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Put an End to Your Fears, Stop Googling, and Go Get Tested

September 24, 2010

Occasionally, we here at TheBody.com are lucky enough to hear from readers who volunteer to craft their own articles sharing their stories and thoughts. This is one of those articles.

Jay S.

Typing "HIV" into Google for the first time was a terrifying experience. The Internet can be a scary place -- especially for a hypochondriac like myself.

The swarm of anxiety comes thanks to the excess of information out there that is mostly misleading, confusing or downright scary. I'd read, be consumed with my deepest fears, then quickly delete my history and hope no one was looking over my shoulder.

That was the game for me.

Soon I realized I wasn't alone. Google's top answers often led to high-traffic message boards that are breeding grounds for misinformation. Responses vary from ignorant to downright cruel and no one is an expert.

The Google search would continue: Analyzing symptoms that are similar to the common cold, attempting to determine my risk factors and viewing statistics that are mostly irrelevant to that "drowning in fear" feeling.

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For me, it became a routine. I wanted all the information that I could find to tell me that I didn't have HIV. I learned I wasn't "high risk." I am a sexually active heterosexual male with fewer than 10 partners -- all of whom I knew and/or was in a relationship with. (This isn't a technical term or statistical category, but one I created in my mind.)

I practice safe sex ... most of the time. But there were instances, more than a few, when I had not used a condom. In those instances, I'd immediately go through what became a "freak-out ritual." This ritual always began with the feeling of a hot blanket of panic engulfing my body, followed by the Google ritual and a process of trying to talk my mind out of the mere idea that I had contracted the virus.

I played another game: "The rule it out game." This included going one by one through every partner on my list and ruling out whether or not she had put me at risk. "Hmmmm ... I used a condom with her every time. No. 2 on my list was only with one other guy before me (at least that's what she said). No. 3 is a friend of mine and I would know. No. 4 ..." You get it. Sometimes this included awkward conversations with these former flames to try and gauge their own risk level (never a good idea).

It wasn't until later that I figured out that my rituals were all geared toward one thing: Not getting tested. The idea of getting tested terrified me. The image of someone in a white coat delivering bad news, such as telling me I had HIV, was more than terrifying. I'd rather not know. I'd rather play my ritual game and be the judge myself. I'd rather sit scared every night playing the "rule it out game" or relying on Google to answer questions in the way I wanted them answered.

The whole process was stressful. I couldn't focus. My ignorance of HIV -- similar to that of other people -- was built on fear and the stigma around the virus in our society. I was more nervous about how I would tell my family. Would I quit my job? What would happen to me?

One site that seemed to give the most up-to-date, educated information was TheBody.com. While the information was scary, it was reliable and reasonable information -- without the scare tactics. I learned about the different testing windows and different types of testing. What I gleaned from that important information was that an accurate test result would mean being tested after three months of the last potential risky exposure.

I knew being tested was inevitable. I had met someone who I loved more than anyone or anything. We were in a monogamous relationship and it was becoming more and more serious. Naturally, we were having sex. I always used a condom -- still convinced that I was unsure of my status. The feeling of giving her the virus was worse than any of my previous fears. I dwelled on it. What happens when we are married? When we want to start having kids? Gut-wrenching fears. This was supposed to be a wonderful time in my life, not one founded with worry.

After being together for some time, my girlfriend wanted to start having sex without a condom. She was on birth control, she said. "What is the problem?" Eventually, I told her my fears. I revealed a dark side of my thoughts. She asked the obvious question: "Why don't you just get tested so you will feel better?" Wow, I thought, that's impossible. I couldn't handle it. She made it sound so easy. But she didn't know.

In the 24 hours following that conversation, I couldn't think about anything but HIV. I was terrified. I couldn't eat; I couldn't sleep. It was one of my darkest days that I can remember. But I was lucky; my girlfriend couldn't be gentler about the situation. "It doesn't matter; no matter what, I will always love you and stay with you." Suddenly, I wasn't in this thing alone.

