for knowing where your boundaries and your triggers are.

You could start by writing about one page. Write your life story from the events leading up to your diagnosis with HIV and how you came to terms with it.

You could also record a short video if you prefer, or just pay close attention when you are talking with friends and colleagues.

As you tell your story, which parts are painful to tell? Is there a way of telling those experiences that feels safer? You could use a red pen to underline the sensitive parts.

If you pick one example, could you tell it in different ways? One high-level, short sentence that refers to it. One short paragraph giving some of the detail. A longer version you might tell to someone you trust.

Short version – green light. Paragraph – orange light. Full unfiltered story – red light.

You might decide it is worthwhile to tell someone the red light version, someday, but you’d need to decide carefully. Do I have the energy and time to do this carefully? Am I thinking through which parts to include and which to skip or gloss over? If you’re not in the right space, you could tell a shorter version or leave it for another time.

If you’re telling your story and you can feel the story taking over – feeling like you need to keep telling it – you might find you’ve been triggered by the story itself. Recognising when you’ve been triggered can give you the option to stop and recover.

Exercises

Write a few sentences each under the following headings:

  • Life before HIV
  • Finding out I had HIV
  • Living with HIV
  • Becoming a peer navigator
  • Hopes for the future

Make a list of key events in your life story and rate how painful or difficult you find it to tell other people about them.

  • green light: no difficulty
  • orange light: moderately difficult
  • red light: high difficulty

What are three things you can do to protect yourself when you are telling a moderate or high difficulty story from your experience?

The first option is always ‘don’t tell the story’ and you should never feel compelled to share your experience. But there may be times when you are in the right space and it seems worthwhile. Learning your own story can help you make a considered decision.

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