You’re positive for HSV2.
I couldn’t tell you how long I have lived in fear of contracting an STI. I couldn’t tell you how many years I spent doing nothing to prevent that, no matter how terrified I was of acquiring a disease – one that could destroy my fertility (like gonorrhea) or eat away at my mind (like syphilis) or mutate my genitalia (like HPV or HSV).
Alcohol fueled my self destruction and numbed my sensibilities. I spent years practicing very unsafe sex, and while I’m not proud of it, I have spent many years living a much more respectful life – respectful to me, respectful to my body, respectful to my mind. As they say, what’s done is done, which has always translated to me as make tomorrow better.
I didn’t know anything about herpes.
I knew that it created blisters and ulcers on areas of the body most of us can’t bear seeing anything out of place, and based on the few things I did know and could remember from fear-mongering sex ed, it was the equivalent of genital death. It turned genitalia into oozing, crusting, dirty, infected, barren places. Places to never be touched by another human again. The disease looked like a monster, and once you had it, it was incurable, which meant you may as well start preparing yourself for a life of loneliness and despair.
I was confirmed as HSV2 positive today, but I knew I was HSV2 positive 4 days ago, 1 day into the most crippling pain I have ever experienced.
The physical pain was only outweighed by the shock, the self-hatred, the desperate relentless itching and the deafening fear.
Who will love me now?
What does this mean for my future?
Will it always hurt like this?
Am I permanently damaged now?
I am revolting. I am dirty. I am infected. I am diseased.
I know now a lot more about HSV2.
I know that 1 in 3 people have it. I know that 80% of all people have HSV1 or HSV2, but may never present any symptoms, and therefore do not know they have it. I know that it’s a skin disease, and even if you don’t have an active outbreak, you can pass it to a partner (although the risk is lower). I know that safe sex does not protect against transmission, although it does lower the risk.
I know that it is incurable, and the symptoms for one are rarely the same as symptoms for another. I know that googling pictures does not return results that are representative of my particular outbreak style. I know that outbreaks can be frequent, infrequent, or may only happen once, and that there’s no rhyme or reason to how or why they happen necessarily.
I know that it is mostly impossible to track who gave it to you, or when you got it (although generally your first outbreak occurs within 2 to 20 days of exposure). I know that you may have had outbreaks in the past and never even noticed, or you may have chalked it up to shaving rash or ingrown hairs. I know that you cannot stop an outbreak, but you can manage it.
Most importantly, I am coming to terms with the knowledge that I am not dirty for having this.
I know that I am not unlovable.
I know that I now have a transmittable skin disease that I will have to disclose to every partner I have in the future, and that my HSV2 positive disclosure may mean I am exposed to rejection, ridicule or judgement. And that’s ok.
For the past week, it has felt although the sun fell out of the sky. The isolation, the fear, the chronic pain, the fatigue, the flu symptoms, the itching – god, the itching – the anxiety that my life was over, my love life ended, that Thunderbolts would leave me, that my ex wife would ridicule me, that my closest friend would judge me. I was wrong.
The sun is still in the sky, and I am still alive. I am still breathing, I am still safe, I am ok. In fact, I may even be a little more resilient because of this. And I am not alone.
If you are newly diagnosed, don’t despair. This gets better. The pain will stop, the fear will subside and life will go back to normal. You’ll be ok.