I decided that I would go to a local testing facility the next morning. That night, my mind was a mess. I called every moment after 6 a.m., waiting for someone to pick up to schedule an appointment. I must have called 25 times that morning until someone picked up. They told me they accepted walk-ins. It took about 20 seconds before I was out the door. My girlfriend came with me.

I decided I would do the full sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing, including being tested for HIV. I was moved into a room and met with a young guy (late 20s perhaps) who would walk me through the process. I remained horrified, but knew I was glad I came in.

I opened up to the stranger, telling him all my fears. It's a story I'm sure I wasn't the first to tell. That's when I realized I wasn't alone at all, and that millions have sat in that same seat, and millions have moved on with peace of mind. The HIV portion of the test was "rapid." This meant that the results would be back within 20 minutes. He took a small sample of blood and walked it into another room.

I won't lie. This was the peak moment of all my fears. I said more prayers in that time than ever before. Sitting there, leg shaking, he talked to me about risk factors and statistics. It was better hearing it from him than it was the computer screen. He said I was low risk, but stressed the importance of those who are sexually active getting routinely tested.

My leg was still shaking; he left the room to get the results. He returned moments later.

Negative. I did not have HIV.

Now, the feeling I had at that moment, it was as if I had taken all of those fears that I had carried on my shoulders for years and simply released them. I wanted to hug him, high-five him or do a dance. Should I tip him? He was my new best friend.

Leaving that office, holding my girlfriend's hand, was one of the greatest feelings in my life. Life was renewed. I could start thinking about my future. It was incredible.

My first thought was: "Why did I wait so long?" If I had done this years ago, I would have never felt the incredible stresses and worries that I endured. There were absolutely no benefits in waiting to get tested.

I told myself at that moment that I would share my story with TheBody.com. I know there are thousands, if not millions, who live with the same fears that I had. My hopes are that those who are currently in my former situation will go get tested and put an end to the worries. I also want to urge the professionals with knowledge of HIV to treat every question with delicacy and with the understanding of the vast fears behind those questions.

Don't play the Google game. Don't live in fear asking "What if?" It's not easy -- as I can attest -- but your answer is out there. No matter what, the result is a benefit to you.



  
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See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More on HIV Testing

Reader Comments:

Comment by: thapelo (south africa) Mon., Jun. 16, 2014 at 9:11 pm EDT
i have always wanted to go get tested but my fear would always get on my way.i decided a while ago that as soon as i finish writing my exams,which is this wednesday i will go for it.i have suffered long enough from this anxiety but after reading this article i am even more determined.thanx it helped a lot.no more playing google like i have been doing.
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Comment by: Damien (South Africa) Tue., May. 20, 2014 at 4:54 am EDT
Wow, I loved this article. I know this is late but thank you for sharing this. I am in the same boat. Stressing for the past 13 years that I have HIV and never having the courage to go get tested. I have finally had enough and I'm in the process of setting up an appointment. I don't have the support you do so I am trying to find a supportive doctor to help me through the process.

