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Day 1: How herpes is making me rethink love and compassion

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I have been lurking here for the past few days just reading the deeply personal stories you all have put forward, trying to internalize the supportive responses, sometimes feeling encouraged, sometimes – okay, maybe quite a few times – crying. Before I introduce myself I wanted to say, with heartfelt appreciation, how amazing I think you all are for making this place a community and for filling it with so much compassion.


I’m a medical student. A week ago I noticed that I had tonsillitis and that my right cervical lymph nodes were swollen. Over the next two days I developed fever with intense headaches but dismissed it as a bad case of the flu. Then I felt those two little bumps. My mind flashed back to the week before when I nicked myself there on the left labia majora while shaving as I was getting ready to hang out with the guy I had been seeing for the past month. I hoped and hoped that the cut was just inflamed from a little infection by cutaneous bacteria, but in my heart I knew that it was an STI. Ten minutes of desperate research (from an incognito Chrome browser) confirmed my fear that my flu-like reaction was in fact due to a primary infection with HSV-2.


My feeling at that moment, pants-less and sprawled over my laptop on the bed where I’d contracted a virus that I will have for a lifetime, was an endless sinking shame – down through the floor and deep into the earth beneath my cheap grad school apartment. My life to that point seemed almost comical when I thought about how hard I’d worked just to sabotage myself with the sort of sexual sloppiness that future doctors are supposed to know better than to engage in. That mortification mixed confusingly with a strange satisfaction from knowing with certainty what was making me so sick. I spent the rest of the night looking up clinical trials and dorsal root ganglia and the mechanism by which valacyclovir gets metabolized to a molecule that inhibits viral DNA replication and really anything to keep myself from thinking about how this would affect my life moving forward. I’m a bad procrastinator, and can put off emotional reflection just as well as I can any assignment. Medicalizing abstractly has so far been a coping mechanism for not being quite ready to face my disappointment with myself. Because I know that HSV-2 can be effectively managed, and is clinically just an annoying skin condition plus daily pills, reassuring myself with the science is actually easier than thinking about the social consequences. The worst part of this disease has been not the physical symptoms, but seeing myself differently, and the inescapable feeling that others I will one day tell about it will have a visceral revulsion towards me.


Since I already convinced myself so thoroughly of this diagnosis my doctor at Student Health the next morning just had to swab me, write a script, and pass me tissues. The rest of the day I felt eyes all over me. I felt judgment in the eyes of the check-out guy at the Walmart pharmacy. I even heard it in the voice of the man I had been seeing, even though the fact that I had a primary reaction and my sparse prior sexual history made it a near certainty that he had given me HSV-2. (I actually am not bitter with him at all and told him so, and also that I am well able to take responsibility for my decisions and my body. I believe that he didn’t know he had herpes – he reacted with shock and silence, hung up quickly and hasn’t spoken to me since. Because I obviously understand how hard a thing it is to hear I figure I should give him space, so I’m going to stop reaching out for the time being. I know he panicked after our call and went to a clinic, so I can only hope he learns that at least the disease itself is not that serious.)


I know that for now I can only control my own self-perception. I know that I have to re-learn how to love myself before I can expect someone else to love me, and maybe before I can even ask someone else to accept me. I want so badly to take care of other people, and for me love used to be both the intrinsic gratification and feeling of appreciation I got from giving of myself to someone. I’m not trying to make myself out to be a selfless person - in fact this approach to love has worked against me so far in life. I invested so much into my relationship with my ex-fiancé that he felt he couldn’t contribute equally to a marriage, and was so trapped by a lack of reasons to break up that he did a lot of destructive things (that included cheating) in an effort to force me to leave him. After all that I knew I had to be strong enough to rely on love from within, and I will probably never be able to expect as much from another person as I did him (I was 18 and naiive when we met, and he was my first relationship). In the year since then I’ve seen a few people, not super seriously but never as just one-time hookups, but mainly I’ve been trying to work on myself as opposed to looking for a relationship. I feel that I’ve made some progress in finding out who I am alone, which I guess can be hard after being with someone for four years. I know that herpes does not undo that work. I realize that most of my own dread comes from the same social stigma that makes people believe overblown things about the disease. I imagine myself having the talk with a future love interest, and try to visualize my eyes not tearing up and my voice even-toned, confident, and encyclopedic. I joke to myself that I’m getting older after all, and that my short-lived days of starting flings with sex may as well be over for one reason or another, and that I should be more mature and thoughtful about the people I spend time with anyways. But somehow still I can’t yet shake the hurt that comes from feeling like I betrayed myself. The thought that I permanently damaged myself through carelessness makes me angrier than if someone else had hurt me on purpose because I can’t trust others to be beneficent, but I should be able to trust me to protect myself.


