For awhile I've been wanting to turn all the emotions and lessons I have learned from herpes thus far into something creative. Here it is!
“Your naked body should only belong to those who fall in love with your naked soul.”
–Charlie Chaplin, in a letter to his daughter
At one point or another, we are forced to confront our authentic selves. For a while we can try on different masks, goof around, fake it. We dabble in this and that, float here and there, even if it doesn’t agree with what’s in our soul. Eventually, though, something happens that snaps us awake, tells us to stop fucking around, and brings us back down. Makes us honestly question ourselves.
No more do I have the luxury of sleeping with whoever finds me attractive. My sexuality is no longer a curtain that I can hide behind, no longer a “fall back” for feeling insecure (or worse, bored). I have been forced to face myself- the raw, ugly, vulnerable part of myself. I have had to find value in the parts that I kept hidden, to become aware of things I did not want to become aware of.
I’ve become choosy, proud and enigmatic. I’m courageous. I urge people to push themselves and their emotional capacity, force them to open their minds, to reject society’s stigmas. Challenge others’ intentions.
My worldview has changed in the sense that my accomplishments, my hopes, my interests- these all exist for me. The way I see it, I have no choice but to be spectacular now. To achieve everything I’ve ever wanted to achieve, and to live for ME. I will finally acknowledge myself as a real person, a fantastically unique individual. Ultimately, we have to live for ourselves. Our lives are our own, and once we begin to build elaborate shrines to others, we lose pieces of ourselves in the process. I now freely air my beliefs, my fears, my loves, like dirty laundry, as if to say:
“Go ahead—try me.”
I’ve never felt such a strong, wild longing to embrace every bit of myself and the world around me. I try my best to see every emotion and misstep as a gift. I have to anticipate the possibility of rejection, and it has made me all the more grounded. There is a certain freedom in knowing that, while people may come in and out of my life, I will still be here. The Bhagavad Gita states, “I have never/not existed;/ nor have you, nor have/these lords of men/nor will we/Cease to exist,/all of us,/from now onwards.”
I’m not scared of the things I was scared of anymore. Rejection, gaining or losing a few pounds, feeling unattractive- these all seem frivolous. I realize the things I used to waste so much energy worrying about are trivial. Herpes, to quote Sylvia Plath, has made me “…become acutely aware of all I have taken for granted”. It has been an inconvenient blessing, but a blessing nonetheless. I have been both loved in spite of it, and rejected because of it. Despite this, I am coming to understand what it is to love myself whole-heartedly. I’m learning to be proud of who I am. Essentially, I have been forced to give myself an ultimatum- I can let this define who I am, or I can rise above it, own it, allow it to become a part of me, and learn from it.
“You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens” –Rumi
It’s easy to use this as an excuse to not live my life properly. It would be easy to avoid relationships, sex, intimacy altogether in the name of self-preservation. But we all have our excuses. We all have broken pieces of ourselves that we try to keep hidden, so as to not allow ourselves to appear weak and exposed. I recently broke up with someone with an ego so inflated that he never allowed himself to be vulnerable, never took down the veil of cockiness long enough for me to glimpse in and see what lay behind it. It was after I contracted herpes, and (more recently) after this relationship ended, that I began to grasp the meaning behind Rumi’s quote. It’s terrifying to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and it is heart-wrenching when we are not accepted for who we are after doing so. But what other choice do we have? The alternative is not appealing to me.
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”-Khalil Gibran
Yoga teaches us that everything can be a teacher if we allow it to be. What would be the point of the challenges, the life events that make us want to crawl back into ourselves, if we were not able to extract a lesson from them? If we refuse to allow things to teach us about ourselves, we give them permission to reign over us, to cripple us. We sell our soul to them and let the very things we are afraid of wreak further havoc on our precious hearts and minds.
“You will find that it is necessary to let things go, simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go... I tie no weights to my ankles.”― C. JoyBell C.
Once we view things as happening for us rather than happening to us, we are left with solidity. Gradually, the things we experience do not seem so tragically serious anymore. After coming to terms with this unpleasant diagnosis, I was able to put so much more love into my yoga practice. I was able to give myself what I needed, even though I was internally dismantled, crushed, defeated. Yoga has reminded me of all I am capable of and all I have to be thankful for. I have all five senses, all four limbs. I am in good physical shape; I am healthy, young and vibrant. There is nothing that is crippling me to the point of being unable to live the way I please, and there are many who have it worse than I. My yoga practice continually serves as a reminder of these things and slows my worrisome mind. For that I will be forever grateful.