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My First (Family) Herpes Disclosure.....


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I have known I've had genital herpes (HSV2) for almost two years now. I'm no longer with the man that (I think) gave me herpes, and I've not dated many men that are not 'in the club' so I've only had to disclose to a non-herpes partner once. So to say I have limited experience in disclosing is probably an understatement! But I've been okay with that. When I first found out, I didn't want anyone to know. Anger, fear, shame and a big old helping of "how-could-I-be-so-stupid??" was what I went through.

I bounced back pretty quickly, because I've been through so much worse in my life, I realized I could deal with this. I have always wanted to keep this pretty private. I am in a great place with my acceptance of herpes, but I don't want to be judged by someone else's preconceived ideas or total ignorance about the virus. So I have not told any of my family or friends. 

After breaking up with my non-herpes boyfriend, I decided it was time to connect with people who were going through the same thing. I needed to talk to someone who I could relate to. I called the local Planned Parenthood offices in my town, and was told about the monthly meetings for people with HSV/HPV, which is connected to a Yahoo group and a Meetup group in my area. I signed up immediately. 

I attended my first meeting at PP a year ago. I was nervous and didn't know what to expect. I was greeted by the warmest, most caring and understanding group of individuals I have ever met. I felt instantly accepted. And relieved! A year and four months later, I'm now a co-organizer for the Meetup group, and I co-facilitate the meetings at PP. This has been an amazing experience! 

Herpes has helped to redefine my life in a positive way! I love what I do with the group, helping people and watching them grow ... beautiful stuff that makes my heart smile. I am now at the point where most of my friends are from the group, and all of the greatest things going on in my life are because of/with the group. Yet still when I talk to my family about it, I am constantly self-editing. I'm getting very frustrated with keeping this great stuff a secret! 

I decided to finally disclose to some of my close family members. I chose my aunt to talk to first. She is only 13 years older than me, and we get along great. She is full of awesome wisdom and experience. She is a recovering alcoholic and has had some rough times in her life. I respect her more than she knows. I called her last Sunday and we talked for an hour and a half. She asked me about what was going on in my life, and I told her about all the things I was doing with the Meetup group, and how involved I was. 

Then I took a deep breath and said "I have to tell you something ....... all of the things I'm doing with the group are really pointing me in the direction I want to go with my life, for my new career. The group I belong to is a support group. I found out a few years ago I have herpes, and the events, support meetings and workshops are with them. I am happy, clear on what I want from life and working on myself every day. Life is good." 

Without skipping a beat she said "Oh my God! Herpes is no big deal! I've had it for 20 years! You're going to be just fine, kiddo!" WHAT???? I was laughing through my tears! What a relief! I'm so glad I told her, and I got some insight from her about talking to my parents and sister. And before we hung up she gave me some advice I'll share with you ... "You know (Athena), sometimes life is like a jackass standing in a hail storm. You just have to get through the shit and come out the other side of it stronger than you were before." She's right. 

At this moment in your herpes experience, you might feel like you're getting the crap pelted outta you. And some of what you're going to go through is going to be rough. Stay positive, know you're worthy, and stronger than you know. I promise. Much love, friends. <3

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Amazing the kind of shift in perspective that can happen from one side of the disclosure to the other ... from worry and self-judgment pre-disclosure to relief and laughter post-disclosure! The worry of what could be vs. the relief of what actually is. There's a great quote by Twain that hits this idea on the head: "I've had thousands of problems in my life, most of which never actually happened." This is an awesome example of that! CONGRATULATIONS for having the strength and courage to tell her! And what an amazingly positive validation on the other side of it! Bravo! I know that must have felt super good!

 

Then, of course, there might be those times where our negative fantasies DO come true ... (horror movie music plays) and what then? What if it turned out that your aunt DIDN'T have herpes and she had judged you for whatever reason? What is the opportunity then? I've been playing around with this idea in my own mind, not as a way to focus on the negative, but to plan for it as a possibility and go courageously toward that goal. After all, we don't have control over someone else's beliefs and relationship to stigma. Just has me curious about what would happen then, you know?

Notes:

  • My mother is now in hospice with end-stage cancer, so I am at her house a lot these days helping where I can until she passes. Thank you in advance for understanding if I am not as quick to respond as I normally would be. This is a precious and bittersweet time …
  • 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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My mother inadvertently judged me when i told her about a woman i knew who contracted it as a 16 year old and how sad it is that she has not coped with it and is now unhappy, isolated and alone at 30....despite knowing about me she said 'well she shouldn't have put herself in that position in the first place'.  Whoa!  But instead of getting defensive I asked my mother a series of questions (she has only ever been with my father from 16 yrs old)..."so you think we should get punished by loving someone mum?" "do you think we should be celibate forever and not enjoy a loving relationship?"...neither question could she answer yes too and the conversation went onto other things, knowing I made my point.  I did feel judged but how people behave and what they say is about them and their set of beliefs.  It's not wrong in that context and based on their beliefs they are right.  I think something different and have experienced it so my beliefs are different again... maybe more compassionate and understanding - you can't make people 'get it' but by sensitively challenging them and not taking it personally they either shut up or make a positive shift in their understanding - that's what I want to achieve if someone judges me.  And I think CONGRATULATIONS too Athena and congratulations the H Opp - wish I could meet you as I love your posts, you have great empathy and understanding. A hug for you both :-)

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