When I was diagnosed with genital herpes, I spent most of the day in a tsunami of tears.
It is disheartening to discover that you are ill, but to discover that your body is home to an STD makes you feel inadequate and damaged, thanks to the stigmas our society perpetuates. After disclosing my HSV2+ status, I had numerous individuals reach out to me regarding their own statuses. They informed me of how much my disclosure helped them with their own diagnosis. That alone is so moving to me, and it makes me feel like I do have the power to make some kind of difference in this field. I often ask myself, “What would I have wanted to hear? What would’ve helped me through this?”
I am in no way a professional when it comes to any of this, but whether you have an STD, or are helping care for someone who has been diagnosed, I hope this enlightens your life and brings you peace throughout your journey.
We often like to think we are invincible, that nothing bad could ever happen to us or our closest friends and family members. The reality is that tough times do happen to good people.
You will be sad for a while, and you will get angry—an emotional reaction is natural. You have a right to your feelings, do not try to invalidate them; they will come up in other areas of your life and make themselves known in more destructive ways. I have always found difficulty in asking for help. Looking back, this was a time in my life when I probably needed some outside direction. I pretended to be okay for a while, but whenever alcohol entered the picture, I blacked out more often than not. I enjoy my wine and margaritas—don’t get me wrong, but the regular level of intoxication I reached post-diagnoses was unnecessary—and a direct result of concealing my feelings.
I am one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason. At my current place in life, I strongly feel that I am present here to spread awareness and help other individuals cope with their STD diagnosis. I am not sure how this will change or shift over time, but this feels right. Your purpose will be different than mine, but whatever that reason may be, it is usually a positive one if you dig deep enough within yourself.
WHO WILL WANT TO LOVE ME?
This was one of the first questions I asked myself in the car after leaving the doctor. It sounds like an over-dramatic, desperate, soap opera-like question, but it is realistic. You feel broken. You feel like you have “damaged goods.” Society tells us that people with STDs are promiscuous and somehow “deserve” what they get.
I have been told that I deserved to get herpes. These beliefs about infections make us see STD+ individuals as objects rather than people. We poke fun at STDs and think nothing of it, but in reality, we are equating these people to their diagnosis, and that’s not okay. My advice and solution to this question is to love yourself first. I have always been confident in myself, but loving myself has not been the easiest adventure in my life thus far.
Surprisingly, my herpes diagnosis has helped me with that. I’ve seen myself hit rock bottom, I have been torn apart physically, mentally, and emotionally. I always knew I was strong, but this experience has proved to me the level of strength I am capable of. Here
I am today, probably the most-Emily I have felt since my diagnosis, and I am continually falling in love with myself. I know that probably sounds conceited, but there is a distinct difference between cockiness and confidence. There’s a quote I saw on Instagram that says, “We beg women to love themselves, but tell confident women to calm down.” Be that woman that loves herself, wholeheartedly. Show the world your fire and watch your level of happiness increase. That goes for men, too. It won’t happen overnight, but I promise you, if you dedicate a part of your day to investing in yourself, the love will follow. Put into the world what you would like to receive. If you do not learn to love yourself within the context of your STD, it is unlikely that others will. I do not mean to sound harsh in that statement, but even without an STD, it is difficult to truly have a loving relationship with an individual who does not value himself/herself. I see these relationships fail time and time again, and I have been involved in relationships like that, too. The love you deny yourself cannot be found in other people, you must look within. The relationships that flourish are between those individuals who love themselves so effortlessly, and are so comfortable with their quirks, that they find someone just as quirky to share them with. Spend some time getting reacquainted with yourself post-diagnosis before you look to someone else to validate your worth. Hint: You are worthy.
WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
It is likely that you may never know the answer to this, which can be difficult to accept. STDs are tricky. For me, I was regularly tested for STDs, including herpes. At the time of my initial infection, my culture was positive and my blood results were negative, which signaled that this was recent—leaving it pretty obvious as to where it originated, based on my sexual history. Even if you are 100% sure of its origins, do not expect the responsible party to be there when you are having a meltdown. Do not expect that person to be there if you need someone to talk to about it. In short, do not expect anything of that person; it will save you a lot of time and grief. I had trouble struggling alone in this, and I still get angry when I think about it. As much as you want someone to be there for you, especially the person you contracted the disease from, it is a possibility that they may choose absence. They may choose that it is not a priority for them. They may choose not to share in this with you. They have a choice in this, it may not always be the right one, but they are entitled to making it. Just because someone should be there, does not mean that they will be.
