Getting Diagnosed: "So You Have Herpes"
I’m convinced my Herpes has a mind of its own. The nasty little guy always seems to know when I have an important deadline, get a new job, and of course, meet a potential lover. And even when none of the above is happening, the jerk just decides to pop his head out and give me a hard time about once every two weeks. Yes, I’m one of the lucky ones who have recurring, sometimes constant, outbreaks. We are the portion of the Herpes-carrying population who deal with the disease on a regular basis. (Oh to be a carrier sans outbreaks) It affects our daily lives and yet we are quieted by social norms…suffering silently. You can’t very well go to work and tell your boss: “Gee, my genitals are really on fire today, I think I’m gonna stand during the meeting.” We are cheated of sympathy that other disease-carriers get, yet the emotional and physical suffering is deep. If you’re reading this then chances are you have Herpes as well. Maybe you’re one of the fortunate who is a carrier with infrequent outbreaks. Maybe you’re like me, consumed by the disease. In any case, it’s important to know that there are many of us out there, and our lives will not end because we have the Herpes virus.
First getting diagnosed is very difficult. Feelings of guilt, shame, filth, and regret are taxing to one’s mental health. I remember that for about six months I couldn’t discuss it at all without bursting into tears. And then just as I was starting to feel ok with it, I found out I had HPV. Great, more tears and awkward phone calls. Having the Herpes virus, and it’s persistent symptoms, has certainly changed my life. I find myself dressing like a hippie in cotton loose-fitting clothes. I used to love wearing thong underwear. Now I just want what’s most comfortable…and what’s most comfortable is what Grandma’s got. I’ve had to change my diet and ween myself off of some of my favorite foods and drinks. But although I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a blessing as well as a curse (it is completely the work of the Devil), some good has come of it. For example, it has forced me to examine my lifestyle and make an active effort to enhance my immune system. After noticing a relationship with caffeine and outbreaks, I’ve stopped consuming caffeinated products. I’ve cut down on my sugar and started eating more balanced meals. I’ve also made more of an effort to fit exercise into my busy schedule. (These are all things recommended by doctors anyway, but sometimes you gotta feel the pain to understand their advice.) I now have an excuse to sleep more and keep stress at a minimum, because sometimes I forget I don’t need an excuse for that. I have also gotten better about waiting before getting physical with someone new, a healthy change from my previous promiscuous habits. Additionally, I’ve heard theories (and I’m no medical authority on this) that people with Herpes have tougher immune systems to fight off common illnesses. Sure enough, for most of my life I got a predictable cold every winter that ran me through the usual sore throat, cough, etc. Now I can’t remember the last time I had the common cold; it must have been years ago. So when life gives you Herpes, make kind to your body!
I was diagnosed with Herpes over five years ago, and in the time since I have found that the Internet can be a great resource for information as well as community-building. I’ve never been interested in Herpes dating websites because I don’t want my personal misfortunes to dictate how I choose a mate. However, I have felt much relief and many a revelation from simple blogging sites such as this one. I hope that as a regular blogger I can offer some insight into living with Herpes and help create a community in which people feel free and safe to ask questions, discuss topics, and tell their personal stories (which can be a great emotional release!) without feeling like they are defined by the virus. We may be living with Herpes, but Herpes does not rule our lives.
Penelope wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Sexual Health.