HIV Negative; OCD Positive: I Obsess Over My Status

The OCD I've been diagnosed with focuses on an obsession (contracting HIV/AIDS) and the resulting compulsion (getting tested).
Publish date:
September 14, 2012

I'm a 24-year-old bisexual female and I'm HIV negative. I know this because I have been tested so many times I couldn't count if you paid me to. I haven't been tested due to high risk behavior, although I've gone through promiscuous periods. I always practice safe sex and have never taken intravenous drugs. The reason I've been tested countless times is because I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder.

People usually associate the word "OCD" with what is known as obsessive compulsive personality disorder. That's the classic obsession with cleanliness, organization, needing to touch a doorbell a certain number of times, basically obsessive compulsive traits that are ingrained into one's personality. The OCD I've been diagnosed with focuses on an obsession (contracting HIV/AIDS) and the resulting compulsion (getting tested).

In one of those incidences where you wonder if the universe has a sick sense of humor, I am an extremely sexual person. I love sex. I'm attracted to both men and women and proud of that. I like experimenting. (Always safely -- I used to wish my OCD would let up and I could have unprotected sex and not think twice about it like so many people do.) My doctor and I aren't sure whether my HIV obsession is a result of my sexuality, some sort of guilt manifestation, or just an unfortunate coincidence. What I do know is that it's been around for a long time.

When I was little I would go through dark periods where I couldn't think about anything but death. When middle school rolled around and people started making out I would obsess over catching oral herpes (cold sores) in the same way I now obsess over HIV. My mother and sister also suffer from anxiety disorders, so there's a good chance it's genetic.

I'm currently in a beautiful relationship with a man, not quite monogamous, but what I call "quasogamy" (quasi-monogamy). We only have intercourse with each other, but he is an incredibly understanding partner who knows I'm also attracted to women, and a point will come where I will want to act on that without sacrificing my relationship with him. I had just begun exploring my bisexuality when I met and fell him in love with him, and it doesn't seem fair to give up that part of me.

Needless to say, the OCD makes the possibility of either of us fooling around with someone else incredibly difficult. My obsession ignores science. I could sleep with someone and take every safety measure possible, and my reasonable brain will know I'm not at risk, but then OCD brain creeps in and whispers the never ending "But what if...."

Since currently I'm only having sex with my boyfriend, the anxiety is quite minimal. When I've been single, the thoughts were debilitating.

I remember being in my apartment kitchen and curling up on the floor, literally unable to stand because the thoughts were so overwhelming. It's led to panic attacks so awful I went to the emergency room convinced I was having a heart attack. I've tried every treatment imaginable, most recently Lexapro, which worked to silence the obsessive thoughts but completely killed my sex drive. I have a prescription for Ativan, but that works best if I only take it for the occasional panic attack. Right now, I'm just trying to get through with therapy, yoga, good sleep and less alcohol. A night of drinking makes my anxiety 10x worse.

Do you remember the final scenes of "A Beautiful Mind," where John Nash is still followed by his delusions, but he has learned to ignore them? That's where I am right now. The obsessions may never completely leave me, but I can learn to acknowledge them for what they are and choose to ignore them, and hopefully eventually they will soften their grip.

I can't end this post without adding that it's a good idea for all sexually active adults to get tested yearly. But if you're going 10 times a year without due cause, maybe also consider seeing a psychiatrist.