I don't know what I will do if I am positive but I cant continue with this worrying anymore!
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Comment by: David Sánchez (Bogotá ) Thu., Apr. 3, 2014 at 12:08 am EDT
I'm feeling the same and I have the same behavior when I get an sex encounter with someone else, I don't feel strong enough to do it. But I'm really tired to keep these fears in my shoulders.
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Comment by: caleb kyrian (owerri,Nigeria) Thu., Jan. 10, 2013 at 5:41 am EST
i had sex with an unsure partner and i saw how she was thin and became fearful if she had hiv. So that day,i went for hiv test after having sex,would the normal result answer be out?
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Comment by: Jane (Scotland) Thu., Jan. 3, 2013 at 12:19 pm EST
That's all well and good if you test negative. But if you don't, your life is destroyed. I would much rather not know what I now do, ie that I am positive. The possible future benefit to my physical health is vastly outweighed by the negative effect on my mental health.
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Comment by: Mark (South Sudan) Sat., Oct. 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm EDT
Many thanks for this article.It helps a lot of people including myself to gather courage and go for HIV testing.
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Comment by: Sam Winchester Fake Name (Los Angeles, California) Mon., Jul. 9, 2012 at 12:47 am EDT
Brother....now what to see....200% same fear i am having....It appeared as if I myself have written the article.....i am facing this same trial of first googling and then elimination.....but thanks to you now I will definitely go for a HIV test...Thanks again brother for giving me courage
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Comment by: Ange (New Jersey) Thu., May. 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm EDT
Ive been playing the google game after receiving some weird joint pain. I just scheduled a check check up and am going to be asked to be tested for everything. I have been a little less safe than you and am very scared. I am a heterosexual male and I have been able to focus. I met the girl of my dreams and I'm afraid of loosing my life if this ends up being my worst nightmare. Your article helped me though. I'm still scared but I know I have to do this. Thanks
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Comment by: Geranium (East) Fri., May. 25, 2012 at 6:59 pm EDT
Well said!
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Comment by: Serina (US) Fri., Feb. 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm EST
I stopped googling and got tested, with the oral swab test, only to have an expert here tell me to get retested due to symptoms, that my negative result meant nothing in light of the fact that I'm having abnormal lab tests and symptoms... I really wish I wouldn't have asked a question, it made me feel worse than i already did, was looking for reassurance the test I took was accurate, instead I got told it wasn't, thanks alot.
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Comment by: Adrian (Norway) Mon., Sep. 26, 2011 at 5:25 pm EDT
Thank you for this article, it meant everything to me.
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Comment by: bob (Indianapolis,IN) Sat., Aug. 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm EDT
Just make sure the testing is anonymous. Because if these religious nut jobs ever take complete control, they will round up the HIV positive people and put them into camps. Think it can't happen? With our Supreme Court it most certainly can happen.
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Comment by: Sat (India) Sun., Jul. 24, 2011 at 11:10 pm EDT
plz dont play google game means dont search info. of hiv on google. its much confusing and fearful .plz my request to all of u go to thebody.com and get complete scientific and accurate info. abt hiv and end all ur worries and fears and fly with freedom in life and every moment ennjoying of ur life .....good luck and tc. i get second life only from theboy.com and dr.bob thanks to this forum and dr.bob.
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Comment by: Hypochondriac (Oregon) Mon., May. 23, 2011 at 2:27 am EDT
Thanks, I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. I keep telling myself, there's a chance I'll be hit by a car that's greater and that doesn't stop me from living life. I feel like having symptom information easily available online is a curse sometime. But as you said, looking up probabilities won't help. I've even been tested twice, but every time I have a new partner (protected or not) I freak out and feel like it totally invalidated my former peace of mind.

I mean, chances are way more likely you get oral herpes, considering how common that is, but I don't think I've ever passed up an offer to make out with someone.

I guess I have to remember there's a difference between reasonable worry, and irrational fears. This must be no different than my fear of heights. I keep wishing I was back in a monogamous relationship just so I didn't have to worry about this anymore. It just ruins what should be a fun time in my life.

Well, I suppose regular testing never hurt anybody, but the unneeded stress will have to be dealt with psychologically.

