It is easy to get sucked into the negative when you get a herpes diagnosis. I remember the day that I was diagnosed. I was at the health center at my university and I had the most horrific first herpes outbreak anyone could imagine. Two solid weeks of not being able to sit, lay down, use the bathroom, or shower without excruciating pain. Not to mention the accompanying nausea, fatigue, and general feelings of misery. The nurse gave me the diagnosis and I felt my heart hit the floor. Who would want me now since I have herpes? With shaking hands I dialed my then boyfriend’s cell phone number. “The rash I have? It’s herpes,” I said, cringing with every word. “I had a feeling that’s what it was,” he replied calmly. “Are you mad?” I asked. “No sweetie,” he said, “you’re still the same person you were an hour ago. It’s just herpes. It’s not life-threatening.”
I was shocked. I was expecting anger — even fury. I spread herpes to him unknowingly because I didn’t recognize the symptoms, and here he was reassuring me! Together we researched home remedies and information on herpes that was now a part of both of our lives. We supported each other through our first outbreak and subsequent herpes outbreaks, until we finally went our separate ways a few months later. It was wonderful to have someone who understood what I was going through. It was even more incredible to have a partner who cared about me and supported me through a period of pretty intense anger and self-loathing. I felt dirty. I felt unlovable. I felt unattractive. He helped me get through those feelings, at least temporarily.
It wasn’t until I attempted to get back into the dating scene that I realized that not everyone was so understanding. I was rejected countless times. It got to the point that I started disclosing on the first date just to get it over with. My reasoning was at least if (and when) he rejected me, at least we would have only wasted one date. All those feelings of inadequacy, self-loathing, and depression came flooding back. I became convinced that I was never going to find someone who would want to “deal with” my condition. I felt myself descending into what I have now termed, “the yuck.”
The yuck is a place of toxic feelings. It harbors the helpless victim mentality and feeds into feelings of anger, resentment, blame, and sorrow. It is easy to get trapped in the yuck. It’s like quicksand. One minute you’re doing okay and then as soon as you have a bad date, an outbreak, or even hear a herpes joke, you’re right back down in the pit of despair. I felt broken, worthless, and alone.
Gradually, I started to learn more about herpes. I learned about herpes transmission rates and ways to keep outbreaks under control. I learned that there were herpes dating sites and herpes support sites for people with herpes. I found a therapist and did some hard work with her, including letting go of my anger at the guy who raped me (which is how I ended up with herpes). I started to grow. I decided that I needed something to represent my new outlook on life. I’m a firm believer in body reclamation, and for me, that sometimes takes the form of tattoos.
Halloween 2009, three months after my rape and one month after my herpes diagnosis, I decided to get a lotus tattoo on my right shoulder. The lotus flower grows in the mud in shallow water and does not bloom until it reaches the surface. While it’s growing, the flower petals are safe inside the blossom, which keeps them from getting stained by the mud. I always loved the symbolism of the lotus flower, but I didn’t realize how accurate the metaphor was for me until about two years later. I battled my anger, my resentment, and my self-consciousness many times over those two years. Healing is not a linear path. There are twists and turns, forks and loops. It took a lot of tears, many sleepless nights, and a lot of support to get me to where I am now.
Underneath the lotus is a Tibetan Buddhist mantra: “Om Mani Padme Hum.” This mantra is a devotion to Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. It serves as a daily reminder that I cannot know where someone else has been or what has led them to this point. It encourages me to show compassion to others as well as myself.
Thanks to Adrial and the Herpes Opportunity, I found the strength to “come out” about having herpes. I told my friends, family, and the internet. I have to say, I have never felt so free in my entire life. It feels wonderful to be able to speak openly about having herpes, instead of saying the word in hushed tones while constantly looking over my shoulder wondering who might be listening and judging. I look forward to talking about herpes during my weekly Skype call with Adrial. I get excited that other people will see our videos and hopefully crack a smile or giggle at our silliness. I feel genuine and authentic, which is a huge improvement over the way I felt when I was still “in the yuck.”
I encourage everyone to take time to reflect on where they are in the growth process. Are you still in the yuck? Don’t worry, there are others there too and you can help each other grow. Are you growing but not quite at the surface? Reach out and let people help you. And to those who have blossomed: Share your beauty with the world. Don’t be afraid of your roots. Remember them; because they are a testament to your strength and perseverance throughout this journey.