A while back, I trusted someone I shouldn't have. I was dumb and in a bad place. This person was not who they said they were, and their intentions were not what they said they were.
They got photos of me that I wish they hadn't. Embarrassing ones. Nothing illegal. You know what I'm talking about.
After that, I realized they weren't who they said they were, and I cut contact. I haven't heard from them since. But they have my photos.
And now I sit and wait for these photos to show up somewhere. It's been about 18 months. Nothing has shown up. I regularly Google my name and the email address I was using at the time, as well as the other person's "name." Nothing.
I don't know for sure that these photos were intended for public viewing, but it's easy to imagine that they would end up that way. They might be there, sitting on some website, waiting to be discovered. Or they might not be. I don't know. I never will.
Now I wonder, how am I to live the rest of my life with the knowledge that these photos could, at any time, turn up? How can I have this hanging over my head, the idea that in a year's time, 10 years' time, 40 years' time, these photos will turn up? Obviously there's nothing I can do. I can't stop it if it's going to happen, but how do I live with the anxiety that they could turn up, and ruin a job, a relationship, a family life? I also have paranoid fantasies about the future of the Internet, where everything is easily retrievable, where facial recognition snaps to life and brings up every record from every corner of the Internet of a person and their past.
I wonder, is this the one stupid mistake I made that will come back to tear apart everything?
It's affected my life. I don't feel safe. My normal high anxiety levels are higher. I used to want to achieve in an area of public visibility, and was making some good roads to becoming known in certain areas. I've now retracted, feeling certain that the moment I achieve any sort of profile, my past -- this one or two stupid weeks of bad decisions -- will come and get me. Similarly, when I meet people who I think I could have a relationship with, I think "What if, somewhere down the track, they found out? They saw?" So, again, I retract.
That's it. I know that in a way it's an unsolvable problem. I also know that it's at least partially fed by my own highly sensitive neuroses, and partially fed by fact. I can't tell how much of each equals a reasonable amount.
If you've got any answers for me at all, any way to manage this without tipping over the edge, I'd certainly appreciate them.
Shouldn't Have Said Cheese
Dear Shouldn't Have Said Cheese,
Thank you for confiding in me. I'm grateful for the courage you have shown in sharing your story. The fact that you were able to confide in me shows that you still trust some people.
Truly, it is difficult to live in a world where some people cannot be trusted. Yet we must live in that world. We cannot eliminate all those who might at some point not be trustworthy. We cannot always know what people are thinking. Even the smartest of us can be deceived. There is no shame in that.
I hope you will continue to show your trust, and take my advice and reach out again, to get some help with your anxiety. Now is a good time to do so, because anxiety can get worse as you go along. If you reach out now for help managing and minimizing your anxiety, the opposite will happen: You will gradually find ways to form trusting and strong relationships, which will make you feel more secure in the world, and you will learn ways to cope with these fears about the future that come up from time to time.
Here is a site provided by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America that will help you find a therapist to talk to about this and other concerns you may have. (Please note that if you do not want to provide your address, you can leave those fields blank and search simply by state or, if you are in Canada, by province. Also note that the First Name and Last Name fields are for the name of a therapist, if you know of one you want to search for.)
This one incident has left you anxious, and it is important not to let that anxiety grow. You also mention feelings of paranoia and a desire not to tip over the edge. So I suggest you find a therapist to work with now, before you have to suffer more worry and anxiety. This situation can be resolved. If you get help for this now, I think you will be able to look back on this and see that it turned out OK. You will feel stronger and optimistic about the future.
I have great faith in the ability of trained psychotherapists and psychiatrists to help us overcome problems of anxiety and paranoia. I myself have been told by a Ph.D. psychologist that I have a tendency toward anxiety, and I have been helped by my many conversations with him.
So I know from personal experience that it is possible to be helped in situations like this. But it is important to act.
So find someone to talk to about this and commit to seeing that person regularly for a while. After a bond of trust develops, you will be amazed at how relieved you feel.