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Comment by: Terri (DC) Tue., May. 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm EDT
I went and got tested yesterday after over FIVE years of worrying about whether I had HIV/AIDS or not. Like you, I began a relationship with a wonderful person and could not move forward not knowing my status and putting them at risk. I googled like crazy, read every message board,even called up a couple past sex partners to see how they were doing/feeling. Pretty much everything but taking matters into my own hands and getting tested. I finally broke down and got tested. I feel it is so much easier when you have a loved one go with you. I took my mother, who was as scared as I was! Fortunately, I results were negative. I am truly blessed and greatful for my result and upset at myself for being scared to know my status after all this time. I used to cringe and get scared everytimg I saw a commercial about HIV/AIDS, a billboard (there are so many in DC), ride behind a bus and see an advertisement, etc. HIV haunted me! I convinced myself that as an adult I needed to be RESPONSIBLE for my actions and know for myself. I have never felt so empowered in my life. While I was lucky, there are people who have set in that same chair I did and were told they were positive. We must always remember that.
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Comment by: Sophie (Austin) Wed., Mar. 30, 2011 at 8:52 am EDT
I love it! Yep, that was me, esp the 'assess the risk of the ex's' dance. I know avoiding testing changed the course of my life, in leaving or staying in relationships (as not to "expose" a new person)and many nights of worry. What I could have been doing with that energy!
I know say, GET TESTED. Put on your big girl panties and get it over with. No matter the answer it is better than the GD worry!
During my years of worry (yes, years) I never found The Body or it wasn't around-I predate the internet! The Body is awesome, so supportive, down to earth and informative. Yeah!
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Comment by: Maria (Texas) Sun., Feb. 27, 2011 at 11:40 pm EST
All I can say is Wow! Thank you for taking the time to share this with the world! I'm glad that you overcame your struggles and got tested. It wasn't easy but you did it!
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Comment by: Larry (San Antonio, TX) Mon., Dec. 27, 2010 at 4:31 pm EST
Yes I could probably go get tested too if I had someone I loved and who loved me go with me, but I'm all alone. I'm going through your story right now in my life and it's hell. But why find oput at 62 years of age.
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Sophie (Austin) Wed., Mar. 30, 2011 at 8:58 am EDT
62 isn't dead! But enough time to die early from AIDS, meds can help. I have always tested alonnnnneee, on purpose, scary, but it is just me-as I gotta live with it! Easier once it's done!


Comment by: Abby (New York, NY) Wed., Dec. 22, 2010 at 7:09 am EST
Jay--

I feel exactly what you are saying! I've been doing the google-game myself, except that I have another two months before the three month mark. It is absolute agony. Do you have any advice for how I can take my mind off it for the next eight weeks?
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Sophie (Austin) Wed., Mar. 30, 2011 at 8:57 am EDT
Get tested at 6, 7 weeks and then again at 3 months.


Comment by: Roger (Colombo,Sri Lanka) Tue., Dec. 7, 2010 at 2:17 pm EST
This article changed my life :- ) . I was having sleepless nights for over two weeks now thinking about getting tested but the fear of being HIV positive made me postponed the plan day by day .

Finally I got it done today and it's negative . I'm feeling like reborn today :-) .
and made a promise to god that I will never have any sexual encounters again in my life other than with my wife to be .

Now I have a lot of respect for people living with HIV coz I understand how strong you guys are . I just heard one Sri Lankan doctor is treating HIV patients and managed to cure some of them through some ayurvadic treatments . I had plans to meet him in case if my test goes positive . guys google the name Dr. D.D. A. Hettiarachchi and you will find some articles about him . ask me anytime if you need to consult him in my country :-)

