From 'I Have Herpes' to 'I Love You'
Bon anniversaire! Happy anniversary to me! It's been one year since I contracted herpes and experienced the awful first outbreak: a roller coaster of panic, painful sensations, denial of what I was seeing between my legs, all the while smiling as I was filmed for an internal communications campaign at my company. The day after I was exposed, I felt so sore from having sex, very unusual for me but not unheard of. It felt as if someone took a hot iron to my crotch and it was red and swelling. Then, on day 3, when I couldn't sleep, I explored my nether region with a mirror and saw two small bumps on the edge of my labia and did what most of us plagued with herpes do: Google. There it was... herpes. No way, I thought. My partner of 3 months would have told me if he was carrying something. But then, he acted strangely when I asked him to get tested. And he never did give me his results. On day 3 in the morning, I checked again and the bumps were gone. Ok, I thought, that must have been some sort of razor burn. I felt little discomfort that day. The day before I was diagnosed and 5 days after exposure, I participated in a filmed meeting of the Diversity & Inclusion council where we discussed the good, bad, and ugly of the last year--where we went wrong and what we got right. I never did see the finished video, but I imagine my face was occasionally cringed as I squeezed my legs together, hoping I could force the pain away. I'd also started my period and changing tampons was like stabbing my vagina with pins and needles. Every push and pull of the cotton felt like my entire vagina was going to fall out into the toilet. I clinched my teeth and closed my eyes to bare the excruciating pain. I had absolutely no idea what was happening to me, and I was scared. I still did not believe it was an STD, not herpes. In fact, I thought I had a bad case of a yeast infection, so I hit the pharmacy and loaded up on the fast-acting meds to knock it out. On day 6, I took another look at my privates to find the two bumps were back and, still feeling intense pain, the redness was even worse. I called my gynecologist and scheduled a morning appointment. I left work thinking he'd clear me and I'd be back at work by lunch time. Boy, was I wrong. He took one look and diagnosed on the spot. I gasped, no, it can't be herpes. The nurse looked away. He swabbed it to be sure, and she packaged it up for the lab. He asked me to get dressed so we could talk more. I shook, heart fluttering. Wide-eyed, I clothed myself quickly and sat down on a chair in the exam room. Rocking myself, shaking my head, taking each breath with intention, I waited for his return. I have to give him credit, though. He was so calm and explained to me how common herpes is. He explained what I could do to prevent future outbreaks. He would prescribe me oral Valtrex and I should use Abreva to the infected area, and the outbreak would subside. Then, he encouraged me to stay stress-free, eat well, exercise, and take a selenium supplement to boost my immune system. This was key, he insisted, to take care of myself. The walk to my car was a blur, but I called my mom immediately, where was she because I needed her. She was babysitting my niece and nephew at my sister's house. I said, Mom, I just left the gyno and have to tell you something. She thought I was pregnant. Ha, I wish, I thought. No, Mom, I have herpes, and I need you. I don't remember walking in the door, but I do remember collapsing on the kitchen floor against the cabinets. Mom, no one will ever love me. No one will ever want me. I'm a waste of a woman now. No, Holly, that's not true, she insisted. Shortly thereafter, I wanted to get away, to run, to hide, to cease to exist, so I drove myself home. I snuggled my sweet pup in bed and got back to Google and found some encouraging websites, like Herpes Opportunity and the blog by Ella Dawson (check her out). Ella is a confident young woman with herpes who taught me herpes is a manageable skin condition that will not change my life if I decide not to let it. Which has brought me here to the Herpes Hub. I'm here to tell you that your herpes diagnosis is just a slight hindrance to your life, and you can love and fuck like you were before, if you take care of yourself and disclose as the responsible adult you are. For months, I didn't believe I would ever find someone who would love me with herpes. I certainly would never have sex again. I couldn't even disclose to friends without breaking down. And then I met my boyfriend. I knew him from grade school, first grade actually (1991, people!). Our parents know each other, we have several mutual friends, we discovered we've been at the same parties and not seen each other... and he's beyond handsome. Like, super hot, doesn't know how beautiful he is. His heart is pure and his touch tender. I disclosed in the calmest, most stripped down honest way I've done so to date. We have been seeing each other for three months, and I can't remember my life before him. One year after I contracted herpes, to the day, he told me he loves me. Loves. Me. With Herpes. And my heart melted. And your heart will melt too.