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Sep 10, 1997

Firstly Michael keep up the fantastic work, your advice along with the other services provided by the 'body' are certainly inspirational to say the least. My question in essence is to ascertain the varying mood swings associated with the prospect of coming into contact with AIDS or through acquiring the virus itself. As an active participant in the sexual sense, I quite rarely go without a day when I don't think about AIDS, I along with the other readers share this bond of a psychosomatic illness that just won't go away. We are terrified at the possibility of not only contracting the virus, but more importantly what other's will think if and when we do acquire it. Even after testing when the negative results are received, I'm still panicky and wonder whether or not I will ever feel free of this illness, my wife isn't aware of my fears or my activities, whilst I practice save sex, I'm still petrified of getting AIDS. I have tried to remain monogamous without success, sometimes I feel l would be better off dead and not have to worry anymore. Is there hope for me, will medication solve my mental illness, it is getting to the point where my marriage is falling apart, I don't want or need this worry anymore. I've tried seeing a psychiatrist without success, why me, why am I like this, the only consolation I have is that there are others like me. Should I just end it.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

First of all you are definitely not alone in your predicament. There are many other people who have similar worries. It is not paranoid to worry about contracting HIV if you are sexually active with a variety of partners, even if you routinely practice safer sex. All of us who are sexually active today must accept that there is always a small level of risk in even supposedly safe activities like intercourse with a condom. Rereading your letter I have a few thoughts and questions. If your sexual activity outside of your marriage is with other men than that would obviously account for part of your heightened anxiety, since men who have sex with other men are still the vast majority of people with HIV and AIDS in the United States. If your sexual partners are women there is still an understandable level of anxiety since you obviously will not know the drug use or sexual history of sexual partners regardless of their gender.

The intensity of your worries are certainly serious. From my clinical experience I have observed that when ever clients have discussed similar feelings during sessions eventually we discover that these concerns are masking deeper, underlying fears or issues that are often, but not exclusively, related to sexuality. I would urge you to shop around for a psychotherapist who you would feel comfortable talking with. I am also very concerned that you end your letter by asking "should you just end it?" This is clearly one indication of how much pain you are currently experiencing, and you deserve to receive the kind of help that can result in your feeling better.

Michael Shernoff, MSW

HIV Negative, but Anxiety even after 9-1/2 months
Emotional Disturbance From The Fear of HIV

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