By S. Levin
I hate Herpes. The name reminds me of something dirty and grimy. Herpes reminds me of crabs, spiders, and locusts. I don’t like anything about it. It’s a plague.
I’m suffering an outbreak now and it doesn’t feel good. I feel the outbreak on my butt sucking all the energy out of me. For now, the Herpes has a hold on me. I’m feeling down – almost depressed but not quite there. How can I describe how it feels? Physically, I feel like I’ve got the flu: I’m achy, touchy, and the outbreak hurts. Psychologically, I feel introspective — angry and sad. I want people to leave me alone. I want my space. I know in a couple of days it will run its course and I’ll be back on track.
I had a difficult childhood, made worse by an inferiority complex. I was overweight. The kids called me four eyes and I felt unattractive to the opposite sex. I felt angry at my mom for bringing me into this world. I felt ashamed of myself. I wanted to look athletic, like the other boys, but I didn’t. I got lousy grades in school. My classmates teased me and I felt stupid.
Everything that went wrong in my household was always my fault. My sister would start crying and immediately my mom sent me to my room as punishment for instigating a fight. When I tried defending myself, my mom wouldn’t listen and I became angry. In school, my teacher always blamed me when the class didn’t behave. I felt like a victim.
When I became a teenager, I discovered drugs and alcohol. Drinking and smoking dope numbed my pain and stopped all the negative self-talk that kept playing in my head like a broken record. Everything else was wrong in my life so why should it be any surprise that I contracted Herpes? I was a loser. G-d put a death sentence on my future chances at love. It wasn’t fair.
I had my first outbreak in my mid-twenties. I’d just broken up with my girlfriend – my first true love. We’d been together several years and had even lived together for a while. But things weren’t right. I was trying to find my way through a career change, and felt depressed. Worse yet, I acted needy with her. She couldn’t handle my neediness. (I’m not sure anyone could have).
One day my best friend called to say my girlfriend was cheating on me. He said she was fooling around with his brother-in-law. I didn’t believe him and said he must have her confused with someone else. Then I distanced myself from him. In the past, this friend had a bad reputation for stealing girls from his buddies and that included one from me. He’d hurt me a lot. But this time he was right. My girlfriend was cheating on me. I confronted her, and then moved out and got my own apartment.
Between suddenly finding myself living alone mourning the loss of my cheating girlfriend and not having a job, I got really down and out. I started smoking pot and drank heavily. I felt sorry for myself. Why me? I kept asking. Then I felt an itch in my genital area, but thought nothing of it. Actually I thought it was a flea bite.
Then an idea, one I couldn’t shake, popped into my head: What if I have Herpes?” Herpes had just hit the news and the media focused on it almost daily. I couldn’t stop obsessing about whether I had it and whether I got it from my ex. Finally I made a doctor’s appointment. When he examined me, he confirmed my suspicions: I had genital Herpes.
Seeing how upset I was, he tried to make me feel better by saying one in four people have Herpes. He said my outbreaks would last only for a week. Still, I couldn’t internalize having this disease. It devastated me. I felt like damaged goods! My life — at least my love life — was over as far as I was concerned.
I wanted to die. Facing the loss of my future sex and love life filled me with overwhelming grief. I felt certain my ex-girlfriend gave it to me, so I called her on the phone and blamed her for infecting me. She started crying. The conversation went downhill from there and so did I. I started on an even deeper, darker downward spiral than the one I’d been on. I’d get high and find ways to reinforce my victim self-image. I’d overeat until I felt badly and disliked myself for that. I listened to sad songs like It’s Crying Time Again over and over. I tried to drown grief with alcohol, numb it with drugs, and stuff my feelings with food.
The truth is, I’d been promiscuous. I could have picked up the virus anywhere. Blaming my ex-girlfriend wasn’t fair. I didn’t know where I picked it up.
I felt robbed of an important part of my life. Royally screwed! What girl in her right mind would want to go out with a guy with Herpes? What was I supposed to do? How could I ever be intimate again? I felt contaminated, dirty, and untouchable. Nobody would want to be with me. For a long time, I isolated. I felt too embarrassed to talk to anyone about it. I kept it to myself. Then I began reading everything I could about Herpes.
I learned many people have it, and that while a treatment for it exists, Herpes is forever. It’s incurable. Eventually I learned I could manage it, and when I didn’t have an outbreak it would be okay to have sex as long as I disclosed to my partner that I had Herpes and would sometimes get genital outbreaks. I also read that using a condom was a good way to prevent spreading it to a partner whether I had an outbreak at the time or not.
A few years later, I met a really nice woman. We felt an immediate attraction to each other and started dating. When we began to grow close, I told her I had Herpes. I told her quietly, in an embarrassed way because I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I expected her to suggest that we just be friends, or tell me she never wanted to see me again. But occasionally when we remove our armor and let ourselves become vulnerable, something magical happens.
She told me she had Herpes too.
She said she dated a guy who’d been exposed to Agent Orange in the Viet Nam war and she sometimes would get outbreaks on her back. On this day I found redemption. I was open, honest and willing to face the consequences of losing this terrific gal, but the universe had other plans for me and for us. We became wonderful lovers. We dated and to this day, are still married. We enjoy a deep love and affection for each other. When either of us has an outbreak, we usually are more affectionate than normal. Something about having an outbreak causes us to become more intimate and caring to one another. We’ll hold each other in bed and the wonderful feeling of having an understanding partner feels good.
My curse became a blessing.
I’ve since learned that I’m not the only person on the planet who suffers from Herpes and that it’s normal to feel guilty and ashamed when diagnosed with it. They say it’s normal to feel like the disease has ruined your sex life, and you may feel sad or upset. Having my feelings and reactions validated helped me heal emotionally. We can be different and still be perfectly normal – for us.
Usually stress causes an outbreak. It could be something at work, not getting enough sleep, or an emotional upset in our household. But I’ve learned that the outbreaks will last for only a few days and I can relax and just ride it out. Eventually I’ll heal and return to feeling the way I usually do. As I’ve grown older, it’s one more thing that needs managing in my life. Although I don’t like the word and I don’t like having the disease, I’m powerless over Herpes. Ultimately, I’ve come to accept it as part of who I am and part of my life story. Thankfully it’s a story with a happy ending.
Sources and information from:
From the desk of Melody Beattie
Originally posted 2010
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