Here’s help with telling your (HIV) story

Published 03, Sep, 2015
Author // Bob Leahy - Publisher

Editor Bob Leahy in conversation with Camille de Putter, author of Storytelling with Heart, a workbook designed to help people tell their stories. It's about working through shame, silence and secrets and learning to write and share.

Here’s help with telling your (HIV) story

Bob Leahy: Hi Camiille. Why don’t you tell me first what people can expect from your book? 

Camille DePutter. Sure. I wrote the book because I feel that for many of us we have a sense that we have a story we would like to tell about ourselves and our experiences so I wanted to help people do that, to help them do some of the thinking about what their personal stories may be. It’s a way to start working with those stories, to put them down on paper, think about them in new ways and start to feel some of the empowerment and freedom that comes with that.

It’s almost like an instruction manual. But can telling your story be difficult for somebody who has never done it before? People are a bit scared of it right?

Yes, I certainly was, in the experience of drawing on a disability, being born by a heart condition, then later on having a pacemaker and being uncomfortable with myself. And I’m a natural storyteller but even for me I used to parse out pieces of information about myself to select people very cautiously. It took me a long time to get to that point of fully embracing it.

So you had a heart condition and you thought it would be a good strategy to write about that.

For a long time I kept it a secret and when I started writing about it and talking about it more honestly, then I became more comfortable with it and could be myself more.

So already I’m seeing parallels here. People living with HIV are often reluctant to tell their story for reasons we all understand. Tell me though, what would be in it for them, to actually do so.

Well we know about stigma. Many people have had their stories told for them, like "this is what it means to have HIV". I think there is great value in being able to share our own personal stories as a way to reclaim the stories for ourselves.

That’s a great point. But is there also a personal healing component do you think? Is this therapy?

I really think so. HIV can have a lot of shame attached to it. Writing can be very healing and can also bring out your inner strengths, your inner courage, your ability to say “this is who I am. I don’t have to apologize for it, I don’t have to hide it.”

One thing I want to mention here, Camille that as an editor, I sometimes deal with new writers and occasionally that process is painful for them. How do you deal with the situation if storytelling brings back painful memories? Should people back off doing it or what?

I’ve encountered that too. I’ve worked with people in recovery and survivors of assault so when I do this work, I’m very aware of the fact that it can be triggering and hurtful for people. Someone else who works in this field calls it “uncomfortable but not unsafe.” I think it’s important to recognize that the work can be uncomfortable, it can be scary, it requires us to step outside of our comfort zone.

People think too they are not a writer, or their English isn’t good enough or they have nothing to say. I’ve noticed people often downplay their ability to tell their own story. Do you agree?

Yes, I completely agree. But regarding the unsafe part, if you feel that telling your story could raise triggers or raise red flags for you, yes, I would stop, I wouldn’t push it, and it’s not about pushing yourself far beyond your comfort zone. But I would hope that the person would recognize this as an ongoing process, so if I’m not ready to talk about something right now that’s fair.

But we can encourage them to write instead about something that they do have comfort with, something that’s non-threatening – writing about their pets, for instance – but they nevertheless in doing so have the experience of writing and getting good at it. The writing itself has merit and you don’t necessarily have to deal with the big issues upfront.

That’s a really great point. And besides writing about all the serious stuff, writing can be fun.

I always say to people “is it’s not fun, don’t do it.” I don’t want people to think of writing as a chore.

Yes, but one thing I do personally in my life is I do things that I suck at.

Does it matter if others read your stories? Talk about the merit of writing for yourself versus sharing with others.

I think writing for yourself is such a great starting point. I encourage people to journal a lot. You don’t even have to read your own writing. If you are not ready or don’t even know what you want to say or just have feeling that you have something to share, share it with yourself

Ok, in the book you talk about the courage involved in telling your story. Tell me how you attain courage?

Yes, well, we’ve talked about sharing your story and keeping it to yourself, but there is definite merit in sharing it with others and not just keeping  it inside. It’s like advocacy. When you see that somebody has gone before you and opened up, you will see that that can help others potentially more than you know. So there is great opportunity then in sharing our stories.

I think the encouragement and feedback from others is really helpful too. It can be very hard to judge the merits of your own stuff.

Yes, it’s about choosing your support. You need a group of people around you to support you.

You sure do. Camille, that’s a good place to end. Thank you so much for talking to and good luck with the book.

Thanks Bob

You can purchase the Share Your Story workbook at:

Read more from Camille at her blog The Heart of the Matter:

Follow Camille on Facebook at:

About the Author

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Award-winning blogger Bob Leahy first made his social media mark a decade ago on where there are still to this day almost 3,000 entries of his available to be read. He was a featured blogger on Ontario’s campaign, along with founder Brian Finch. He joined at its inception in 2009 and became it's Editor a year later.

Born in the UK, Bob’s background is in corporate banking, which he gladly left in 1994, after being diagnosed with HIV the previous year.  He has chaired the board of PARN (Peterborough AIDS Resource Network) and has been an executive board member of both the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) and the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS).  He was inducted in to the Ontario AIDS Network’s Honour Roll in 2005.  Bob is currently a member of Ontario’s GMSH (Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance). He also writes for

In 2012, Bob was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for his work and commitment to HIV/AIDS in Canada.

Bob continues to write for this site while in the Positivelite.Com editor’s seat, with a particular interest  in HIV prevention, theatre and the arts in general. He is accredited media for a number of Toronto theatres. He lives in Warkworth, Ontario with his partner of thirty-two years and three dogs.