A few months ago, I decided against my better judgement to join an online dating site. It had been years since I’d dated anybody and my last relationship had left me doubtful of ever finding someone who’d truly understand my neuroses. It was mostly an exercise in facing the fear I had of making myself vulnerable, and I really had zero expectations that I would meet anybody I clicked with, much less agree to meet in person. But to my surprise, I did meet a guy I got along well with. The conversation was effortless, and we shared lots of common interests. We moved to the phone pretty quickly, and it was during these conversations I told him about some of my ‘quirks’ as he called them. Oddly enough, he was undeterred and expressed a desire to meet me. He’s a real ‘ let’s meet up in person straight away’ kind of guy. And I am, of course, a ‘put it off forever and let’s just stick to the phone where I can’t fuck it up in real life’ kind of girl.
But he persisted, and eventually after piking on him twice, I finally found my nerve to go and meet him for lunch in the city. I was incredibly anxious, but he seemed understanding and empathetic, which helped put me at ease. After a successful first date, we saw each other a few more times, each time becoming more comfortable with one another in a familiar sense. It felt good to hold someone’s hand, and feel their hands wrapped around my waist when he stood behind me. I confessed to him early in the peace, that it had been a long time since I had been intimate with a partner. I explained how daunting I found the prospect of physical intimacy due to my obsessive thoughts about STI contamination. He seemed to understand my concerns and was sympathetic to my worries. This was important because it was heading in the direction of a proper adult relationship where sex might be involved and that filled me with a mix of nerves and dread. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be with him, but sexual activity with any potential partner put me on high alert. You’re looking at a girl who wears rubber gloves to touch even her own genitals, so you can imagine how daunting the prospect of being with another human being is. But if I want some semblance of a regular life, maybe even with a partner who could fall in love with me, I knew it was an issue I’d have to face.
I asked him on the phone one night if he’d go with me to be tested for STI’s. Given that I freak out on the regular, I’d had them done periodically even though I wasn’t actually active with anyone, so I already knew my status, but it seemed like a nice thing to offer to do so I could engage with him physically without my OCD and Anxiety on such high alert. He assured me that he’d been tested recently and he too was negative for STI’s. I was hesitant to take his word for it, but I kept telling myself I need to stop letting obsessive “what if’s?” rule my life. And so, on our next date we fooled around. I wasn’t ready for actual sex, but it was nice to feel close to someone again. But literally, the minute we were finished, rather than enjoying the post carnal glow, I began to nose dive straight into meltdown mode. I managed to keep it together through dinner and on the train home, but as soon as I got inside I took another shower and scrubbed myself practically raw. I swished mouthwash on and off for twenty minutes, while silently praying it would kill any lingering bacteria. I barely slept that night. By the next day, I’d replayed our conversation about being tested for STI’s a thousand times. Did he say he was negative for everything? Had he had any other partners since he was tested? All these questions swirled in my mind, making me dizzy and confused and panicked. And so, I called him.
“So, you know when I asked you about being tested, yeah? And you said you were negative? Have you actually slept with anyone else since then?” And then came the answer I was dreading. Yes, he had slept with other women after that. I felt my face grow hot and my chest tighten. What the fuck? Why in god’s name wouldn’t he have told me that? “You never asked” was his reply. I felt my stomach drop and my brain begin to implode with doubt and fear. I was so seethingly angry with myself. With him. Rationally, I know that fooling around without any penetration was a relatively low risk activity, and something that most people would engage in without any further thought, but for me it was a huge risk, physically and emotionally. “It’s fine, Prue…the girl I was with was tested too, so it’s cool.” He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy enough to take the word of his previous partner that everything was ‘fine’ as he put it. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I was so angry with someone. I’d told him about my fear, anxiety and OCD repeatedly, and yet he didn’t consider my feelings at all. He knew how long it had been since I was with anyone sexually, and all the reasons why I hadn’t. Now not only was I angry, I was devastated too, by his lack of consideration and the fact that he couldn’t see anything wrong with his omission.
In a panic, I made a doctors appointment for the next day. I begged her to test me for everything I was at risk for. She told me that it was probably too early for testing to pick up anything, but I begged her to do it anyway. She printed out a pathology request for bloods and urines, and another for me to repeat in two weeks time. Those first 14 days after the act were uncontrollably bad mentally. I had repeated panic attacks that exhausted me. I frequently consulted Dr Google for every statistic I could find about potential infection, mostly about HIV and Hepatitis. It was all I could think about, literally every waking hour was consumed by fear and anger at myself for being so stupid as to trust someone’s word without the evidence to back it up. At day 14, I went back in for testing. I felt like I was holding my breath with anticipation. Everything was negative, but I knew the incubation period for HIV could be up to 90 days, so there was still no relief. The doctor told me I’d have to come back in for another blood test in a further 2 weeks, and then again after 2 more months.
The past 3 months have been the worst I’ve endured since I checked myself into hospital last year. There have been times, I thought about admitting myself again because I couldn’t tolerate the level of anxiety I’ve been feeling. I’ve had nearly dozen complete breakdowns and at times, even felt suicidal. I know rationally this seems like an extreme response to the relatively small risk I took, but my brain doesn’t compute rationality. Even yesterday, when I received the negative results to the 3 month post exposure blood test, it only brought me a miniscule measure of comfort. I probably won’t be satisfied until I’m tested further at 6 months, and again at 12. And what’s ridiculous about that is that the guy I was with went and got tested again when he saw the level of distress I felt about the whole situation, and sent me his results that indicated that he was HIV negative. Not even that was enough to assure me that I’m safe. My mind instantly dissects the situation into tiny fractured doubts, like what if he was still in the incubation period and it just isn’t showing up? What if the test results his sent me are fake or doctored in some way? So on, and so forth. Worse yet, I’m smart enough to know that HIV is not the death sentence it used to be when I was growing up. It’s treatable and manageable with medication that can even make your viral load undetectable. I feel tremendous guilt that my illness has grabbed hold of this particular diagnosis to torture me with. I know the kind of discrimination that folks who are Poz can still face, and I feel a huge sense of remorse that I’m somehow contributing to that. It’s moments like these I’m so incredibly ashamed of my OCD and it’s manifestations. I don’t know why it chooses to obsess over the things it does.
So, it’s safe to say I’m probably unlikely to ever fool around or partake in sex again, or at least until I have my OCD safely under control, which I fear will never actually happen.
Until then, here’s to owning more cats, taking out shares in Duracel and a lifetime supply of hospital grade gloves.