Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH
Submitted anonymously via the contact form, this woman’s interview brings back so many similar emotions. While it’s been 15 years since I was first diagnosed, the shame, personal disgust, and overwhelming uncertainty about my life ahead engulfed me for so many years following my herpes diagnosis.
I write a lot about how I’ve been able to move past that point, but not everyone is able to reconcile the emotions that come with an STD. And that’s ok too. What’s important is that we’re able to share those perspectives.
Pain is palpable in this interview, but beyond that, there’s a beautiful story we can all relate to, and that’s feeling like we have to face ourselves and our accompanying emotions alone.
Time helps many folks, but knowing that, in time, things will get better doesn’t do much to provide solace in the present. Having a safe space to share our stories is integral to reducing stigma, and in doing so, we have an opportunity to help one another and make the experience a little bit more bearable.
1. How old are you?
29 years old
2. What do you do for a living?
I am an attorney.
3. What STD/STI do you have/have you had?
Herpes, not sure if it is HSV1 or HSV2, and right now, I don’t think I want to know.
4. How long have you had or known you have an STD/STI?
For about 2 months
5. Do you know how you contracted this STD/STI?
I was dating a guy, and a week after having sex, I started showing symptoms; so my doctor thinks I got it from him. He claimed he didn’t have genital herpes, although, he does have oral herpes, which makes me feel that I have HSV1.
I was so alone. I was actually changing jobs and moving to another city at the same time I received the diagnosis… I had to tell my mother. My former fiancé slept around quite extensively (before we met), but he never cheated on me (at least that I know of), and my mother swears I got it from him and was just now showing symptoms. If it was from my former fiancé, I could have contracted the virus between 4 and 6 years ago.
6. How has your life changed since you contracted an STD/STI?
I am so depressed and so alone. I don’t feel like I can ever date again.
I had a really bad initial outbreak to the point where I couldn’t even urinate. I had a few sores show up in the second month, around the time of my menstrual cycle, but because I am aware of having the virus, I feel like there is something wrong down there all of the time.
I am probably fine physically, but mentally, I feel like I am having an outbreak every single day.
7. Do the people who know you have an STD/STI treat you differently than they treated you before they knew?
The guy that I was dating at the time was completely fine with it. In fact, he still wanted to be sexually active with me, and I had to tell him I would let him know when the outbreak was over and we could resume sex. He claims he was going to get tested, but after I moved away, we ceased all forms of communication.
My mother is my best friend, and so I told her. Ironically, she informed me that my father gave her herpes about 35 years ago, and she had only a few outbreaks in the beginning. For the past 29 years, every blood test has been negative for herpes. She has yet to have another outbreak and did not even have one while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. It kind of gives me hope that one day I will be okay. She also informed me that she later dated a guy who had herpes, and they had a perfectly normal sex life.
This past weekend I told my best friend, and he is the only other person who knows. We had had sex in the past, before my diagnosis. I have always had a crush on him, so I felt weird telling him. His response was, ‘This is not a big deal. Shit, I probably have herpes and don’t even know it.’ He told me it was nothing to worry about and that I was super special.
I just hope every guy responds that way. While he probably doesn’t treat me different, I just feel like he does. Normally, he always make sexual jokes like, ‘Man, I would love to sleep with you tonight,’ and he didn’t make any jokes after I told him. I don’t know if its because he knows how sensitive I am to the issue right now, or because he is disgusted with me. It is probably the first reason, but I feel it is the latter one.
I am not ready to tell anyone else because of the social stigma attached with this. That makes it worse, but it is hard coping with this alone. When my father unexpectedly passed away, I had support from friends and family, but with this, it is just me coping.
8. Are you currently under treatment for your STD/STI? If so, please share whether you have explored prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, or holistic and natural approaches.
I am not a fan of prescription medication. I feel my body won’t develop as good as of an immunity to the virus if I take prescription medication. I have decided to treat my herpes the natural way. I take L-Lysine, garlic pills, and if I see a sore pop up, I put Tea Tree Oil on the sore, and the next day, the sore is gone.
9. Has having an STD/STI hindered past relationships?
I haven’t had any relationships since being diagnosed. But my biggest fear is how it will affect future relationships. I don’t even want to date because of this diagnosis.
