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HIV Transmission and Education >> Am I Infected?

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check out this post from KitG
      #34379 - 05/15/02 02:47 PM

I haven't been here for a few months, trying to get back to life and living again, and wow, I can tell everyone that when you eventually come through all this to a point when you finally feel happy, if you're anything like me, you'll find your life will be so much more enriched than it ever was before. Work, relationships, beliefs, everything. So whatever the outcome, don't expect to get your old life back again exactly as you left it, and don't worry about it, because your new life will be so much more rewarding. I look back at my pre-window life in black and white, whereas every day now is glorious technicolour. Just like Jackie said in her last post, the knowledge and experiences you are gaining will be with you for life.

But for a lot of you, those days are still off in the future and you might be thinking you'll never get there. Well, hopefully if I can repeat my story, it might help one or two people. Even if its just something to read and take your mind off the demons for a minute or two!

It was about ten and a half months ago, July 2000. Not for the first time, I found myself paying for sex. Vaginal intercourse with a condom of course. Problem was, when we'd finished, I looked down and saw the debris of where the condom had been. Major condom break.

Oh well, I could rationalise it out. I knew the low prevalence rates of HIV and also the low probability of HIV transmission for a one-off encounter, and of course there was nothing to suggest she was HIV+ anyway. We both insisted on condoms, which at least said something about our attitudes to our own health and well being.

So I put the incident out of mind, or at least I thought I did. What actually happened though is that in the darkest recesses of my mind, I'd lit the fires of fear that would dominate my life for the next six months and nearly cause me to end it all.

Over the next few weeks, I began to notice physical changes. I lost weight, my energy levels fell, I began running a temperature, my appetite disappeared, sleep became more and more difficult. Something had disrupted my physical equilibrium and more and more, I worried that the night in July 2000 was the cause.

In fact, I was right, but not in the way I was worried about. I was not HIV+. However, I was aware I had put myself at risk, and as a result, I had unwittingly put my mind and body on a heightened state of vigilance. Due to this extra vigilance, I had begun to notice every minute change in my body, or even I'd just become hyper-aware of my body's normal workings. I was in the classic fight-or-flight mode which we go through in times of stress, but a key thing about the window period is that there is no quick and easy answer to that stress, or at least, there is not an answer which you will be willing to accept until you alone are ready. Which means you get stuck in fight-or-flight mode, but you are unable to fight back or take flight. I believe this is the key to the prolonged and debilitating symptoms which many of us go through during the window period.

So the time came to get to a clinic and take a test. About six weeks in. And so started a long relationship with a wonderful counsellor who, over the next few weeks, was there for me in person or on the phone, whenever she was free, never denying my experiences or my pain. She knew it was up to me to work through it, and she played a perfect role in guiding me through that time.

My first test proved negative (as did the second, third, fourth, fifth). Unfortunately, these tests results provided only the most limited reassurance, for the simple reason that the physical symptoms were multiplying and taking over. My insomnia had become chronic, as had diarrhoea. I developed rashes on legs, arms, chest, face. My skin felt like it was burning up. These are just a few of the dozens of things going on.

Then, the most significant and worrying symptom for me. I developed intense pain and discomfort in my groin, armpits and neck and it stayed, for weeks. This was the confirmation, in my mind, I had clung to the idea I just might be a bit stressed, but none of the literature could account for this weird new symptom.

I got checked out by a doctor, the first of three or four that I saw. Their verdict? I was imagining all the pain and discomfort. I was suffering from obsessional-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, phobia, depression and any other psychiatric diagnosis they could remember from their medical training. I rejected these as the sole cause of my problems, as I still do to this day, although I can now see that they were right to some limited extent. But nothing could explain the pain and discomfort in my lymphatic system, or some of the other bizarre symptoms going on.

In time, I discovered the internet, and The Body, and the Am I Infected board and this was a major factor in my eventual road to recovery. Basically, I lived on the internet for a while, reading every single discussion thread and question to the experts I could, and ignoring the pleas from other people not to do this! (However well-meaning these pleas are, I think they're a waste of time. Those long sleepless nights and days are difficult enough to get through, and the preoccupation with the subject is not going to go away just because you've gone to get Gladiator out on video!)

One warning though, there is misinformation out there, the classic example being the "late seroconverters", including "julio", who put the fear of God up me and many others by "seroconverting" at 30 months, until a piece of bright detective work by someone discovered that for some reason, he pretended to seroconvert every few months or so! (I actually think he's a real person, HIV-, obsessed by his "Symptoms", and as such, I think he's a useful warning for everyone about the dangers of letting it get totally out of hand).

I took a final six month test, which was negative, and I agreed to take some medication to take the edge of things. I also began researching chronic fatigue syndrome and I found that many of my more bizarre, unusual and frightening symptoms, had been chronicled by CFS sufferers, and I became pretty sure that I had developed some sort of chronic fatigue type condition as a result of the prolonged and isolated stress I had put myself through.

And there it is. My story.

Now, I still get fatigued at times for no apparent reason, and I still have occasional, residual discomfort in groin and armpits, plus the occasional other symptom, but I'm no longer concerned by these things. They are just my body's ongoing readjustments following a period of severe, prolonged and unprecedented stress.

I took up TexGal's suggestion to put something back into society and so I've taken up charity work. Again, this might be a long way down the road for some of you, but it's well recommended for ongoing recovery and well being.

That's my story. Hope it helps one or two people in the way that other people's stories helped me. Feel free to ask questions, I'll reply as openly as I can.

Otherwise, all the best, stay busy, but find a way you can get some rest (Hot baths always worked for me!)




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