10 Lessons I've Learned After Living with Herpes for 1 Year

Thursday, June 30, 2016

1.  Hitting rock bottom is inevitable at some point, for an uncertain period of time  
It could be a day, a month, or even years. At some point, the stigma will hit you, and it will hit hard. It’s okay to let yourself feel the brunt of the pain, and to cry yourself to sleep at night. Is it the end of the world? No. Does it feel like it? Sure it does, especially upon first receiving the news. Should you have to feel this way? No, but whether tears stem from the physical pain of an outbreak, or the pain that you find rooted in fear of your future, there will be a sense of hopelessness, but it will not last forever. 

2. There is the potential for an identity crisis
I went through a lot of phases after my diagnosis. From “It can’t be herpes” to “I’m fine” to “It’s about time I own this.” Each phase was accompanied by a different self-projected image of myself. Although I love expression through fashion and beauty trends, wearing black lipstick from Christmas through New Years was a bit extreme. My unspoken feelings manifested themselves in my external expression of self. I believe it is important to go with the flow in this sense, as our feelings and emotions are difficult beasts to confront, especially when the world tells you to remain silent in shame. 

3. People won’t always understand my purpose, and they don’t have to 
Someone will always find something to say about who you are and the actions you choose to take in your life. Since publicly stating my HSV-2 status, my criticism stemmed mainly from my personal blog. Be they members from my small town, trolls on Twitter, or conservatives on the internet, they all shared one thing in common—they didn’t believe in my cause or viewpoint. I know my purpose and that there are people who identify with it, people who see its value—I know its value, and that’s enough for me to continue pursuing my activist endeavors

4    4. Internet resources can be your best friend and worst enemy
I fell asleep every night researching herpes, herpes transmission, and blood test results on the internet. Every so often, I still find myself falling asleep suffocated by herpes research. As much valuable information as there is available, there is as much invaluable information. Opinions can be published as fact, which are usually the articles that instill the most fear and sense of shame. It is important to be able to discern the credited sources from those that are out-of-date and lacking in accuracy.  

5    5. People see me as somewhat of a safe space--I value it greatly
I am one of many safe spaces in this community. I became a safe space as soon as I revealed my diagnosis on Facebook and other forms of social media. Men and women from across the United States, and even the world, shared their diagnoses and stories with me. This is something truly valuable to me, because there is a fear in disclosure. No matter how confident we may be with our diagnosis, there is alway trepidation that there may be a negative reaction. No matter what someone is battling, it is always comforting to have someone to turn to, someone who understands your situation, someone who has been there before. This is why it is also of importance to have voices besides my own, a heterosexual white woman’s, in this community.   

6     6. It really is as common as they say
      You probably know someone with herpes, whether the virus presents itself genitally, or in the form of cold sores. I would say that around every two to three weeks, I receive a message from someone whom I know personally about their diagnosis or scare, just looking for someone to talk to, someone who understands. We always see the statistics as to how many individuals are infected, but it becomes reality when intertwined with real-life moments like these.

7     7. The more people I told, the easier it became for me to accept herpes as an insignificant reality in my life  
Herpes is an awkward word, but the more I said it, and the more I talked about it, the more comfortable I became with it. Surprisingly, the more others started talking about it, too. It was no longer something I needed to remain quiet about out of fear of what someone might think. It was just another word, just another virus.

8    8.  I never needed the guy who gave it to me to get through it
All I wanted was to talk about our shared disease. Someone who would get it, someone to listen to me and let me cry. After all, we were going through this diagnosis together, right? But that’s the problem, he didn’t even want to go through it alone. His absence forced me to dig within myself and find the strength to move beyond him and the infection he passed to me.

9     9. Touch and being touched won’t be the same for a while  
I remember going to the gym after I received the phone call from the nurse that I did indeed have herpes. The gym is one of my sanctuaries—a place to which I can escape and refocus from the demons I’m battling in my life. There is a particular moment that I remember when a trainer simply brushed my shoulder in front of the Stairmaster, and I couldn’t take it. I glared at him as if he knew, as if he did it on purpose. I still carried pain between my legs, and disgust filled my body. In addition to apprehension of another’s touch, I was even more concerned with my own. A thriving sexuality was put on hold for many, many months because I didn’t think I was worthy of that pleasure.

10. I’m worth it, more so now than before
The stigma of genital herpes overshadowed pieces of myself that I vowed I’d never lose sight of—my confidence, my weirdness, my true sense of self. I internally degraded my body, mind, and spirit because I inhaled the stigma and let it encompass me. Like that black lipstick I dawned during the holidays, I dressed myself in stigma each day. The day I went public with my diagnosis was the day I learned that I could survive on my own. I learned to be cautious with whom I spend my time with, and take note of who invests their time in me. I slowly relearned the music of my body. As I rekindled the sexual side of myself, I found that others still recognized my innate sexuality, too. There is such a thing as a sex life post-herpes, even with someone who does not carry the virus. There are people who will accept you, all of you, and see you as worthy of both pleasure and affection.