god bless you all .
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Comment by: Rachael (Bronx, New York) Fri., Dec. 3, 2010 at 9:54 am EST
Simply amazing article, going to get tested ASAP. Can relate completely.
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Comment by: Green Trees (Atlanta) Wed., Nov. 17, 2010 at 7:36 am EST
Wow. You just told my story. It was so bad for me, that I even refused the HIV test at the doctor's office when I got pregnant. Luckily the Ob Gyn convinced me it's better to know than not know. My test results were negative as well, but getting tested is never fun. I've been tested a few times, and each time I've been terrified. Whether I've placed myself at risk or not.
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Comment by: Dan (Rhode island) Wed., Nov. 3, 2010 at 2:21 pm EDT
I think Susan's(Ft. Lauderdale Oct,10.) final sentence is the bench mark "...it could have easily been any of us" .
To Cleo in Toronto, if you really need to read something that is not going help you deal with the testing anxiety click on the CONNECT
tab and the "I Just Tested Positive" forum , plenty of pain and hurt in there .
I'm OC about Hiv , I undertand this , as a serial heterosexual sex addict I've put myself in very risky situations by not knowing my partners , (Never been with pay for pleasure Pros or 'hos )
but after reflection I see that it really doesn't matter in the larger sense. Unless you wait 3 months or so after having tested negative and are with that person 24 hours a day for 3 months
you really never "know" . Tests are only good for three months back from the date they were taken .
In real world application until we are with a soild monogamous partner ,condoms are the way of life . It so saddens me that we humans have taken one of the great joys of life and turned it into quasi medical procedure . I'm in my late 40's ,the real danger to the hetero community didn't really start to manifest itself until say 15 years ago . As one who enjoyed years--a couple decades actually , of sexual freedom , I cringe and feel for the generation today coming into their sexuality with such angst. After hearing a story of a 16 year young girl becoming infected the FIRST time she had intercourse, (As told by my clinic tester who was her clinician ) I FINALLY backed up and saw how prevelant and easy it is to "catch" .
So, here I am in month 6 , with almost 20 tests ,including RNA's ,Elisas, countless rapids, awaiting a DNA , and OC about symptoms.? EVERY test is a freak-out , and I can't stop !
I've promised myself if I get past this DNA test I'll see an Hiv Doc and hopefully hear a pro say you're Negative .
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Sophie (Austin) Wed., Mar. 30, 2011 at 8:56 am EDT
15 years ago, you mean in 1996-wow I was a afraid Hetero back in 87!

Safe sex isn't as fun, but you feel better later!


Comment by: terrified (Perth, Western Australia) Wed., Nov. 3, 2010 at 4:03 am EDT
Your story made me cry.... i was in your situations - still not been tested... i just want to die
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: terrified2 (USA) Wed., Mar. 30, 2011 at 8:53 pm EDT
I cry every time I read this. I'm happy his result was negative, but I know that my ending will not be such a happy one. When I think about how different my testing experience will be, I cry buckets. Don't know why I come back and read this again and again, when it only makes me have a panic attack... I just want to say that I know how you feel, you are not alone.


Comment by: skwart (overseas) Thu., Oct. 21, 2010 at 10:35 am EDT
I'm in exactly the same position right now. I'm playing the google game. The difference is I definitely had an encounter with a high risk individual. I need to get test in the next week. My office are demanding it. It's scary, more so since I have to immediately impart the result and then lose my job, and since I'm living overseas, my home an my friends and everything else. Then I'll have to go home and explain to my family and begin looking for a new career. Well, I hope I'm as lucky as you, but all my google game has served to do it enforce the idea. Now I'm playing in vain, trying to find a source of discrepancy that'll let me off the hook somehow. I'm looking for pictures of the seroconversion rash and trying to remember if mine looked like that. All this reasoning, but the thing is I already feel so sure, why can't I just have the test. Well thankfully the time has come when I need to do it, but with possible the worst possible outcome and the most conspicuous walk of shame at the end. Once I'm out I'm sure it won't be all that bad, once people have accepted it, don't cry when they look at me etc. I can see the more I look that it's partly the big ideas attatched the the word (I especially resent the fact that it's always capitalized AIDS and HIV, the easiest bit to spot in an article.. even worse if your dyslexic and you're forced to read it even when it's not there). Seriously though, I know guys who are HIV positive and they do great work, they channel their energy into the movement, into support groups and anti-stigma campains. They try to educate, and they're some of the best people I know.. it's just a hard step to make, it's a life change.. I know I won't be able to continue to live the life that's normal to me now. I don't want to change, but it's already done..

Thanks for the story, and the moment of hope. It was uncanny to sit and read you describe exactly what I was in the process of doing. Thanks for allowing me to to anonymously vent here too.
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Comment by: Ann (USA) Sat., Oct. 16, 2010 at 12:50 pm EDT
Interesting that we let our fears control and cripple. I need to get a test as well. I'm low risk (but what does that 'really' mean)...but I have not always been diligent about my protection.
Soooo, I am hoping to get tested by Nov 30, 2010. Why the wait? Just like the writer....jittery...but know its necessary.
Thanks.
This forum is great for all of us..because you don't have to be infected to be affected.
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Comment by: Susan (Fort Lauderdale, FL) Tue., Oct. 12, 2010 at 7:11 pm EDT
If I did not know better, I would think the artlicle was mine. For about ten years I agonized that I might have been positive. I had no idea of the classification of low or hight risk. Sex was a risk. I destroyed every relationship I was in after just one sexual encounter. This meant having more partners, but in my mind, less sex, less chances of contacting HIV.

