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Symptoms worsening after Dr. Bob's passing

Oct 6, 2011

Hi David,

I hope you can help me.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've got an irrational fear of HIV that brought me to a low point a few months ago when I had to drop out of my senior year of college after becoming a non-functional mess. I went from having a 4.0 to not even being able to focus on a page of reading in just a few weeks because I began to analyze and reanalyze every minute instance of physical contact I'd made with other people (or with anything that could've remotely resembled blood) throughout the day. The anxiety from these thoughts constantly overrunning my mind and the 5 or 6 hours a day I spent sterilizing absolutely everything that touched something that touched something that touched something that touched something that might've touched "blood" became utterly unbearable.

Since then, I've been regularly seeing a psychologist and taking different SSRIs (which only aggravated things, so I stopped them). In a nutshell, I'm dealing with a pretty bad case of OCD coupled with severe anxiety. Amazingly, when I stumbled upon this website a few months ago, I began to read through Dr. Bob's forum every day, and his responses to both people with real worries and paranoid people like me put such a smile on my face that I finally began to accept the foolishness of my thoughts. Because I read his words often, something eventually clicked inside my mind, and I slowly began to regain control of my mind. I've returned to college this fall, still a bit anxious and paranoid, but improving each day and doing well academically again. I began to visit this site less and less, which I viewed as an accomplishment for myself--proof that my mind was finally abandoning its constant obsession with catching HIV through preposterous circumstances.

Then, a few days ago, I learned of the sad news of Dr. Bob's death. I know it would be awfully selfish of me to say I miss him, because I know there are a great many people who were close with him personally and have really suffered a terrible loss. Nonetheless, a couple of direct interactions with him through this website and reading hundreds of his responses to other people really endeared me to him. Because of this, I can't help but feel a real emptiness inside myself now that he isn't here. I know I can always read his words in the archives, smile, and continue to enjoy them and use them therapeutically (as I have been), but I'm still having a hard time coming to terms with his passing. I suppose it's only now that I'm really reflecting on how much I admired and respected him for his dedication to finding a cure, helping others (even complete strangers!), and offering everyone hope and positive energy. I guess I needn't tell you how special and rare people like that are.

What I wonder, and what I hope you can tell me, is if my words sound hollow coming from someone thousands of miles away with no real interaction with him. I mean ... since I found out, I've begun to have trouble in my classes again, I can't focus on my work, and I even canceled my scores when I took the GRE this weekend because I just couldn't focus on the test with this on my mind. Interestingly, I've thought even less about my illogical phobias since this happened. Dr. Bob's kindness, warmth, and intelligence gave me my life back, and now I feel it slipping away again. What should I do? On a sidenote, the work that you and everyone else do at The Body is so admirable, and I really appreciate the time and effort you've all put into creating such a comprehensive, informative, and personalized resource for people all over the world, each of whom must have different needs. I've never found anything like this anywhere else on the web (or in a physical form). And believe me, back in my crazier days last semester, I don't think there could've been any non-scientist/medical professional who had scoured the internet and libraries for more information on HIV than I did! Thank you, very much. I wish the people who run the rest of the world would be more like you.

Response from Dr. Fawcett

Thank you for your kind words. One of the remarkable things about the internet is the possibility of an element of intimacy with people you have never met. This was especially true with someone like Dr. Bob, whose compassion was clearly conveyed in his writing. Your words in no way sound "hollow," many people have had similar responses.

I'm glad your illogical phobias have receded to some extent. Your problem with focus and concentration is probably caused by underlying anxiety expressing itself in a different way. When our world is shaken by change - even a web-based relationship with someone we never actually met - it is disturbing and unsettling. We need to find our balance once again by identifying and expressing feelings of hurt, sadness, or anger. You may find that your concentration is helped by a daily practice of breathing, relaxation or meditation. Finally, it is important to recreate a sense of emotional safety by strengthening relationships that provide the support you need.

Take care,

- David

Saddened by Dr Bob's passing
HIV+ and stressed out

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