A week ago, I found myself doubled up on the toilet, nearly at the point of fainting due to the amount of sheer pain I was in. I would feebly attempt to empty my bladder, only having to stop halfway through to take a deep breath and struggle to continue. I have had more than my fair share of UTIs, but this pain did not come close. A day or two into this, upon further inspection of my downstairs, I noticed the small but noticeable bright red blisters that had seemingly sprung out of nowhere.
Blisters. On my genitals. The classic sign of a herpes outbreak. It (unfortunately) made sense; I was sexually active and not the most adamant about using protection every time. I had multiple partners. I had only been tested once for herpes. It all added up to one very scary thought, and try as I might, I couldn’t get that thought out of my head.
As I called and texted my closest friends, they each reassured me it was nothing more than an infected ingrown hair, or a reaction to detergent, or just some weird inexplicable skin disorder. But I knew deep in my heart that this was the one diagnosis that I never, ever thought I would be willing to face.
As that week dragged on, I stopped sleeping because of the pain. I couldn’t eat. Sitting, standing, even walking was becoming difficult. So I made an appointment with my doctor, who confirmed my worst nightmare. It was absolutely, positively, unmistakably herpes. And it was here to stay, in my body, forever.
And you know what? As my doctor wrote my prescription, I was…relieved. Yes, relieved. I wasn’t going to be in pain anymore. I knew exactly what I had. The late nights of Googling every possible symptom were over (and by the way, I would NEVER recommend using the internet to diagnose yourself). I could take this news and carry on with my life.
As I walked out of the hospital, I took a deep breath and made the necessary phone calls. I called my mom and my best friend, who both reassured me that I would get through this. My best friend and I decided that I would let the news sink in before I told any of my previous partners. We agreed that I needed to take care of myself first.
So, as I write this, it has been exactly one week since I had my diagnosis. I have officially notified all previous partners (who took the news with class and maturity) and am finishing up my first round of antiviral drugs. And guess what?
Nothing about my life changed.
I mean it. I am still the same exact person I was before herpes. I still have the same sense of humor, still have the same interests as I did before, and by just looking at me you’d never be able to tell what’s hanging out in my system.
I see herpes as just a bump in the road. I don’t know how many outbreaks I might face this first year: not even my doctor can tell me. But I won’t be caught empty-handed and I’ll learn to read the signs of my body, just like I had to read the signs that my period was coming in middle school. It took a while and was pretty hit-and-miss but once I got it down, I could read my body like a book.
With time, the same with come with herpes.
At the end of the day, herpes is just a skin disease. It is like eczema or acne; annoying to deal with but completely controllable. I don’t think anyone with herpes should feel disgusting or less attractive. In fact, if you’ve had to deal with herpes, you are a stronger, smarter person who knows the inner workings of their body and mind. And nothing is more attractive than that.
In regards to dating: you can call me blissfully ignorant because I haven’t had HSV-II long enough to be brutally, horribly rejected by some asshole who won’t date me because I have an STD. And I hope that day will never come. But let’s be real. If anyone gives you shit about having an STD, then they don’t deserve to bask in your greatness. And frankly, if someone who seems to be into you but suddenly gets cold feet when you mention the word “herpes”, there was probably not much of a spark to begin with. As cliché as it sounds, the right person will love you for who you are, medical conditions included.
If you receive a herpes diagnosis, remember this: you are still as wonderful, smart, funny, beautiful, talented, interesting, and lovable as you have always been. Try and see the positives, like inspiring you to take better care of yourself (maintaining a healthy diet and immune system is crucial to keeping outbreaks under wraps) or engaging in better communication with all sex partners from now on. And if you find yourself so deep in self-loathing, remember that you are not alone in this. Chances are someone you know has herpes. Start a conversation with someone you trust. Get educated. And most importantly, take care of and love yourself. You are your worst critic, especially in times like these, but you can also be your biggest supporter.