I can remember when I was first diagnosed with herpes. It was around December 3, 2011. I had a few things come at me – I became an empty nester and about six weeks later my husband left. My life was turned upside down, to say the least, and then I got herpes symptoms that would suggest my worst nightmare (probably as a result of all the stress I was feeling). I tried to ignore the symptoms for a few days, tried my own remedies, tried to rationalize that it was nothing, but eventually I gave in and went for testing because it wasn’t going away. I wish I would have known then what I know now …
I had a partner about 9 years previous who had herpes but, to that point, I hadn’t had any real symptoms or “The Herpes Outbreak.” It was always in the back of my mind, though, and the one thing I always dreaded. So off I went to see the doctor. Now just making the appointment was hard enough. “Why do you want to see the doctor?” the receptionist asks. Hmmm … how to phrase this delicately to a complete stranger while standing in their waiting room? I may as well have had a blow horn to announce to the world “I need to check to see if I have herpes.” Death by herpes number 1.
I got in to see the nurse. She did the exam and as soon as she looked, yep, it looks like herpes, or it could be syphilis. Now, I admit, this is the first time in my life I was rooting for syphilis. The tests were done and the waiting began. A few days later I went in and got the diagnosis – “I have herpes, type 2.” My doctor was sympathetic but wasn’t exactly a fountain of herpes statistics. She said that I had to use protection when I had sex with a partner and that I would pass it along to anyone I had sex with. When I asked about herpes medication, she said I could go on drug therapy if I chose but that it wouldn’t stop the transmission of herpes, just the outbreaks and the amount of herpes viral shedding. She then sent me on my merry way, without so much as a pamphlet or a single word of encouragement. I left with a lump in my throat and feeling like the bottom of my world had just finally fallen out. That was the last straw for me.
I was devastated. I came home and processed the news. I remember feeling like my life was pretty much over – I will never, ever, ever, ever have sex again, never have another relationship and that my life was pretty much over as far as love goes. Who would accept someone like me? Herpes! Wow, you may as well have said I had The Plague or leprosy. It would have hit me just as hard. I took a bit of time to process and then I decided to reach out to see what resources were out there. I needed more information, I needed to understand this and I needed to know if I was the only one on the planet with this “sentence.”
I found some support sites for people who had herpes and I started reaching out and talking to people. I joined a local herpes support group and then other herpes social sites and through all these sites I started to develop friendships and to see from the experience of others that maybe my life was not, in fact, over. I went on outings with my local group and developed some really nice friendships and started to see that herpes does not need to define us or degrade us. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the most interesting, intelligent, caring people through this experience with herpes. I could see from these outings that we are just people and that herpes doesn’t make us any less of a person. In fact, it made us more understanding and accepting of ourselves and others. On our outings, herpes was definitely not the focus of our conversation. Being with them made me feel normal and accepted and human again and it really helped me to start to heal and get my perspective on what this really all meant.
What I wish I would have known
Now that it has been almost a year since my first diagnosis, there are things that I wished I had known on December 3, 2011. I wished I had known how many amazing people I would meet along the way and how many great friendships I would form as a result. I have met people from all over the United States, Canada and locally and have formed some really great friendships with people who have made my life so much richer for having met them. I have a much broader view of life and have learned so much about myself and what my priorities really are.
I wish I had known all the personal growth that would come as a result of having herpes. For the first time in my life, because of herpes, I took the time after my divorce to really examine what happened, to do the work required to heal and to take the time for me that I had never done in my life before. Before herpes, I just went from one bad relationship to another looking for the approval that I really needed to give to myself. Now, with herpes, I have taken time to really focus on me and what I want and need and where I want my life to go and what I really want it to look like. I have had time to examine my past, explore my dreams and create an amazing new life. I have taken courses to help me grow and to examine what I really believe and become much happier, mature and peaceful.
I wish I had known that love was still available to me and that not everyone is going to reject me because of herpes. There are people in the community of herpes to date and there are also people who don’t have herpes who will see that I am a great person who happens to have herpes. I have a lot more to offer than herpes can take away.
I wished I had known that one day herpes wouldn’t be on my mind night and day and that it is more of an inconvenience than anything else and that the first herpes outbreak is the worst. I had gotten through the worst of it already and I wouldn’t really need to think about it much. It’s been almost a year and I haven’t had another outbreak and most likely won’t again for a long time. Herpes is there but it doesn’t determine what kind of life I am going to have; I do.
I wished I had known that I can still do the things I want to do. A friend of mine told her story of how she was worried after her herpes diagnosis that she wouldn’t be able to give blood, which was something she wanted to do in honor of her dad. After being told by one nurse that no she couldn’t donate because she had herpes, she was relieved to find out when she decided to go through the screening process anyway that she could absolutely still give blood.
I wished I had known that the good that would come out of having herpes would far outweigh the negatives and that, at the end of the day, it is just a skin condition – a cold sore in a tender location, nothing more.
Finally, I wished I had known that I would actually be happier as a result of moving through it and it would all be okay. All I needed to do was reach out and to accept myself. And for the first time, I have really done that and that is the gift I received from having herpes – it is all going to be okay and I am amazing just the way I am.