Here is another condition related to HIV; however, it afflicts HIV negative people, not positive people. The term “worried well” refers to someone who is at very low or no risk for infection fearing that they have the disease anyway. There are different levels of severity to this, but it can cause a person great distress. Although the person believes that their fear is related to HIV, the virus usually has little or nothing to do with the actual cause of their distress. Generally, this is caused by someone’s guilt feelings over whatever it is they think they did that would have led them to be infected.
There are some signs to look out for if you are suffering from this HIV hypochondria:
If any of this sounds like you, you may be worried well and may want to explore counseling to deal with your anxiety. Being worried about HIV is natural; it’s a scary thing, but if that fear is controlling your life, that isn’t natural, and you should seek help. If you are going through this, you’re not alone, it happens more often than people realize. It even happened to me.
I went through a worried well phase myself, and I know how unpleasant it was. When I had gone through my phase, I actually had done a high risk behavior (unprotected anal sex) and caught chlamydia from him. I was tested at five weeks after the last time I had unprotected sex with him, so I may or may not have still been in the window period. The man I had the unsafe sex with was also tested at eight weeks following what he stated was the last time he had been with anyone who wasn’t me (much less likely, but still possible, that he was also in the window period). Shortly after receiving my results (negative), I had a no risk activity (received a blow job, no visible blood) from an HIV positive man, which also meant I cheated on the man I was dating. Instead of focusing my concern on the real risk I had taken with my boyfriend, I focused on the no risk encounter. I had myself convinced that I had caught HIV from that man, and that I was going to test positive. Luckily, I managed to get some control of my fear, but it took some time. During that freaking out phase, I did many of those things I listed above. I called the CDC repeatedly with questions about HIV, spent hours on the internet reading about HIV, all I thought about or talked about was HIV. Hell, that experience is the whole reason I started this web site.
Worse, the next day after I received that blow job, I got sick with the flu. I had myself convinced that I happen to be one of those really rare people that has ARS right away. This was despite the fact that both my roommate (a person I never had sex with) and boyfriend also got sick at about the same time with the same symptoms. I had myself so worried that I remained sick for much longer than I normally would have (over a month). I went to two doctors. I now believe the first doctor gave me a correct diagnosis of what was actually wrong with me (I had a flu virus that was taking me a long time to get over, possibly due to anxiety), but he gave me some very incorrect information about HIV, and scared the hell out of me. He told me that receiving a blow job from an HIV positive person is high risk because the virus could be transmitted by saliva, that I must inform my partner (which I had already done when he dumped me, and I hadn’t had sex with him after I had cheated anyway), that I must wait 6 to 9 months to take my test, and should consider myself “HIV indeterminate” in the meantime. He was also the same doctor who had ordered my five week HIV test, and at that time, told me they would tell me my results over the phone. Imagine my terror when I called in to get the results and they said the dreaded words, “you have to come in.”
Despite the fact that I was already very well informed about the disease and knew what he said was wrong, I got scared anyway. To clarify, HIV is not transmitted by saliva, so receiving a blow job is no risk unless the person has a significant amount of blood in their mouth, even then, it is not “high risk.” In addition, the window period for HIV testing is 3 to 6 months, not 6 to 9 months. Also, some private physicians will give negative test results over the phone, but most will require that you come in to get the results, regardless of what those results may be. In my case, since the only part my doctor really had in the testing process was ordering the test, he didn’t know his office’s procedure.
So I went to a different doctor. The new doctor actually knew what he was talking about when it came to HIV, and informed me that, based on my and my ex-boyfriend’s test results, I was probably not infected from my high risk activity, and that if I got infected by the blow job, I would, as he put it, “be the first.” He also confirmed the diagnosis that I had a flu-like virus that was taking me a long time to get over, most likely due to stress. He also suggested that I should take a test at six months after the high risk activity just to be sure, but he didn’t sound like he thought it was all that necessary.
This did help calm me down a bit, but I was still anxious about it, and got the test at three months after the high risk activity. Luckily, that test was also negative, but I still have a bit of anxiety relating to the whole experience.
I have also learned to realize what my real reason for having so much anxiety actually was. Since I knew my chances of actually being infected with HIV were very low, I shouldn’t have been all that scared of having been infected. What really was the cause of my anxiety wasn’t HIV at all, but was the fact I had cheated on my boyfriend. I had never cheated on anyone before in my life (and never will again), and the guilt just about killed me. Instead of dealing with those guilt feelings, I transferred it to a fear of HIV.
I was lucky and didn’t need to go to counseling to get through the experience, mostly due to a strong network of friends I have who endured my obsession and helped me through it. Although, there were many times the idea of counseling sounded reasonable.