It was December 26th. Unfortunately, I had not spent the holidays with my family as I was traveling for work. You could have said I was in paradise. However, it had been a rough Fall/Winter for me, from losing a family member to cancer to struggling with health issues. The only thing I had wanted on December 25th, when my family called, was to have been there with them. I didn’t think this work trip could have got much worse. Until I noticed a voicemail from my doctor that urged me to call them back as soon as possible. I excused myself from the group and went for a walk.
I know what you are thinking, and no, the diagnosis wasn’t fatal. However, as a 22 year old, it sure felt like things couldn’t get much worse. The diagnosis: genital herpes. The details aren’t as important, although I can replay them in exact detail. Long story short, I was with someone who wasn’t faithful to me. My outbreaks started within a couple of weeks of losing my family member. And when I went to the doctor, we both thought it was a skin rash, as it did not appear as herpes normally does. After a few months and three outbreaks, I was sent to a dermatologist. Within seconds of examining me, he said it looked like genital herpes. I called my doctor, who was sure that wasn’t what it was.
Let me just say, it had already been a stressful, painful few months. If you haven’t experienced it, you have NO idea! And the over-the-counter remedies do pretty much nothing to ease symptoms. When the diagnosis was confirmed, I felt like my earth shattered. I felt dirty. I felt slutty. I knew what society’s perception of STDs were. I knew what my perception was. However, I also knew that I didn’t fit that stereotype. When I was finally home over a week (and an outbreak) later, I was able to seek treatment through my doctor as well as research and find support. The statistics were startling. 1 in 6 people in the United States suffer from genital herpes. I had no idea how common it was. Nor did I realize all of the support that was out there. It took me almost a year to even be in a place where I was ready to date again. And that came after spending a lot of time processing my emotions, speaking with a therapist, and finding support in online forums. It also took me almost three months of simply being friends with a man to figure out how to take the first step in talking about my issue.
My ex took a bit of my freedom through his choices. I have to take medication every day in order to prevent outbreaks. And I will not be able to have a natural childbirth, as I run the risk of passing on the disease. What I have learned through all of this is that I am strong. That not every story is the same. And the stereotypes of society cannot hold you back from living your life. I have learned that a lot of people won’t judge you as harshly as you will judge yourself. That being prepared is important because people fear what they do not know. But more importantly, they often just want to be as educated as you are. People will still care for you, love you, and want to be with you. Most importantly, your circumstances do not define you; how you handle them, does.