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Please Don't Leave Me Because I Need You: An HIV Take on Separation Anxiety

January 22, 2014

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So, How Can You Help Yourself Out of This Syndrome?

First you need to recognize the problem in yourself; identify it, find out about it and make peace with yourself that it's going to take some work to put it right.

It's too easy to say that you've got to avoid jealousy, clamping onto the other like a limpet, seeking out untrustworthy partners, taking solace in addictions like drink, drugs, overeating and self-isolation. You may be told to stop over-compensating for your perceived weaknesses; let people like you for who you are and stop suffocating people with your fears but that's way too simplistic. Of course you're going to have to change and not do these things but you need to start by realizing it's you who's going to implement changes otherwise the problem will repeat itself continually until you're broken. Only after that realization can you start working on individual character traits and it won't happen overnight.

  • First of all, do some research. You'll be amazed when you read articles on the subject how much your life is reflected in what you read. You realize things about yourself you never imagined and that can be a powerful stimulus to effecting change. You'll quickly realize how little logic there is behind your fears but don't dismiss them as just being between your ears; they're real enough but breaking them down into small bite-sized chunks can help you dismantle them one by one.
  • Seek help from a friend. It needs to be a good one though; someone who knows you through and through and isn't afraid to tell you the truth. Take care not to involve someone with issues of their own otherwise it may quickly become a battle of who has the biggest list of faults. You need constructive criticism and advice, not to end up in a competition of "whose problem is worst?"
  • Get help from a psychologist. Two big "ifs" here: can you afford it and is that person better able to help than a good friend?
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  • Put yourself in various situations. Taking them one by one and from the safety of your own space, try to set up a series of "what ifs?" What would really happen if your partner left you? Would the world really end? Would you really kill yourself? What would be the outcome of your partner cheating on you? Same questions. How bad would it be if you were alone again for a while? Same questions. Of course it's going to be painful if the person close to you leaves, or betrays you but will it really be the drama that plays out in your head every time you think about it? Facing your fears one by one and acting them out hypothetically may help you restore a sense of perspective. Very often the person terrified of separation accumulates a series of scenarios; sees them all as happening at once and creates a cataclysm with a disastrous end, when in fact, taken in isolation they can be identified, put into perspective and shown up as the minor traumas they actually are.
  • Find diversions. At the moment that your fears arise, try to look for a diversion. Make yourself busy; doesn't matter what with but find anything you can to take your mind off your angst. That doesn't mean smoking like a chimney, eating like a pig, enrolling at the first orgy, or stuffing yourself with mind-altering distractions. Paint the bloody house; it doesn't matter as long as your diversion becomes temporarily more important than your fear. Slowly but surely, the fears will recede down the list of priorities and you'll take pleasure in doing something positive. The key is breaking the negative circle.
  • Look for causes. Every time the panic sets in that you're going to be abandoned, or you're not good enough, or you're not loved like you want to be, try to examine the exact reason for that fear emerging when it did. In this way you can step in quickly and prevent the fear growing into a paranoia.
  • Look at your history. Just why did your last relationship go so horribly wrong? Was it them? Was it you? Did you drive them away? The latter is a painful truth to face for many people with separation anxiety but it's a necessary one. Remember, history almost always repeats itself unless you do something different. Use the experiences of the past to develop new strategies when they show signs of happening again.
  • Avoid players. You know who they are: they're people in everyone's circles who enjoy game playing and use others to play out their own fantasies. These people have their own problems; don't let them drag you down into the slough of despond for their own kicks.
  • Re-learn how to trust. Both yourself and others. This is by far the most difficult task for those plagued by separation issues. Trust that if people like you, it's for who you are and not who you project yourself to be. You don't have to be better than you are -- that's good enough. It may sound like a Hallmark card but it's true. Of course everybody can improve themselves but playing a role will be seen through by anyone who even gets remotely close and then they'll feel threatened and deceived. Trust that you're really not that bad of a catch; neither better nor worse than anybody else and trust in that chemical click at the beginning. Your partner sensed something about you that they really liked -- why should you try to be any better than that!
  • See jealousy as your enemy. Also incredibly difficult if you're jealous by nature but it has to be relationship destroyer number one. You don't have to accept infidelity but you also don't have to predict it because you're afraid of it. Jealousy is the fear that you're going to be ditched in favour of something better. Now here's a truth; there's always something better and it's always available but only in a shallow, physical, one-off sort of way -- there's something better for you but also for him or her but what does it actually mean! You try to make yourself so attractive that the other couldn't possibly find someone else attractive but you're still fearful that they will. The point is that he or she will find others attractive; so do you don't you? It's acting on it that would be a problem but have you any evidence that that's going to happen? Are they more likely to cheat on you than you are on them? Yes it can be that selfish; the person with the most separation anxieties often has a guilty secret that they themselves could be capable of infidelity -- it's a sort of safety net to confirm attractiveness if their partner cheats. However doesn't that just sum up how unreal separation anxiety is? When you devise all sorts of compensation strategies in your head to make up for equally imaginary infidelities. Once you see jealousy for what it is, you can put it into perspective.

E.E. Cummings wrote: "We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit."

There's the key to solving both separation anxiety and commitment phobia: belief in yourself as a worthy human being. Your life experiences and your health as a person living with HIV may have shaken that belief to its core but restoring it, so that you can build healthy, loving relationships maybe your greatest achievement but Rome wasn't built in a day, so take your time; you'll get there in the end.

Finally, it's not for nothing that the official acronym for Separation Anxiety Disorder is "SAD."

More information can be found here:

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Read Dave's blog HIV, Neuropathy and More: Avoiding Becoming a Nervous Wreck.

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