Let’s face it. We say some horrible things to ourselves. “No one loves me. I’m worthless. I’m all alone.” These beliefs become magnified under the herpes microscope. And we can take them as a larger version of the truth or recognize them for what they are — overblown negative fantasies. Sometimes being faced with the reality of herpes is what we need to challenge our own ways of seeing things. Yes, at first herpes might seem like one of those teachers who was stern and cruel — you know, that teacher who assigns reading over the Christmas holidays — but sometimes teachers push you because underneath that bratty kid they see something worthy of bringing out.

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Yes, herpes kicked my ass for a few years. It forced me to ask myself some tough questions about the kind of person I was in relationship: emotionally distant, needy, closed off, shallow, constantly seeking approval, self-absorbed … Having herpes has brought depth into my relationships in an ironic way: in that getting me to face my demons of self-hate, shame and worthlessness allowed me to see that they were actually opportunities for connection in disguise.

I can hear you asking now: How could those horrible aspects of myself be opportunities? Because everyone has the unfortunate tendency to shame themselves, to think less of themselves … and the more I share that I have these insecurities, the less control they have over me. And there lies the opportunity. An opportunity for vulnerability, honesty, authenticity. All very high on the scale of deepening relationship. Herpes makes a test of your values immediate: You either don’t want to tell anyone so you stay safely distant (yet alone) or you find it in yourself to risk the inherent vulnerability in saying “I have herpes.”

Herpes teaches us that there is more to relationship than the fear of a simple skin condition — that the beauty and power of relationship lies in the shared humanity of two people going through life exploring it together, from the pain and shame to the joy and happiness … and everything in between.

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