I have herpes:

How to become stigma bulletproof

Hi I'm Adrial, the creator of the herpes opportunity and today I want to talk quickly about what stigma is and how to get rid of stigma forever ...

So what is stigma? Stigma is a perceived societal judgment — this mass judgment that all of society has, as if society is this one big organism that surrounds me and it's all judgement and it all feels like shit. It all has the judgments of I'm dirty, I'm unlovable, my life is over — especially my love life is over.

So all of that feels very real when we first get herpes. I know it felt really real when I first got herpes. I felt like every single person in the world judged me. So naturally what a lot of people want to do right off the bat is change all of society so that society won't have a stigma won't have judgment against me and especially the fact that I have herpes.

Well, that's skipping ahead a little bit. Because the first step to becoming bulletproof around stigma is to become more and more bulletproof around judgment. What does that mean? That means that ultimately, my own self-acceptance is stronger than outside judgment. Are we ever going to get rid of judgment in our society once and for all? Well, I hope so ... and until that time comes what can I do to practice actually not being impacted negatively by judgment? Not being negatively impacted by societal stigma?

Ultimately it's about accepting myself and recognizing all of those things inside myself that overshadow this little thing called herpes. Because if you are terrified of what society thinks about you having herpes, you are terrified of the beliefs that you already hold about herpes. And once you actually start to get clear on those beliefs inside yourself and how they're holding you back, then you can start to move past being impacted by societal judgement in general, especially stigma around herpes.

How to conquer stigma in the world is to start with me; it's to start with you. Because as we start accepting ourselves more and more, then we interact with other people in the world and we have relationships with other people in the world from this space of self-acceptance and that I am okay — regardless of what I have, regardless of who I am perceived to be, that I am okay, that I am lovable, I belong.

When we start interacting with the world from that okayness, then the stigma shifts.

I'll tell you a quick story to underline this idea. I was having a dinner with one of my best friends and her soon-to-be husband — her fiance. We were having fun, we're laughing, we're enjoying each other's company — it was a great time ...

Then my friend's fiance made a herpes joke.

I just looked at him and said, "Do you realize that I have herpes?" His face went white. He looked terrified and immediately became apologetic, not knowing what to say. Obviously he was very embarrassed and feeling awkward. I told him, "It's okay, I just wanted to let you know that when you say things like that, you never know who around you has herpes or not and how it might impact them."

It was just in that moment — just in that interaction — that I imagine he's not going to be making any more herpes jokes. He's going to have more awareness around how the stigma that he was speaking to, that he was making fun of, actually impacts other people.

Herpes stigma can be worse than the virus itself

Imagine this scenario: Someone blurts out “I think I have herpes.” All of the sudden, a Hazmat team rushes in with full bio-hazard suits and gas masks, they gas the evil herpes offender, then swiftly drag her out of the house … It’s actually humorous when put into this kind of a context, but isn’t this how most people feel when they first get herpes? At first, there’s an overwhelming sense of being contagious and dirty … a sneaky suspicion that quarantine may be necessary for the sake of saving the future of humanity. We clearly need to get real with our priorities. The harsh stigma of genital herpes grossly misrepresents the reality of herpes itself.

There are two sides to the genital herpes coin: On one side is the fact that herpes is not a big deal from a physical perspective (for most, it’s simply the occasional discomfort for a few days). But shouting “no big deal” from the rooftops might spread herpes more, so the other side to the coin is exaggerating the stigma to keep everyone else herpes-free. Basically, the stigma serves to terrify the non-herpes population sufficiently to avoid it, but intensifies the outcast feeling for those who have it, reinforcing the shame. Can’t we simply say something like “Everyone, try not to get herpes, but if you do, then it’s simple to live with”? This brings the conversation down to the level where it should be.

How you experience it really comes down to how you interpret the facts.

So with this in mind, how do you talk to yourself about herpes? Which side do you fall on? The side that tells you that it’s easily manageable or the side that intensifies your own pain and suffering? That choice determines suffering or happiness. But it’s ultimately yours to make. Which perspective serves you in your life? If you start relating to herpes from the point of view that it’s not life-altering, then — surprise! — it won’t be. It could actually be a life-affirming gift.

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