• Your life is not over because you have Herpes

    Herpes, Drew Rabidoux, LCSW, therapist

    I have had the opportunity to do a lot of work with people with Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) in my lifetime. The one that seems to carry a lot of shame for women is Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)  There are 2 kinds of Herpes: Simplex 1 and Simplex 2 (HSV1 and HSV2).  HSV2 is most known as genital herpes but either can show up on your mouth or your most intimate parts. Both can be transmitted sexually and by casual contact.  All that needs to happen is viral shedding and contact with your mouth, nose, or vulva/labia/penis.

    I remember my first interaction with someone who has herpes, which was a friend from college. I heard it through the grapevine that my friend was not well, but everyone was hush-hush about it. I did not know what happened to her but went to see her to see what was up and provide some support. I remember showing up at her apartment, everyone whispered about her and seemed to be concerned to say what was going on with her. When I walked in the room, I saw immediately that she hadn’t slept for days and that she had been crying. We started talking and she whispered to me, “I got herpes.  My life is over.  No one will ever want a relationship with me.”  She started sobbing.

    I thought to myself, how could her life be over at only 19 years old?

    The more we talked I saw that she had a lot of shame about having Herpes.  The shame probably really triggered her to think that her life was over. Over time, she slowly adjusted to her diagnosis but thinking back to it, I never saw her date someone again.  She assumed that since she had herpes, no one would want to date her, much less marry her, which is what she really wanted. That instance stays in my memory and I’ve seen a similar version of my friend’s struggle showing up in my therapy chair from time to time. I wish my friend had gotten support around her Herpes diagnosis to help her cope, it’s hard.

    I am here to tell you that it is possible to move on with your life after Herpes. Herpes is an opportunity to really get in-check with yourself.  What do you want? Some people are open with their diagnosis and find people to date who have herpes too so that a “conversation” never really has to happen, you have found someone who already knows and has it too.  Others tell people at the very beginning if they want to have sex early in the relationship and it seems much more people are willing to accept it than reject you because of it. There are people that do not know how to disclose the fact that they have herpes and that is ok too. It’s normal to not know how to navigate this difficult conversation, but it IS possible. Part of how you navigate that conversation is the work you do on yourself to be able to have it. Herpes can bring up a lot of difficult things to navigate including self-worth, fear of rejection, and fear of being vulnerable. Those are things that you will have to work on during your exploration of your Herpes diagnosis.  It is really helpful to have support of others who have been through something similar.

    If this blog speaks to you, your life is not over. Over time there are a lot of emotions to express; shame, anger, denial, and believe it or not, acceptance. Sometimes with a little help, you can get to acceptance a little faster and more gracefully.  Notice I didn’t say it was easy?  It’s not, but it is absolutely possible. And the work that you do around this will benefit you forever and in many other areas outside of having Herpes.

    Not everyone who accepts your diagnosis is worthy of a relationship though, which is important to note. Just because someone accepts that you have Herpes, it does not mean that they are the right person for you or that your relationship will last forever. The best way to find a relationship with Herpes is the same way you did before Herpes. Disclosing your diagnosis may require some vulnerability from you but it does not mean you have to offer that vulnerability to everyone. It is possible that you might develop a better idea of who you want to have a relationship after your Herpes diagnosis. Sometimes going through something can really make things clearer to you.

    If you are interested in joining a therapy group starting in September for women with Herpes, please reach out to me. It’s great to have support from women going through the same thing in various stages of the process.



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