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We all take life for granted...
Mar 30, 1998

Dear Michael,

I am 21 years old. It is coming up to a year now since I had a sexual experience with another man and thought I had contracted HIV. I have had several tests, all negative, but I just cannot convince myself that these tests are reliable. I know this is a very common thing to think, but it is ruining my life. I have lost interest in my friends, I don't look forward to anything anymore, and I just feel like I am waiting to die. Nobody can understand my fears, and nobody realises how badly I am feeling. When you catch gonnorhea, have diarrhea, blisters on your hands and feet for six months, it is hard to believe that it is "just a coincidence". All I would ever want now, is just to have my health back, be able to marry my girlfriend and have kids in the future, and lead a normal life. I am so scared that this is never going to happen. I wouldn't mind as much if I was going to die, but if I do then I will be leaving everyone behind to cope without me -- especially my girlfriend who could be infected. She doesn't deserve this. She is the most caring person in the world, and I can't believe that I ever went behind her back. I love her so much. She has just managed to get over her best friend dying four years ago. What would finding out that I am HIV+ do to her? I waited 3 months (after my first test) to have sex with her again (unprotected), even though I have never felt sure that I am OK. My questions are these:

1. How can I stop feeling this way and get on with my life?

2. Why do I continue to have sex with my girlfriend even though I think that I might be infected? Does it mean I am selfish and don't care about her?

Please help me, Michael. I am literally going insane.

Thanks,

Scott.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Since it is a year now that you have been torturing yourself with these fears, and since you refuse to believe the negative HIV tests you have some major unconscious investment in feeling as bad as you do. What it is I am not sure. Perhaps you are really more attracted to men than to women and that is contributing to both how bad you are feeling and why you continue to have sex with your girl friend. Perhaps you are not more attracted to men than to women, but you currently do have a need to punish yourself and see yourself as a bad person with no hope for a future or well adjusted and meaningful life. Only you can honestly answer whether you are selfish and do not care for her. One question I would ask you to consider is to honestly ask yourself are you trying to prove something to yourself and using her towards this end? This is very serious, and beyond the scope of my being able to help you with, except for me to urge you to consult a mental health professional and seek psychotherapy to help you discover why you are doing what you are doing to yourself.

It breaks my heart to read your letter and hear you use so many pejorative expressions to describe yourself. You obviously have a very poor self-image and very low self esteem that the unsafe sexual incident only contributed to. Please get professional help so you can stop torturing yourself and move on with your life.

I hope you do begin psychotherapy and get the relief that you really, really deserve. No one deserves to be suffering the way that you so obviously are and have been for more than a year now.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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