I am worthy of many things besides my sexuality, though. I find it funny how it took the physical manifestation of the herpes virus for me to come full-circle with the idea of self-love. Life has given me many positives in the last year, besides the herpes virus. I am surrounded by a supportive group of friends, a network of HSV+ women who share similar visions as myself, and family members who support my strange passion to change the world. I am stronger in my affirmations and am more focused on my goals and what I need to sacrifice in order to achieve them. While I shed layers of my old self and several toxic individuals in 2015, I have, in exchange, gained a stronger sense of independence and purpose in my journey ahead.

It Started with a Spark, Led to a Click, {& Eventually Herpes}

Monday, June 27, 2016

My lovers can find pieces of themselves between lines of my poetry and stories I have written, most of which, I choose not to share. What is difficult for me to wrap my head around is how differently I can paint a person through my words. How my perspective shifts through hurt and heartache. How a man, painted so distinctly as a potential lover, can just as easily transform into an other.
The man who transmitted genital herpes to me was a puzzle piece in one of the best nights of my life, years prior to contracting the virus. I was studying abroad in Europe and he was stationed in the Air Force in London. We shared our first kiss on a London Tube escalator, and from that moment, that night remained electric. It stuck in my head for months, and to be honest, it will always be there. My intuition roared that this person would have a tremendous impact on my life, but I was unaware as to what capacity.

A couple of years went by, and I was still thinking about that night, still writing about the night I felt my heart rattle between my ribs. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, until I finally comprehended that instead of writing about this person, I needed to write to him. And so I did. I mustered up the courage to open the confines of my heart; I took a risk and set my heartbeat free. My poetry breathed life into an email across the Pond. The short story I wrote about our night had restored its electricity.
No one desires rejection, and in short, I was not necessarily on the receiving end. But I wasn’t moving forward through his response, either. He told me that he, too, felt that spark, that click between us, but it was the wrong time. We were both in different places. I was still in college, he was half a world away in the military. It couldn’t be now. But he left that door of possibility open, and I clung to it.
After I submitted that letter to him, we remained in contact through various forms of social media. When I discovered that he would be returning to America last summer, those echoes of “maybe” and “what if” ricocheted through my head. We slept together that 4th of July weekend. About 10 days later, we found ourselves inebriated, chasing one another around a local bar in town. It bared a strong resemblance to that night in London. Not exactly an all-encompassing spark, but enough to give me another taste of our shared adventure. He soon became entirely too intoxicated, so my friend and I dragged him home into my bed. I awoke in the morning, in his t-shirt that he requested me to wear through his drunken slurs hours before, and I just knew something was not right. I thought it was just a yeast infection, but part of me knew it was more than that. I kept quiet about it, and after he left, pondered all of the new “what-ifs” as to what the pain could be. But deep down, I knew.
After writing about my experiences with herpes, I have been accused of writing out of bitterness and spite. This is an expected response when writing publicly about one’s relationships, or lack thereof. The last thing I want to admit to myself, is that this guy still crosses my mind — but he does. For different reason this time. It is no longer out of curiosity of that spark. There is frustration in how he disappeared. There is irritation towards his ignorance, which he may or may not admit. There is a war in my head between how I once painted him, and how he acted towards me after receiving news of the diagnosis. For my own personal sanity, I needed to forgive him to move forward. Forgiveness is a very personal decision, which I have learned, may not be for everyone. But it is essential for me. These moments of anger and hindrances of “why” sneak up on me when I least expect them, but there are moments that I have learned to anticipate his ghost. When I reach for my Valtrex each day. When I remove my clothes. When I even think about engaging in sex. There is an echo in my head that he is a part of me which I cannot remove. This is the impact he was destined to make upon my life. This is the result of the spark.
Being vulnerable with oneself, I have found, is often more difficult than being transparent with others. Although I have grown stronger through this experience, and have been able to have a positive effect on the world around me, I have also taken steps back in other areas of my life. I am colder, and I wish it wasn’t. I shy away from expressing my feelings with those whom I hold close to my heart. I wish I could spill open and breathe light into those whom I hold any accumulation of feelings for. But I still have healing to do before I open my heart in its entirety, and that’s okay. I will restore my own electricity.

More Show, Less Tell: A Glimpse Into My Glamorous Barn Apartment

Sunday, June 19, 2016

            When I was in grade school  I eagerly professed my desire to pursue a professional basketball career, in addition to a career in interior design. Being raised in a household with a dad who worked two full-time jobs was most likely the inspiration for my dual-job dream. Although my aspirations of shooting hoops have faded away, I still have a strong passion for interior design and decorating.

            I recently moved to my new apartment, which is located above a barn. Yes, a barn. I’ve posted several glimpses of my little home on social media, and people seem to love them, so I figured I would dedicate a post to my happy home as well. 

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Above: Doormat custom-painted from Shop Josie B

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Above: As an anxiety sufferer, candles have always been something that help me feel at-ease, therefore, I find it imperative to have as many as possible. Holders found at Pier 1 and Ikea. Some of my favorite scents include:

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Above: Mirrored tray found in the bath section of Home Goods, made by Nicole Miller NYC ($15). Quotable cards found at Target in the greeting card section. Peonies courtesy of Whole Foods ($12). Candle, Henri Bendel ($32).

