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HIV Anxiety

I've had OCD my entire life - from double and triple-checking to make sure appliances are turned off, to worrying about various ailments (such as balding), and etc. - but recently, I've been plagued by severe HIV anxiety.

It all started when I read an article in the paper about local HIV/AIDs rates in my home state. I've lived an extremely safe life - only two sex partners in long-term, monogamous relationships - but I did engage in unsafe sex a few times with my ex-girlfriend. The chance of having HIV - however miniscule - played on my mind. When my current girlfriend had strep-like symptoms that the doctors had a difficult time identifying, I unwisely Googled and did Internet research, and of course, assumed the worst - that she was experiencing acute HIV syndrome and that I gave it to her (despite us always engaging in safe sex.)

It got so bad that I eventually went to a state-run clinic to get a rapid HIV test, which came back negative. For a few hours, I felt relieved, as if I could live my life again. But then, soon after, I felt guilty not worrying about it, and started concocting crazy situations in my head as to why the test could be wrong. What if the nurse practitioner lied to me about my results? What if someone from the waiting room snuck into the back and bled on the needle that was used to test me, and they were HIV+?

Thing is, I know these situations and scenarios are completely irrational - just as my original HIV fear was BEFORE I got tested. Testing didn't relieve the fear much, in other words, which makes me think I am, instead, addicted to worrying, have a serious anxiety problem, and/or might be a borderline hypochondriac.

Does anyone have experience with this, or advice as to how to get on with my life?
4 Responses
1699033 tn?1514113133
I have been in your shoes and like you I have had OCD for many, many years.  HIV was a particular phobia of mine.  It is probably the first thing that really sent my over the OCD cliff so to speak.  Then of course, all those other irrational thoughts came with it as well.  I am also a "checker."  So there too, I know what you mean.  

That whole second guessing ourselves is the pits.  Never trusting the results of the test, what people say, etc.  It is just like the checking, you know you turned the stove off because you probably checked it 5 times, but then you walk out the door and this wave of panic hits you and you start to second guess that you actually did turn it off.

So what to do, well I would probably say that after living your "entire life" with OCD you are ready to just have it go away.  There are several ways to do that.  The first is to see a therapist to either help you learn coping strategies such as cognitive behavioral therapy or a combination of that and medication.  There are many good medications out there  for OCD suffers.  

I have gone through two critical waves of anxiety due to OCD.  The first was as described above with HIV.  The last was this past May.  Both times I needed to take medication.  Prozac and Klonopin the first go around and Wellbutrin and Klononpin this time.  I also learned many cognitive behavioral therapies way back when.  I even went so far as to have exposure therapy where I would go and sit in an HIV clinic and touch the magazines, etc. to prove that I couldn't get it just because I was in the same room with someone with HIV.  

So the bottom line is I think it is time for you to make a phone call to your doctor and tell him/her about your irrational thinking.  From there they can either prescribe medication or refer you to someone else who can do CBT and/or medication.  Half the battle is knowing these thoughts are irrational and you have already gotten that down.  

I really, really feel good right now.  And I did when I was on the Prozac.  It gave me my life back.  I'm not saying that I don't still check on occasion, but when I get in the car and that wave of panic hits me, I can get rid of it really quickly because I trust myself when I say "I have checked that."  The irrational thoughts, well I am a person that does not have a quiet mind.  There is an ever ongoing dialog running through my head but it doesn't bother me like it used to.  Nothing sticks anymore.  Just like with a wave of my hand, it all goes away.  

I Hope this has helped you.  
Avatar universal
I would have to agree that it would be important to confront the underlying cause of your health anxiety.  It can be a continuous cycle that can be very hard to break from if you don't receive help in my opinion.  

There are various ways to confront and deal with it, but for me, the combination of medication and counseling worked very well.  Counseling shed light on a subject that was initially very confusing and frightening to me.  We tend to fear what we don't know and with counseling you start to 'know,' which can go very far in confronting and beating your fear in my experience.

Please keep us posted!
Avatar universal
What's funny (or sad, maybe) is that I'm well aware of how irrational and downright nonsensical some of my fears are. For instance: why would a licensed, professional, experienced nurse practitioner, at a state-run clinic, lie about test results? Or not follow proper procedures and use an opened, dirty needle? Or mis-read a test she's been conducting for years?

In addition, doing some Internet research should have helped ease my mind a bit. Learning about how needles are disposed and not re-used in clinics (as well as safeguarded so they can only be used once), the almost 100% accuracy of tests, and the general difficulty (and near impossibility) of contracting HIV from these types of situations should, in theory, end any and all anxiety on the subject.

The pre-test anxiety and paranoia I experienced was quite traumatizing (and self-traumatizing, at that.) But, for some reason, I feel pangs of guilt and panic when I DON'T worry. I'm convinced that I've become addicted to worrying - that's it basically the norm for my day-to-day living. Example: on the way home from work each day, if I'm not worrying about something, my first thought will be, "What have I forgotten to worry about?" I guess I assume something is always wrong, and when it's scientifically proven that there's not a problem (such as my test results), I find a way THAT can be flawed. A vicious cycle.
1699033 tn?1514113133
Absolutely...that is why if you seek some help you can get out of the cycle.  It is so worth it.  So many people on this forum have been where you are now and have found a way to get their lives back.  Constant worrying is a habit actually and like any habit it is hard to break.  Sometimes we just cannot do it on our own.  

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