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One little word

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In disclosing recently -- which went super well in many ways -- I decided to change a word. I believe it made a big difference -- to me at least.


Instead of "outbreak" I used "occurrence."


When you hear "outbreak," what comes to mind? How does the word "outbreak" make you feel?


To me, outbreak makes me think of Ebola. Of terrifying pandemics. Of biological terrorism. Of the recent film. Of something over which there's no control. A really scary bad thing, that can kill you.


Now think of "occurrence." What is an occurrence, exactly?


An occurrence is an event. It's something that happens. It does not remind me of dreadful anything. It can be an annoyance. A traffic jam, a cold, a flat tire. It is nothing terrible. It is basically neutral.


Choosing and using "occurrence" instead of "outbreak" calmed me. It minimized shame. It does not inflame. Nothing hysterical about an occurrence.


And most of all, when it comes to HSV the term is accurate. HSV occurs. It manifests in prodrome form. It appears. It heals. It comes back, less and less often as time passes. It is an occasional event. It happens.


It does not require the intervention of CDC officials in Washington.

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Yes! Totally. The power of the words we use is immense! The words we use literally shape our experience of life. If we call it a herpes attack, then we will feel attacked by herpes; if we call it an occurrence, it will simply occur, as you said. I love that you're being more aware of this. It's something that so many people pass by and don't take the time to consider how they are shaping how they label their lives.


Here's an article I wrote on all this a while back:


Note: This 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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This new awareness of word choice in the context of HSV fascinates me. I'm a writer and I am enormously, constantly aware of the power of words. Not so in this part of my life. It's like the shame and the fear/expectation of rejection muted that part of my brain.


Another word I used during my disclosure: herpes simplex. I used that term several times. I think "simplex" -- with its root, "simple" -- neutralized the nastiness of the h word. Plus using it next to "herpes" mitigated the literal ugliness of the h word. As I have mentioned, I dislike how "herpes" looks and sounds.


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Rlady...yeah words are truly powerful...I have ditched outbreak and am now using episode too after reading your post...I wonder who thought up all these unattractive and aggressive sounding words for those arts of us that bring such amazing sensations and connections..I mean vagina and penis...nothing soft or neutral about those words either...can't figure out why they weren't called simple words like hand, arm or eye?! I like my own nicknames for them ;-)


As for Herpes..I now just call it H...haven't managed to come up with anything for my HPV though so together they are the 'two H's'.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Wow, this is a great article!


I have not yet disclosed to a potential partner, but have gone through the conversation in my head a hundred times. I understand how powerful words can be.


I like the word "occurrence", and that you add simplex on the end as wel. It doesnt sound scary at all that way. Since I have been diagnosed, I have only had my initial occurrence, and none other. So its really not a huge physical part of my life. More emotional than anything.


thank you for the advice :)

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