HOW WILL MY SEX LIFE CHANGE?
This will vary depending on which STD you have, but it will change in some capacity. Firstly, your sex drive may not be what it once was. When I was diagnosed, I did not even want to look at myself, I felt disgusting. I did not see myself as the sexual person I once knew. It has taken me a while to get my desire back to speed. Secondly, you will have to disclose to current/future partners about your STD status. Although I see this as a moral obligation, there are some people who decide to forgo disclosure, which is one of the most selfish and disturbing actions you can take, in my opinion. If you know that you have an STD, or strongly suspect there’s a possibility you have one, please give that other person the knowledge to make an informed decision before consenting to any type of intimate relationship. Some people will be willing to take that risk, while others may not be--and that's okay.
In addition, there will be certain precautions you will have to take. If you are intimate with someone who has the same strain of herpes as you, your sexual relationship can remain pretty "normal," whatever that may be for you. Sometimes, I would get get flare ups due to the friction in sexual intercourse, but that's been the only "difference" I really had to deal with. Again, I cannot speak to other STDs as well, but these are all things to consider in your research.
CAN I HAVE CHILDREN?
Your perception of this question will vary depending on how you identify. Personally, this was not my biggest concern. At this point in my life, I do not foresee myself having children, nor do I really want them. I have certain goals that I would like to achieve and adventures I want to embark on, and I don't see how children will fit into that vision.
Yes, I am self-admittedly too selfish to have children, but I will settle for being the cool aunt. Although I do not want children, this question still crossed my mind. With herpes, yes, you can still bear children, but there are certain precautions you will need to take if you want to have a vaginal delivery. Also, if you are positive and your partner is negative, there are certain actions you will have to take if you’re trying to conceive. All of this information can be further clarified through a professional.
HOW CAN I PREVENT TRANSMITTING MY STD TO OTHERS?
Again, this will be STD-specific. Herpes can be transmitted whether you use protection or not. Every time you engage in sexual activity will be a risk for your partner. I am on daily antiviral therapy, which significantly decreases the chance that a partner would contract the virus, but that chance still exists. It is important to inform your current/potential partner(s) of your STD status, and his or her chances of contracting the virus. I have always been an advocate of safe sex, but my STD diagnosis has caused me to become even more aware of what precautions to take. For example, having herpes also makes me more susceptible to contracting other STDs, like HIV, so it is especially important to find out the STD status of potential partners. As much as I would like to trust people by their word alone, my health is not worth the risk. Ask for a hard copy: "Show me yours' I'll show you mine," should be the philosophy when it comes to sharing test results.
WILL I BE OKAY? WHEN WILL I FEEL LIKE MYSELF AGAIN?
You will be okay, but the time it takes to heal is different for each person. We are all so beautifully designed as individuals and how we process our emotions is completely different from one person to the next. I received confirmation of my herpes status in July of 2015. I first saw glimpses of my old self reappear in early November, but I do not think I was fully myself until late December/early January. There is no specific time it will take for you to feel back to “normal.” When you think about it, you never will be who you once were. You will change and grow from this experience, or, making a case for denial, you will run as far as you can.
OTHER WORDS OF ADVICE
Get informed. Learn as much as you can about your STD--you can never accumulate too much knowledge.
Tell your closest friends, give them information. They may not understand everything you’re going through, but they will be a shoulder for you to cry on. I chose to tell the world, but you don't have to. This felt right for me, it may not feel right for you.
Do not be afraid to seek professional help if needed. Sometimes we just need an objective point of view and someone to listen to--and there's nothing wrong with that.
Channel your emotions into creative energies—learn a new skill, take up a new hobby, get involved in your community. Become involved in things that make you happy and move you forward.
Buy the stuffed animal version of your STD. Yes, it exists and makes it a little less frightening. My herpes microbe's name is Herman and he looks like the sun.
No matter how angry you may be, do not seek revenge on the person who transmitted the STD to you. Let karma take care of business while you rise in resilience.
Don't listen to everything I say. My journey is completely different than yours'. My diagnosis, my story, the people involved. Yes, there will be similarities, but no two stories are exactly alike. Another big secret: I don't know everything. Although I am farther along than when I was first diagnosed, I'm still learning and have a long way to go.