|To Those Worrying Souls
Apr 11, 2002
Dear Dr. Bob:
I am a 40 years old heterosexual male. In October 1998, I had unprotected vaginal intercourse with a female I met at a bar whose status was unbeknownst to me. Early in January 1999, I awoke in a state of severe pain one morning to the unpleasantries of shingles.
Being that my job deals in part with medicine and affords me access to current medical literature, after seeing my family practitioner, I immediately read whatever I could find pertaining to herpes zoster and, although my health care provider assured me that shingles is merely reactivated chickenpox and is a common viral illness, I was convinced I had been infected because, as you know, shingles can be associated with HIV infection/AIDS.
From that point on my anxiety level went through the roof and I was running on that good old "fight and flight" response for the full day, each and every day, surviving on 2-3 hours of sleep per day and, ultimately, out of control. Furthermore, I was experiencing many other symptoms, which at the time I was convinced were HIV related. This went on for 4 months until finally I convinced myself that I had to be tested and put this matter behind me. My physical/mental health was deteriorating so rapidly that I knew I had to find a solution to the problem, so I went and had antibody testing for HIV 1 and 2 and the test came back negative. However, even though I was negative, I still couldn't convince myself that I was free of the disease. My anxiety continued to rise, but luckily for me I had a great family, friends and spiritual advisor who were all very understanding, non-judgemental and willing to take the time to listen and talk to me. After all, before this happened, I was a very fun-loving, active, sports-oriented guy who was the picture of health and overnight I became a total mess.
In any event, still not convinced, I had further antibody testing 3 months later and again the results were negative. I still chose not to believe the results in light of my symptoms and failing health. Finally, after 4 more months of being sick from anxiety and after speaking to my spiritual advisor, I went to an Infectious Disease specialist who tested me for HIV and everything else, including Hepatitis B & C. Before doing so, I promised myself that if after testing I got a clean bill of health, I would, as the Eagles sing "GET OVER IT" and move on with my life. Not surprisingly, all tests turned out fine and I can proudly say that I stuck to my self-made promise. I am happy to say that since that time I have a beautiful new lady in my life whom I love very much and who knows my story and is truly my best friend.
Although I still have bouts with the pain of post-herpetic neuralgia, life has never been better for me. I do all the things I did before and more. Believe it or not, I am thankful that I went through the experience I did because, like so many of us, I used to take life for granted and now I can't wait for each day to arrive as I enjoy them to the fullest.
I hope all those who have convinced themselves that they are infected with HIV will choose a better path than I and listen to the advice they receive from their doctors. I can assure them that anxiety will kill one quicker than any other disease process, so please do the right thing by living each day to the fullest and be kind to yourself and others.
As for you, Dr. Bob, I read your articles quite regularly and can truly say from the responses you provide to the masses, you are a rare and wonderful man with a huge heart and I wish you all the best with much peace, happiness and health, now and in the future.
Response from Dr. Frascino
Thank you for taking the time to write. Shingles can be a sign of a deteriorating immune system, and hence possible HIV infection, in some cases; however, as you now know, most of the time it's just the reactivation from of chicken pox, both conditions being caused by the Varicella virus. Your story of going from fun loving, active, sports-oriented, picture-of-health all around nice guy to "total mess" overnight is not uncommon. Anxiety can indeed cause an amazing array of symptoms. I forgot about that old Eagles' tune, "Get Over It," but it should be in every worried well's CD collection and listened to on a regular basis.
Congratulations on your new love life. "Loving, active, sports-oriented, picture-of-health nice guy" is infinitely more attractive and sexy than "anxiety-ridden total mess". It indeed appears you have taken this adversity and turned it into opportunity, an opportunity for personal growth and better understanding of our all-too-brief time on this wonderful planet.
Thank you for your very kind comments, and I'm sending loads of good karma back to you as well.
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