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Irrational fears: they don't have to control you.
Sep 2, 2008

You've heard from me before and I swore to myself that I'd never bother you again, but -- I have a problem that I think a lot of people who write to you can relate to. I have a few things to say, and I want the really paranoid people to read this, the ones who cant sleep at night because theyre afraid of touching doorknobs or people brushing against them, the people who are afraid of cutting themselves on a random sharp object thats probably been lying around for ten years. This is for the people who are afraid of dumpsters because used sanitary napkins might be lying in there, and the people who are afraid to use public bathrooms because of pubic hairs on the toilet seat (I had one fall on my bare toe, which had a nice big open sore on it. That was terrific fun.).

Obviously, I'm paranoid about HIV (and pretty much everything else, from rabies to meningitis, I think I'm the only one I know who's afraid of squirrels spitting on them, but that's another story). I have OCD (pretty severely, along with depression when it gets really bad, doesnt that sound great?) and went through therapy and everything was just dandy for quite some time, but I'm having the backslide they always warned about.

So I think I'm addicted to writing in to Dr. Bob for answers, to calling the AIDS hotline -- "AM I GOING TO DIE?" and wasting precious time that could be spent helping someone who actually has a valid question.

It's a downward spiral, and it hurts. For instance: yesterday, one of my coworkers was standing next to me and showing me something he wanted typed (why he couldn't do it himself is beyond me)and I noticed he had a big, gory, oozing kind of cut on his finger. So, instead of thinking "Gross, he should have a band-aid," it was immediately "Oh my God, did I touch him? Did he bleed on the paper? I have to go and wash my hands so no blood gets on anything. But I'll have to wash my hands after touching the papers he gave me. But what about the keyboard? I can't touch my face because I have open sores on my lip, and one of my ears has a cut on it, and how can I wipe myself when I go to the bathroom? I'll have to wash first. And throw out all the pens I've just been using. But what if he touched any of the new pens? Oh no, what if this pen Im using was touching his cut?" etc. etc. And all the while, every time I wash my hands, I get more open sores (Im a nail biter, and then all this excessive hand washing dries out my skin to the point of cracking) so wonderfully enough, I have more open sores to worry about and the cycle begins again.

There are facts I know, that I use to try and help myself.

1. HIV does not live long outside the body. Okay, well, that makes it a little better. Except --

2. Hepatitis C lives for a while outside the body. Well, crap, now I'm going to get Hepatitis C and my boyfriend will get it and think I'm cheating on him and I'm going to die of something miserable by myself. And I might get HIV anyway because I didnt wash my hands soon enough and theres open sores all over my hands because Im a crazy hand washer, oh no, oh no, what am I going to do if he dies, I love him very much and I dont want him to leave me --

3. If I don't cut out the paranoia, my boyfriend will leave me and I will die miserable and alone, but not of any of the diseases I'm afraid of. Oops.

The obvious conclusion: GET HELP. Therapy helped before, it will help again. What do I do instead?

Dear Dr. Bob,

Am I going to die because my co-worker who cant type by himself and irritates me to the ends of the earth with all of his high-priority crap had a hangnail?

My boyfriend is sick of hearing of my paranoia, and his solution is Stop thinking about it. Wouldnt that be wonderful? I ask any of you reading this, anyone on this forum who has had the downward spiral of worry, anxiety, false symptoms, sleepless nights and horrible guilt wouldnt you love to just stop thinking about it? I dont sleep around and I wont, I had one partner before I met my boyfriend and I tested negative for anything we did after about six months, and yet Im still worried about that, too wouldnt it be great to forget?

Its not going to happen. Some of us need help. Some of us dont want to admit it, but believe me, once you admit you need a professional shoulder to cry on and take the steps to do it the paranoia will never go away, but it will subside, it will become manageable. Youll feel rational again. It takes hard work, but you can get there. Then, eventually, it might get bad again but you go back to your therapist (mine is adorable), tell her (or him) that youre in a bad place, and theyll help you out of it again.

My fear is that if I go to the therapist (which my employer has agreed to fund, bless him) my boyfriend will take it as a personal insult. He thinks that Im not happy with him, that he cant distract me from my paranoia so something is wrong with our relationship. Ive tried to explain why I want to go and see the therapist I just want a little help but hes in that denial that Ive seen before the only thing is that before, it was my mother, and I didnt care what she thought of me going there because I knew shed have to forgive me eventually.

I plan on going anyway and being honest about it. Do you have any advice to offer to me, and anyone else, on what to say to loved ones when you know you have a problem? Youve had to assure so many people so many times over such silly things (incidentally, should I worry about that hangnail? HIV, hepatitis C, meningitis, RABIES??!!) and its so much better when you have someone to talk to about it when they wont judge you. I dont know what to say to my boyfriend but I want to advise anyone out there who has ever had irrational fears to go and talk to someone about it because they can help you. Theyll lead you through exposure that is too scary on your own. Theyll let you talk and wail and be irrational and at the end, you can have a hug and a reassurance that youll be just fine, that youre not a whack job and that youre not ruining anyones life but your own.

If you dont deal with your paranoia, its just one thing after the other. Once one worry goes away, another takes its place. Thats the only way I can stop worrying about anything a new worry takes its place! Its tiring, depressing, and unnecessary.

II just want to share that. Some people are like my boyfriend and think therapy is a waste of time; its not. It wont solve your problems immediately, but it will help you work through them. Next time you cant sleep and think youre going to die and you write to Dr. Bob twelve time with the same worry and wonder WHY DONT I HAVE AN ANSWER?, when that happens, take a minute to realize that you dont want these fears controlling your life, and if you cant deal with the negative thoughts yourself, whats wrong with unloading them on someone who knows how to help you, and will show you how to get out?

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello,

I have some simple and short answers to your long and complex questions.

1. Should you worry about hangnails, HIV, hepatitis C, meningitis, rabies, spitting squirrels or coworkers with big, gory, oozing wounds??? Nope!

2. How can you explain your need for therapy to your boyfriend/mother? Simply have him or her read this post and my reply. I have absolutely no doubt that you need psychological/psychiatric help in confronting your irrational and unwarranted fears. I agree you cannot resolve these issues on your own. They are as real as a broken bone or bout of pneumonia. And just like these other ailments, your irrational fears require professional medical intervention. Simply advising you to stop worrying is as helpful as telling someone with bilateral pneumonia not to cough or someone with extensive poison ivy not to itch or scratch or someone with depression to "have a nice day!" I urge you to get the help you need. And if your boyfriend takes it as a "personal insult," you need to find a more reasonable and compassionate boyfriend.

Good luck.

Dr. Bob



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