As 2016 approaches, I find myself in discussions with friends and family about how we all are counting down the days until we can say, “Au Revoir!” to 2015. Shedding light on my previous entry, this has been the most difficult year of my life thus far. There may only be 22 and a half of them, but this one did a number on me.
Post-graduation, I was one Hell of a determined woman. I was lucky enough to establish an internship researching gender and minority issues, which was directly related to my degree. I awoke at 3:30 AM every day to make sure I got my workout in. I prepared all of my meals for the week ahead. I was on fire. I loved being surrounded by the energy of intelligent people who had similar goals as myself, to make an impact and establish change. Until one day in July, a different kind of impact was placed upon me. “This looks herpetic,” were the first words out of the doctor’s mouth.
My chosen field of study had educated me about STD testing, so I knew that the CDC does not require herpes testing when you ask to be “tested for everything.” Previously, I had a herpes scare with an IGM test (which I later learned, should not be the basis for any diagnosis). After informing previous partners, and getting yet another STD test, it was determined that it was a false positive result. A wave of relief poured over me. Little did I know that my herpes scare in 2013 would ultimately be 2015’s destiny.
No one wants to be the girl hiding tears on the examination table with her legs spread wide, or the girl that the nurse feels a compelling need to hug out of pity, but there I was, that girl. They scraped me for a culture and drew blood to test for all STDs. Several days later, I received a phone call alerting me that my blood tested negative for HSV 1 (oral) and 2 (genital). That same sigh of relief poured over me, it was just another scare—until it wasn’t. The next day I learned that my culture came back positive for herpes, signaling a recent infection. It takes a significant amount of time to develop antibodies to the virus, so it would not appear in my blood for several months. Until then, I threw myself into researching everything I could about HSV 1 and 2. Twelve weeks after my initial diagnosis, I received the results of my latest blood test: “This test confirms patient has genital herpes, HSV2 +.” I never realized how much it affected my self-esteem until I saw the paper reflecting proof that I carried the virus, officially. That weekend, I drank myself into oblivion. My hangover consisted of spending an entire day in my bed, sleeping, crying, and staring at that fucking piece of paper. Herpes won. I was defeated. I now consider those days as some of the darkest in my life. No one tells you what to do post-diagnosis. For months, I fell asleep reading herpes forums, hoping to educate myself more about the virus that now claimed my body as its home. I stumbled upon Ella Dawson, a herpes+ writer with similar career interests as my own. Her herpes disclosure gave me hope that one day, I too would be okay; I would be "one Hell of a determined woman" again.
In some sense, I feel that there is a greater purpose in my contracting the virus. I have career goals aligned with sexual health and education, so I firmly believe life is steering me on this course for a reason. I have learned a lot in my almost five months of being HSV2 +. The stigmatization of the herpes virus is more overblown than I originally thought. The looks and responses I have experienced from members of the medical community have been snide and judgmental. From nurses whom I have spoken with on the phone who asserted, "You should've worn a condom," to glances received after picking up my Valtrex prescription at the Target Pharmacy. Most people who have herpes, do not even know they are infected. This is commonly referred to as "The Silent Spread." Even if you use a condom, you can still contract and spread herpes. The only way to prevent its contraction is to abstain from sexual contact. You have HSV1 or cold sores? You have herpes, too. There is no "lesser" version of herpes. It is our terminology and misunderstanding of the virus that leads us to stigmatize the STD and those who carry it. This is what I hope to see change in during my life, and is a great portion of why I am so open, willing, and eager to discuss my HSV2+ status.
Friends and family members have seen me struggle navigating life post-graduation and post-diagnosis, and it has been a complete disaster--I have been a complete disaster. There are times when I have been an irresponsible, immature, and shitty person over the last six months. I cannot change my actions, or how I handled my herpes diagnosis, but I believe that in sharing my story, I have the potential to change others in similar situations as myself. For a brief moment of time, I let herpes define me, but now, I’m choosing to define myself. Positive things are headed my way in 2016, pun intended.
Helpful Herpes/STD links