I finally did the big girl thing and got tested about one year ago! What a horrible time in my life. I wanted to die before the results came out. I planned my funeral. I finalized my will.

That was before I educated myself about HIV/AIDS. I took me about eight months to get up the nerves to request my HIV results. They were negative.

By that time, most of the fear was gone because I had learnt so much about HIV, I felt empowered. I knew that my last exposure was almost one year before the test and two years before that. I knew I did not have to be tested again, unless I had sex again.

I am now in a new relationship and even thought we have not yet progressed to sex, we both know our status. I have been educating him about HIV/AIDS and I now know that the fear that I felt is more common than we realize.

We owe it to each other to treat persons not as fortunate with respect because it could have easily been any of us.

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Comment by: Tony (Paris, France) Sun., Oct. 10, 2010 at 9:31 am EDT
I'm feeling the same fears now, but now i have to wait at least 8~12~14 weeks (now i'm in the 2 week), so now the fears are eating my brain!, i think (far as i read here) that i have 'low-risk', but.. 5 penetrations without fluids, can be risky to.
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Comment by: Hilly (France) Sun., Oct. 3, 2010 at 4:30 pm EDT
Thank you so much for this encouraging story,
and congratulations for being so brave to get tested.
Good to know that other people have similar worries !

The way you act shows a lot of respect for your own and other people's health.
The fact that you used condoms consequently with your new love before knowing your hiv status is impressive, there are not enough people like you out there !
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Comment by: Cleo (Toronto) Thu., Sep. 30, 2010 at 11:21 pm EDT
I'm like you. Right now I'm in the same situation. I need to hear the other side of the story. You know...without the happy ending
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: Sophie (Austin) Wed., Mar. 30, 2011 at 8:54 am EDT
Get tested! Then you can tell your story. Either way, you can start on the rest of your life. Get it done!


Comment by: don warner saklad (cambridge ma) Tue., Sep. 28, 2010 at 5:10 pm EDT
How widespread is the strategy?... of
"BEFORE we have sex let's get tested TOGETHER
for A VARIETY of STDs."

Do sexual health checkups reduce the ambiguity and can they be
like anything else POTENTIAL sex partners do together?...

If you needed surgery would you want the surgeon to wash
before operating?...

If you needed a blood transfusion would you want the blood tested
before or after the transfusion?...

see also
http://notb4weknow.blogspot.com
http://continuedat.blogspot.com

"tested together" alerts
http://www.google.com/alerts
http://www.google.com/search?q=%22tested+together%22
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Comment by: Anon (Washington DC) Mon., Sep. 27, 2010 at 5:14 pm EDT
Oh my goodness. These have been my feelings about getting tested for quite some time. I am 41 years old and recently came out of a long term relationship. Regrettably I never asked if he had been tested and NEVER used protection w/him And 2 ˝ years later after our relationship ended I was still wondering what if he happened to give it to me ?? Or what if I had it and gave it to him ? I decided that if I was going to do adult behaviors then I needed to to do the adult thing and get tested. I went to my local health department September 8, 2010 thinking they would do the rapid results test but unfortunately they drew blood and I had an agonizing two weeks to wait. That morning before I went to get the results I was a nervous wreck. I was going to work afterwards but if for some reason it turned positive I had a box of tissues and some magazines prepared to go home and cry for the next two days. That morning it was all a blur and happened so fast. But the results were negative and I am so glad that I got over that psychological barrier of being tested. From now on, I will be more forthcoming w/future partners and request that we get tested together to protect my negative status !
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