I know that a lot of the last paragraph is overly dramatic and perhaps misguided, and that I have to find a balance between taking responsibility for my actions and forgiving myself, but in the meantime it’s been really helpful to get all the words out of me. Thanks to those of you who made it this far through my stream of consciousness narrative (I just scrolled up...oof). Ultimately I know in my heart, with the same certainty as I had the night I figured out it was herpes, that this experience will make me a better person, and a more compassionate doctor. The actual process of becoming better will not be easy. Most of the positive changes I can make, like being honest about which men I should pursue and not shortchanging myself in love and being fair to myself in feelings of worth, are probably going to be really unpleasant when it comes down to those moments when mindfulness matters and I can’t just do what feels good. As a lot of people have written, a diagnosis that implies something disgraceful to society can be a blessing in disguise in that it weeds out false friends. I’d say it also filters out some personal weaknesses, whether we like it or not. I’m going to be realistic and brace myself for some amount of rejection in my love life, and also for some pain and internal resistance when the soul-searching gets really real.


So that’s my story. I’ve been humbled in many ways over the past week, and not least by reading some of the inspiring things that are said here. I’m scared, but also proud to be in this together with so many strong people. I got my culture results in an email from the lab earlier tonight, so that makes 12/7/2013 my official HSV-2 anniversary. Maybe it seems a little silly to count forward for something that will last forever as far as my lifetime is concerned. But maybe this “Day 1” is not just for being herpes positive. I want it to be for starting a new, more reflective, life-long journey of positive growth.

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I'm happy you're here. Happy you are sharing yourself with so much depth, clarity, courage, self-reflection and honesty. I and your whole H Opportunity community here is behind you in this journey. We're all in this together. It truly is an opportunity for us to become more and more in love with our lives, to become who we deeply are and to have the deep and loving relationships we were meant for. I hold you in your fears, your concern, the feelings of self-betrayal, the hurt, the tears. They are all welcome here. And you are not damaged. You are imperfect. As all of us are. And there is a lot of beauty in imperfection. The cracks in our hearts is what allows the love to seep in ... You show me one human being who isn't imperfect and I will show you a robot. ;)


I'll tell you one thing ... the horizon is bright, dr_h_positive ... The dawn is coming. :)

This content is for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute medical advice or diagnosis. I'm not a medical professional, so please take this as friendly peer support. 

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"You are imperfect. As all of us are. And there is a lot of beauty in imperfection. The cracks in our hearts are what allows the love to seep in."


^^Wow! I have to admit the waterworks turned on again by the time I got to that part of your comment. It feels good to be here too, so thanks for your response and your welcome, Adrial! I didn't think anyone would be awake this late and reading my little essay, but you clearly put a level of heart and caring into your people here that goes beyond, so thank you for that as well.

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This Sunday Morning as I wake and head off to church with my Son....as every New Morning we have the opportunity and choice to be positive or negative....give into fear and sadness or embrace the day with a SMILE....after reading this thread...I CHOOSE to be happy and love me TODAY....starting this Moment!!!


The way I can relate to your story and the inspiration it entails alone put those feelings in my Heart. Thank you so much for sharing..I WILL reread it again and again as it's impact on me the first time was immense and when self doubt wants to rear it's ugly head again your story will be my go to.


Welcome here dr_h_positive. We are all blessed to have you

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dr_h_positive: Welcome and so glad you found us!


"My life to that point seemed almost comical when I thought about how hard I’d worked just to sabotage myself with the sort of sexual sloppiness that future doctors are supposed to know better than to engage in."


Lesson 1: Herpes is an Equal Opportunity Disease. Black white old young rich poor educated ignorant. Doesn't matter. It's a slippery little bugger that will hide and avoid being seen (which is why 80%...like your friend...don't know they have it). And for years HSV1 has had most of the population feeling that a Cold Sore is just a nuisance skin condition (which it is) but because of it's HSV2 cousin, it got away with all kinds of havoc because HSV2 got all the bad rap and the public is still woefully behind the times with their STD education.