My best friend told me that he would still have sex with me in the future, and he would never leave his partner just because she had herpes. I feel he is saying that because he is not actually facing that situation; it is easier said than done.
10. Do you have a significant other? If so, how has this STD/STI affected your partner?
I am single, and I plan on remaining single for a long, long, long time. I need to cope with having the virus before I can bring anyone else into my life and help them cope with my diagnosis.
11. Have you been sexually active with someone since contracting an STD/STI whom you did not tell you had an STD/STI?
12. How have you changed as a result of contracting an STD/STI?
I am so depressed, and I feel so ugly. I also used to want to get married and have children, and now, I have no desire to do that. I just want to crawl up into a hole and hide out for the rest of my life.
I was such an intelligent, ambitious person, and now I don’t even care about my career. I am afraid to do anything for fear it will cause an outbreak. I know they say the first outbreak is the worst, but mine was so severe that I am afraid the next outbreak will still be super intense.
13. Why are you choosing to participate in this interview and/or is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I am doing this because I want to get rid of the social stigma attached to herpes. Even though I don’t want to tell anyone, and I probably won’t, I want to get to the point where I can tell everyone I have herpes and not be embarrassed by it.
I used to be such a strong person, and I don’t know why I can’t be strong in this situation. I, normally, don’t care what people think about me.
I find that life is unfair. I have only had 5 sexual partners my entire life, and it was the 5th one that I believe I contracted the virus from. I have tons of friends who have had numerous sexual partners, like 15 to 20, and don’t have an STD. Though, my mother says I don’t know that they don’t have an STD.
I am afraid now that I will contract another STD, because herpes increases your chances.
I guess I have to feel lucky that I only got herpes. I have a friend who has Multiple Sclerosis so bad that he can barely walk. I remember balling my eyes out in the exam room and my doctor saying, ‘this isn’t cancer, you will be okay, your worst enemy right now is time.’ I wish I could look at it the way she does. My thought rationale is, ‘yea, but cancer can be curable, herpes isn’t.’
I am going to have this virus for the rest of my life.
While the virus isn’t harming me physically, it is destroying me mentally. I have an appointment with a counselor this week, but I am so embarrassed to even tell him.
I am so mad at myself for being so stupid. The sex was great, but not that great. I used to enjoy sex, and now I am so afraid to engage in sex, because (1) I will have to tell my partner of my diagnosis, (2) contracting another STD, even though I will use protection from now on, and (3) it will be painful and/or cause an outbreak.
I haven’t had herpes long enough to know what my triggers are or what symptoms I will have before an outbreak. I feel like I have been having one huge outbreak for the past two months. My initial outbreak lasted for at least 6 weeks. I feel like I am so stressed over this that I am causing myself one outbreak after another.
I am super healthy, so that’s why I don’t understand how I could be having such a bad outbreak. I mean, I didn’t even get flu like symptoms on the initial outbreak, just severe pain. I don’t eat sweets, I eat tons of fruits and vegetables, I eat only gluten-free foods, I work out 5 to 6 times a week – running and doing crossfit. I mean, my labs are unbelievably great. I have an excellent resting heart rate. I don’t understand how someone as healthy as me can be having so many outbreaks or such a severe initial one. But like I said, it could be more of a mental thing (i.e. I have made myself think I am having an outbreak) than a physical thing.
It is nice to read about other people’s experiences, but at the same time, it freaks me out. Some people are like, ‘I have herpes, who cares, life is great.’ Others are like me, ‘my life is over; I have outbreaks every single day,’ etc.
I just need to learn how to cope with this, how to get over my anger with myself and the guy who I think gave it to me, and mostly importantly, get over the embarrassment associated with this diagnosis. I know I am just as intelligent and pretty as I was before. I am probably even going to turn out to be a better, stronger person after I have learned to adequately deal with this.
I enjoy reading how people have learned to cope with it. I read once where a blogger stated herpes was the best thing to happen to her. It helped me reduce my stress level, and every time I get an outbreak, I know my immune system is getting low, so it just makes me take the time out of my life to focus on myself and my health. I want to eventually be that blogger! I want that outlook again on life. I know I will, it just takes time, as my doctor said.
Can you relate to this interviewee? Did it help you to read someone else’s story? Have you experienced something similar or do you have some feedback to share with this individual? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!