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obsession with Acute Retroviral Syndrome

Dec 27, 1997

Hi Rick,

I dont have a question as such. Though I would like to

write a little about my experiences, and hopefully help someone who is going through what I went through. I hope someone who is fearing the worst about their HIV exposure can get something from this. Especially those who are victims to the paranoia, anxiety, depression and near-insanity that comes from erroneously diagnosing what may seem to be Acute Retroviral Syndrome (ARS), and convincing themselves that they have HIV.

I notice that you mention in one of your documents available on your web site that you often see people go through this stress and anxiety for no reason whatsoever, and it takes months and even years out of their lives. I'm one of these people. In the couple of years, I have undergone several HIV tests. The most recent being an Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay for HIV 1/2 Antibodies. All have come back negative.

Almost each test was prompted by exposure in a low risk incident. Each time, I had convinced myself that I had experienced the symptoms of Acute Retroviral Syndrome. Each time, the symptoms were totally convincing - conclusive in fact. In my mind, that is. There was no scientific basis to any one of my self diagnoses. Each one was out of an obsessive compulsive fear that I had contracted HIV.

To be fair, the first time, I *was* exposed to a reasonable degree. I had been jabbed by a needle in public toilets. Weeks later, my lymph nodes had swollen up to such a degree that I had difficulty swallowing. My doctor diagnsed me with tonsilitis. I was out of my mind with fear that it was ARS, and that I had contracted HIV. I ignore the statistics,

scientific facts, and common sence surrounding my case and convince myself of my impending death. 3 months later, I test negative.

3 months later, a casual unprotected sexual encounter -

first I'm out of my mind that I may still be HIV+ but the last test didnt pick it up. Maybe I gave it to this chick? I immediatly get re-tested. The results to the test are negative. I then develop an irrational fear that I didnt

have it after all, but my partner gave it to me. I start analysing every single possibility, every one of her previous partners. "Did they practice safe sex? Was her previous partner promiscuous? Was she going through what looked like ARS when I met her? On no! She told me about

how she's always tired and fatigued, and doesnt know what's causing it!" Weeks later, I get ill. I ignore the fact that I'm in the middle of cold-and-flu season. I ignore the fact that my immune system must be shot to bits due to stress, anxiety and lack of sleep over my fears. Instead, the more I read more about ARS on the informative web sites I look up, the more I convince myself of the worst. Everything seems so obvious.

In the middle of a steady relationship, I suddendly break sexual contact off. "Why has she got a rash on her chest and is always coughing? What have I done to her?" I wait the appropriate number of months, and get tested. Negative again. "Why do I have this inexplicable fatigue which lasted for 2 weeks? What's this white shit on my tongue?!? Oh God, another 3 months of hell waiting for a HIV test" And it just goes in circles for months and months and years.

I'm sure you've heard enough. You might think I'm crazy. But this happens to a lot of people. You might think that my incidents are different, but yours are convincing. You might think you're being alert and informed. So did I. I now know I was being irrational and paranoid without any basis whatsoever to my anxieties.

I was pig-headed in my ignorance - I end up with 2 years of fails in my university marks, failed relationships, strained friendships, valium for nervous hypertension and prozac for clinical depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.

I wont conclude with a "moral to this story" type statement.

I'm probably not the person to say. All I'll say is that the obsession with HIV and ARS can be very damaging. Draw your own conclusions. Maybe Rick can comment?


Merry Christmas.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your comments. Your story is a perfect example of how an obsession with Acute Viral Syndrome or HIV/AIDS, can destroy a persons life. The solution to problems such as this is counseling. Counseling helps a person discover, cope with, and resolve, whatever psychological problems caused the fear and obsession in the first place. If you are reading this post, and you have been going through a similar situation, then I strongly urge you to seek counseling. Counseling can do wonders to help you.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

How Fear of HIV Can Destroy Your Life
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