I love your reference to "sexual sloppiness" ... the problem is that when one goes into a relationship we (at least hopefully) DO have a talk about whether we have been tested, and reveal any diseases we KNOW we have. But many get tested and have no idea that Herpes, HPV, and Chlamydia are usually not in those tests..(thanks to the CDC)... So we take their word that they have been tested, and they can be blissfully ignorant of their status. Or they may even be an outright liar (and we have not discovered "that" side of them yet). But we HAVE to go into a relationship with Trust at the lead. ... and THAT is the weak spot that Herpes takes advantage of. Until there is a change in how STD's are viewed and tested, Herpes and all his cousins will continue to thrive and spread.


This isn't sloppiness. You trusted. He seems to have not known his status. And he was likely the victim of another who didn't know their status. And so the cycle continues. We see it every day on here.


"Ultimately I know in my heart, with the same certainty as I had the night I figured out it was herpes, that this experience will make me a better person, and a more compassionate doctor. "




Adrial and I have been talking about working (at some point in the future - we both have lots of projects in the H+ arena!) to come up with a protocol for doctors when they reveal the H+ status to a patient because while some have some real bad physical pain, even more have an emotionally painful reaction that BY FAR outweighs any of the physical effects. That part kills me and it's that (even more than my own dealings with painful rejections) that is driving me to change the way Herpes and STD's in general are viewed.



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Don't think you were being dramatic. You were keeping it real with what a lot of people feel. i chuckled reading about you sprawled out on the bed cuz it took me back to doing the sane thing with a mirror and practically becoming a contortionist trying to view things. LOL I'm not calling you dr h positive cuz you are ( everyone here says, i think its our slogan) so much more than your h positive status. I am however gonna call u dr love cuz as soon as i read ur name gene simmons voice came on my mind intercom. "They caaaaLl me DR LOOOVE"

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Thanks everyone for your responses!


@Peachyogurtisawesome - I'm dying of laughter right now... seriously I might pass out. Feel free to call me whatever you wish, I'll go by pretty much anything :)) I feel I should also take this moment to qualify to everyone that I am


but created that username because 1) by the time I am a doctor, I will still have herpes and 2) just as @WCSDancer2010 commented, STIs are equal opportunity, and I wanted people reading whatever I post to remember that even your doctor may be going through the exact same thing that you are. He or she won't tell you in clinic, but the same insecurities, the same desire to be liked, and yes - the same diseases - are often there. I think people can feel uncomfortable when they go to the doctor because everything is so sterile and they're getting asked about their sexual practices by somebody with a really poorly-fitting white coat on, but really we should all remember once in a while that doctors are people who deal with the same issues we all deal with. They didn't go into practice to judge you, and the point of a good doctor-patient relationship is so you can feel at ease disclosing sometimes embarrassing information that can make a big difference in their ability to diagnose and treat you correctly. I'm here like you all are to be positive and present for others and ourselves. Sometimes I might post some general science information (definitely never person-specific) that I think everyone might find interesting or helpful, and while I do my research, there's no substitute for getting a professional medical opinion. So again, --I'm not a doctor!-- but please, --talk to your doctor!-- if anything ever doesn't feel right (everybody knows their own body best, and the best doctors listen :) ).


also @WCSDancer2010 - I'd love to get involved in some of those projects if there's any way I can contribute! (And thank you for your remarks about trust... you're so right! Thanks for helping me to understand my feelings about myself a little better and to shape them more forgivingly.)


@Reality and @tNd - Thank you both so much for your kind words! Your comments were uplifting, and just one day later I am feeling more optimistic. There's a lot about myself I want to change, but thank you for reminding me to be gentle in the process and grateful that I am well enough to take each new day as a chance to choose happiness.

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I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story. It does help to read other's experiences and know that you are not alone. I felt exactly like you, how could I make such a stupid mistake? Why wasn't I more proactive? This is normal and you will learn to stop asking yourself these questions because it doesn't matter anyway. The point is you have learned something, good or bad, and you are moving forward!!

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Oh, Dr H LOVE!!!! You ROCK!!!


Welcome! Reading your story was a pure blessing! I don't know WHAT I would have done without my Conair lighted makeup mIrror...see, I brought out the BIG guns! HA! LOL! Your sharing about being on your bed was as priceless and real as it gets! Thank you! Perhaps one day you will be able to conduct a study in which are found participants from this very site! Perhaps you will be the new young doctor who emerges when society as a whole is really ready to have these discussions. Perhaps you will even hire me, a middle-aged prospective nursing student who is also H+ and too old to care that I'm the oldest student on the waiting list for the 4 yr RN program! Who knows!


Your ability to articulate your experiences is INCREDIBLE! Thanks for sharing...and Again, Welcome, new friend!



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