Sitting in my gynecologist’s office, waiting for the Physician’s Assistant to deliver my test results, I had a massive wave of anxiety flood my soul like never before.
I was praying that the small, cluster-like bumps that were biopsied were just the Shingles… but deep down, I knew I wasn’t getting off the hook that easily.
She walked in; without looking up at me, she gloriously announced that my results came back as the Herpes Simplex Virus, type one. I could sense that she was almost excited. She explained to me that it was transmitted through oral sex, and that I had likely caught it from a partner going down on me while fighting off a cold sore.
“I’m sending over a prescription for antivirals to your pharmacy.”
And just like that, she walked out.
I made my way to the car fighting back tears.
“How could this happen to me? I’m not that type of girl,” I thought. I felt ashamed and disgusted, but most of all I felt worthless.
Tons of questions filled my mind. What would my boyfriend of two years say? I knew nothing about sexually transmitted diseases, so how would I explain my diagnosis to him?
The most I knew about STD’s was from the pictures I was shown in health class almost 10 years prior. You know… the pictures of male genitalia basically rotting off; the worst-case scenarios that are meant to make students never want to have sex.
I left that doctor’s office expecting my vagina to forever look like some creepy character from a Sci-Fi movie.
Sadness does not even begin to describe the emotions I was feeling. I just cried. No, not cried. I wept. I felt completely devastated.
I drove to my best friend’s house and sat on her porch smoking cigarettes, (although I don’t even smoke,) and asking over and over: “How could this happen?”
She didn’t have much to say – just the expected “It’s not that big of a deal.” But just being around her made me feel a little more normal. There was nothing she could have said to make everything better, and I knew that -- but I was holding on to some thread of hope that she would know just the words to make me feel better. She didn’t, so I left.
After I got home, I decided to hop on the web and research my shiny new STD. I went from website to website searching for information and answers to all the questions I had. The Physician’s Assistant hadn’t been much help, so I was going to have to figure it out on my own.
I don’t know what I was expecting to discover, if anything. I kept reading that Herpes is way more common than most people are aware of. I read that many people never experience another outbreak after their first -- and that the first was almost always the worst. And much to my surprise, I realized something extraordinary: I was going to live!
Yes, I had the revelation that life as I knew it was going to continue on as normal. I realized that I had probably already been living with the disease since my mid-to-late teenage years. Stress had induced my outbreak, and I realized it was very well possible I may never have another one again.
So what was I worrying about? Was it the social stigma of having herpes? Probably. I didn’t want to be known as The Girl with Herpes. I didn’t want to be “that” girl… whatever that means. But if anyone was stigmatizing and condemning anyone, it was me. I was doing it to myself.
Looking back, I realize the problem I had was not that I was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease -- it’s that I was highly naïve and ignorant. I knew nothing when it came to STDs, so like most things we don’t know much about, I condemned it. I made fun of it. I laughed at people who were unfortunate enough to have caught one.
I never stopped to think that one day, it could be me. And it was me.
Now, I don’t have a problem with the fact that I have herpes. I have come to terms with it; made peace, if you will. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t go to the rooftops shouting out for all to hear, “I have herpes and that is just fine with me!” But I don’t beat myself up over it.
And that has made the most colossal difference in my life. I have grown as a person in ways I never would have imagined such a diagnosis could ignite.
Herpes has taught me a lot. It has taught me that people who have sexually transmitted diseases are not outcasts or people to be ridiculed. You don’t have to be promiscuous to catch an STD. You just have to have sex.
It has taught me that a shockingly high percentage of the population is infected with herpes -- and better yet, 85% of those who have it are unaware! Herpes can lie dormant for years without the first outbreak. In fact, some individuals never experience symptoms!
Believe it or not, an active outbreak does not even have to be present to transmit the STD. It’s called asymptomatic shedding, and it is a real thing, y’all.
By being diagnosed with Herpes type one, I became less judgmental and more open-minded. I learned not to believe the stigmas that society sets for so many diseases, races, and cultural backgrounds or beliefs.
I also learned that people have sex, people make mistakes, and people are human! I now understand that I cannot belittle people for being different or having a disease I don’t understand -- and I especially can’t criticize them when I know nothing about their conditions or lifestyles.
Almost everyone that is sexually active has at some point been exposed to herpes. Why is there still such a negative connotation on the way society as a whole views people with sexually transmitted diseases?
Instead of demeaning, belittling and degrading people who are affected, why don’t we focus our attention on finding cures, establishing support groups, and letting our fellow friends and family know that they aren’t alone? They shouldn’t have to feel ashamed.
I’m an overall happier person now. I accept myself more. I love myself deeper. I have flaws, I’m not perfect, and that is okay. I get it now: Life throws you curveballs, and sometimes that is to wake you up. I needed to be awakened! I needed to stop being such an ignorant and judgmental person.
Everyone has pain, and it is up to us as human beings to understand it.
You don’t always have to be happy with what life throws at you -- but making the best of it is the healthiest option that can also be beneficial to your personal growth, and I’m glad I chose that path.