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PTSD Hypochondria Depression HIV... why can't i convince myself it's all in my head?

Sep 4, 2013

I'm 28 and have been HIV+ 5 years and thought I had gotten the hang of it, being a peer counselor as concerns HIV and living with HIV. About a year ago my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer, he passed away a few months ago, at about the same time I got married to my now ex-partner of four years then fell extremely sick with a near-death experience. At the time I honestly thought it was mold toxicity, and from then it's been a number of impossible months with ever growing hypochondria. I'm currently on antidepressants for the trauma of the past few months plus therapy, but it suddenly feels like everything was brought into technicolour, every ache and pain , or spot that I had learned to dismiss suddenly feels like it could be something disastrously wrong. Currently my greatest fear is cancer, mostly melanoma (I have a number of moles but of late some that I never noticed or rather didn't pay attention to, seem to be grabbing my attention). I'm living in a foreign country with no health insurance due to my ex pushing the neutralisation process till it was too late. I can't apply for normal travel insurance as I would have to either lie about my HIV status or get denied the policy.

I just want to get through the anxiety, it may have been just a few months but I'm tired of having this over-obsession with my illness and death. I know the mind is a powerful thing - it has the power to heal or to kill. I'm scared I might be overthinking myself into an early grave.

I'm now in a new relationship with a loving man that is showing me intimacy that I lacked in my past relationship, however I'm scared of messing it up due to my hypochondria.

Is it impossible to get back to a normal life?

Response from Dr. Fawcett

Thanks for writing. You have indeed been through tremendous loss. Your writing indicates that you have a great deal of insight which is an important part of healing. When our emotional resilience gets pounded by life events we need support from others and time to heal. Stressors (and you list many) have a cumulative effect that can be harmful both physically and emotionally, as you note. Our psychological defenses can be activated to protect us. I suspect your mind is seeking a focus for all the energy and turmoil resulting from these events. Fixation on a mole or a potential health issue is a way the mind directs energy on something very concrete and specific in order to find its footing. This process is largely subconscious and, as you have probably already noted, it doesn't provide any relief. There will never be enough reassurance to put you at ease because those health worries aren't the real problem.

I'm glad you are in therapy I believe focusing on all the loss you have experienced, including specifically identifying the feelings and then expressing and releasing them, will be your path to finding relief. I think the best results will require something more than traditional insight-oriented therapy, such as expressive therapies. You might ask your therapist about interventions (like those of Gestalt) that focus more on process (simply put, feelings) rather than content (thoughts). Meditation and breathing would also be valuable to help you find relief.

You clearly have skills, a caring partner, and an ability to create a support network. It sounds like there are hardships in your present location but it will be important to use whatever resources are at your disposal to move these feelings that are weighing you down. There is absolutely a way to get back to normal, in fact, better than what was "normal." Your painful experiences have the potential to heal both yourself and others.

Wishing you all the best,


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