Contracting herpes often comes as a shock to people and leaves them in a state of confusion, fear, and shame. When I was first diagnosed my biggest questions were “How did this happen to me?” “How will this affect me?” and “Will I ever be able to live a normal life again?” Herpes was a scary realization at first, and I spent a lot of time worrying about the unknown. Now that almost a year has gone by, my life is nowhere near the horror story that I imagined it would be. In fact, my relationship to herpes has completely changed, and my life is more open, loving, and exciting than ever. I’d like to share some information I wish I knew when I was first diagnosed.
“How did this happen to me?”
There are different ways that someone can get herpes. According to the CDC, herpes can be spread through anal, vaginal, or oral sex. HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be found in and released from the herpes sores that the virus cause. HSV-1 is oral herpes, which can be transmitted by kissing when there is an open sore to the mouth. An open sore on the mouth can also spread the virus to the genitals during oral sex, causing the partner to breakout in “fever blisters.” HSV-2 is more often than not genital herpes, which is mainly spread through genital to genital contact when there is an open sore. The virus enters a new host through breaks in the skin. There is also a smaller possibility of spreading herpes when no signs of the virus are present. This is called viral shedding.
“How will this affect me?”
Herpes hasn’t affected my body nearly as bad as I thought it would. The first outbreak was the worst, leading me to believe that I was going to have flu like symptoms and extreme burning every time I got an outbreak. What I’ve come to find out is that none of my outbreaks have been anywhere near as bad. The first herpes outbreak is always the worst because your body hasn’t built up antibodies to the virus yet. The sores may take up 3 weeks to heal (without medication), and can cause burning, itching, fevers, chills, and swollen lymph nodes. According to WebMD, people who have symptoms average about 5 outbreaks during the first few years. 15-20% of people actually never have an outbreak again after their first. In my experience, I have had 3 visible outbreaks in my 1st year of having herpes. Each outbreak has been shorter and less painful than the previous, and they are nothing like the horror pictures that are shown in health class.
“Will I ever be able to live a normal life again?”
Yes! My life is totally the same. The only thing that’s changed is that I don’t have sex when I have an outbreak. I still work the same job. I still exercise. I still go out and enjoy time with friends. I eat. I sleep. I play with every dog in sight. I shamelessly eat chocolate in inappropriate amounts. Everything I did before my diagnosis; You name it, and I still do it.
As I shared before, contracting herpes hasn’t been the horror story that I thought it would be. I used to think that it would take away so much from me. What I’ve come to realize is that “I” am the only one who can take away anything from me. Herpes doesn’t have that right.
I am the author of my own life. Sometimes, I write with a pen and can’t go back. But what I can do, is keep writing and move forward.
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”
— Maria Robinson