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The fear factor and mental health
Feb 5, 2002

I am 28 years old and have caused myself more panic and anxiety than I can deal with for the past 12 years. Even before I was sexually active, I thought I had the disease. My father wouldn't allow any of us to go to the dentist in the 80's because he feared us getting it. Funny that my parents never talked to me about condoms and safe sex, but they wouldn't let me get my teeth cleaned. I have been with my partner for over 5 years. We were both tested for HIV three years ago when his eye doctor thought she saw an early HIV related symptom during an eye exam. This threw me into a complete panic, a basketcase. I don't think I ever fully recovered from the lingering mental effects. Surely I am not alone, maybe I am even part of a growing trend of people that educated themselves, protected themselves, and yet are filled with paralizing fear. I think not only has my mental health suffered, but so have my ability to maintain intimacy with my partner. I am a mess. I have sought professional help before, but I just don't think they know what to do with me.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

If the mental health worker you consulted did not know what to do with you then most likely it is because he or she was too focused on HIV and not focused enough on the other deeper dynamics and family issues that have had an extremely negative impact upon your abiity to be emotionally balanced and participate in a satisfactory way in a romantic relationship. The fear of HIV is only the content issue and trigger for your fears. I suggest that if you have not already done so you voice your complaints to your current therapist. If this does not result in the treatment you are getting better meeting your goals and needs, then you keep shopping for and interviewing therapists until you find one who has the appropriate skills and approach to working with you that will be helpful to your particular set of issues. Michael Shernoff, MSW



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