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Worried well...or HIV+, Going Crazy Either Way.

May 15, 2000

I'm a 28 year old gay male who has always practiced strict safe sex. Three weeks ago, I had a brief unsafe experience with a stranger met in a gay strip bar. I was drunk, and performed oral sex on him for 20-30 seconds. Did he come? I don't think so, although I really don't remember. Did I swallow pre-cum? Probably.

2 days after this incident, I developed a sore throat. Immediately, I began my graduate-level internet and print search for "proof" that I had infected myself with HIV. 10 days after the research started, the symptoms began with a large pimple with a swollen node underneath on my neck. I felt, and feel fine otherwise. Panic has set in, though, and has been resident ever since. My underarms hurt, it's HIV, I have a watery stool, HIV, my groin feels a little tender, HIV. It's literally driving me insane, and it's only been 3 weeks since exposure, how am I going to survive until I can be reliably tested.

I think of nothing but HIV. Am I infected? Of course. Have I now killed my long term partner, as well as myself? More than likely. Are my parents going to have a heart attack when I tell them? Without a doubt. Will I die alone, in the poorhouse, and immediately go to Hell? I think so.

I've been to an HIV counselor who told me that my lack of a fever was a good sign, and that while I'm not at NO risk, my risk is relatively low. He also told me to relax, and that stress can cause all sorts of bodily "symptoms". I felt better with this for a few days, then cried the next few days away. Much more of this, and I'll lose my job. Hell, much much more of this and I'll be in a straitjacket. I know the tone of this post might sound humorous, but I'm terrified, erratic in my behavior, and generally useless. Any words of wisdom? Help, please.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

No I don't find any of what you wrote humorous, but deeply disturbing. Your indiscretion has obviously triggered some deep emotional reactions. The only thing I can offer is the advice to seek out a very experienced mental health professional and begin working with him or her to help you understand what is really triggered here and to help you bind your anxiety until you can take the test. But with what you already told me, I would not be surprised if even a negative HIV test did not reassure you and calm your obsessing.

By performing oral sex on the man in the strip club, you of course could have gotten any number of other STDs that have nothing to do with HIV. Have you seen your doctor and gotten oral cultures and blood work done to screen for the variety of other diseases that might be causing your symptoms? This would be an excellent idea.

Michael Shernoff, MSW

Is it depression or just stress?
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