Genital herpes stigma as an opportunity to help
Guest author from our community: Shannon (SingBlueSilver)
Something fascinating is happening to me … There’s a small seed inside of me. It’s pushing for more attention daily. Changing, growing, morphing. It’s always been there, really, but never nurtured. I’ve been in therapy most of my life trying to coax the seed to gain roots and prosper. In the end, I think I was afraid to make real changes in my life to love myself and be happy because being a victim and sad all the time was easier. Real growth takes work and dedication. So the seed of my inner strength lay stagnant …
Five months ago, my world was rocked to the core, every vestige of progress and mental growth I had ever gained was shattered. I got genital herpes. Devastation and utter despair were the only words I could fathom. I cried. I felt shame. Guilt. Disgust … Hopelessness. The same emotions that most all of us share when diagnosed.
I spent most of my time blaming myself for bad choices and blaming society for creating and buying into a shameful herpes stigma. I even felt like I deserved to get herpes because I had sex out of marriage; my Christian upbringing came back to slam in me in the gut, telling me God was punishing me for my wanton behavior.
I think all of us with this condition have similar experiences: shame, depression, wanting to talk about it, but fearing who you can trust. But eventually, that seed of inner strength started to speak to me. I felt like I had two choices: 1) find a way to accept my new reality or 2) live in a pit of despair.
The pit of despair was something I felt pretty comfortable with as I’ve always struggled with depression and never felt good enough. But then I started talking to friends and all of them were very supportive and kept saying the same thing, “Herpes does not define you. You are still the same person.” And then I found the Herpes Opportunity website with so many others who were struggling just like me. And I found Adrial Dale who started to frame this condition in a healthy manner. And I kept reading and talking and thinking. I saw my therapist and then a new age hypnotherapist. The message was consistent, “You’re still you and this is a hardship, but it’s not the end of your life. You are lovable.”
And then it started to sink in. The seed started to grow.
I started to think that maybe I was given this “opportunity” to finally grow into the person I need to be. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but lessons are never easy. I had spend 38 years of my life feeling sorry for myself, playing a victim, never really being happy with what I have. And when I got herpes, it was my wake up call. My inner strength (that was there all along) was forced to reveal itself because my only other choice was death (figuratively). I could lay down and give up on life or I could pull the strength from my core and finally embrace it.
Other thoughts also quickly appeared: “Maybe I’m meant to help others. Maybe I have the courage to help change society’s perception. Maybe I could speak out.” Ideas rapidly came about visiting schools and talking about my experience. Part of my anger over this experience is that I was truly ignorant about how to get and spread herpes; I didn’t know that condoms don’t protect you; I didn’t know that so many people have no herpes symptoms; and I didn’t know that STD tests don’t include an actual herpes test.
I was also one of the people who thought being careful was good enough. I was part of the society who created this stigma. I have now started thinking that I can be part of the change. It has only been a short five months since my herpes diagnosis, so these are still just thoughts. But these ideas have turned my harsh reality into something I can do to help myself and others. Starting to give others support brings a joy that I was lacking.
I realize now that I am lovable, worthy and, actually, strong.
It’s not the ideal way to realize this but it has become my opportunity. Accepting that I have herpes has somehow translated into an acceptance of me as a valuable woman. I write this in hopes to inspire you to find your inner strength and realize that herpes isn’t a death sentence socially or emotionally. I’m not saying that every day is easy. I’ve struggled my entire life to feel lovable, good enough and happy, but instead of herpes being the final straw in my life struggle, it’s provided a way for me to see clearly who I really am.
I am a beautiful, worthy, amazing and awesome woman.
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