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Above: Since adding a makeup artist best friend into my life three years ago, my makeup collection has increased quite a bit. So much so that I needed an entire makeup vanity. Mirrored table found at Home Goods ($150). "E" Mugs used to hold brushes, Anthropologie. Plastic containers found at TJ Maxx & Home Goods (left). Mirrored chest, Home Goods (middle). Plastic, stacking containers found at The Container Store (right).

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Above: My self-described Carrie Bradshaw Closet. My apartment has one bedroom, and I decided to turn the whole room into my closet. Mirror found at Home Goods ($99). Rolling clothing racks found at Target ($65).  Plum bench found on clearance at Home Goods ($83). Shoe cabinet, gifted to me for free, but can be found at Ikea ($190).

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Above: Bar cart found on clearance at Pier 1 ($120). New York picture found at Home Goods. Margarita Glasses found at Home Goods ($12 for all). Stemless champagne flutes found at TJ Maxx ($12 for all). Big Ben cocktail shaker holder found at TJ Maxx ($12). Since this photo has been taken, I have accumulated gin, vodka, whiskey, and rum for a more complete bar cart.

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Above: Kitchen, obviously. You know you're an adult when you get excited about your Simple Human trashcan. My ever-expanding collection of mugs that I love to display.

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Above: "Get Naked" bathmat from Urban Outfitters ($39).

          In addition to the spaces above, I have a back porch that needs some design love, as well as my bathroom, a few book shelves, and an Ikea bed that has yet to be assembled.  Once those projects are complete, I will happily share the final pieces of my glamorous country abode. Who ever thought anyone would ever combine those words to describe apartment style?!

I Love Me More

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Over the last several months, I have found myself retreating from certain arenas, namely my friends and the blogging world. A result of multiple transitions, self-evaluation, and overall need for healing. As an only child, I have always been at home with my “me-time.” I often have conversations with myself in my head, and this extended reflection and internal communication has led me to be at peace with my current direction. 

How I manage my time this summer holds a lot of promise for my 2017 and beyond.  If I do not make apt use of my time, I will not achieve my goals. Simple enough, right? What is not so simple, is putting that attitude into action. Saying “no” to an extra glass of wine. Leaving some events early to go to bed, because I wake up before sunrise to accomplish my daily tasks. Taking an entire day to prepare meals for the week because I know my schedule will not allow otherwise. A lot of people don’t understand the methodologies behind my lifestyle, and that’s okay, it’s not their life to live. But behind the seemingly obsessive itinerary, there are goals and dreams that I am working towards, and this schedule allows me to keep myself in check.

Although I have made time for myself, there are a lot of things I have neglected. After a hectic few weeks of transition, I am finally getting settled into a routine. I never wanted to admit that I am someone who enjoys a set schedule, but in one of those heart-to-hearts with myself, I have accepted that this is who I am, and this is the environment that I need to thrive. I need eight hours of sleep to be able to put 100% effort into my day. I need to go to yoga at least three times a week to keep my sanity in check. I need to go to the gym for that physical release. I need to write, because I have a voice. It seems that as each weekend rolls around, I assert that I will make time to write. And something happens, and Saturday night is somehow Monday morning again. The cycle repeats. I do not want to go through my entire summer wishing that I had allotted my time differently. I have spent most of my adult life as a people-pleaser, it’s time to put myself first for a change. That seems to be an overriding theme for me in 2016.

For what I want to achieve in 2017, I am going to have to make some sacrifices this summer.  Last weekend I was sitting around with a group of friends at a local bar, and I realized everyone was getting drunk, and I was getting tired. Someone asked if I wanted a shot, or another glass of wine, and I politely declined. Getting drunk with your friends is fun every once in a while, but I never want that to be the foundation for any relationship or friendship. I never want a friend to just be a drinking friend. You should offer each other more depth than that. I say it all the time, but I am different, and I am comfortable with my differences. And I think that’s another reason I feel so unattached to certain situations that most people gravitate towards. It is difficult to say “no” to my friends, but I think it is potentially more damaging to say “no” to time with myself. This is a time in my life when I need to be selfish, and I think that selfishness is something we are all entitled to. In fact, it is essential to our well-being.
As I am better prioritizing my time in relationship to my goals, I am also learning to navigate who to keep in my life as I move forward. I have learned that it is okay to cut people out of your life, especially those who do not support you, or hold any interest in your success or well-being. We all know these people. They only seem to care about one thing, themselves. Whenever in their presence, we leave feeling angered and wishing we could walk away. Do it. Leave them--friend, boyfriend, family member. If they are not contributing to your sense of contentment or adding positivity in your life, it is time to go. 

I briefly touched on an experience in my own life when this occurred. I have no patience for stagnancy. There were so many accumulated, passive-aggressive jabs at my life that this person made about my choices that it became unbearable. This person and I were very different, and at one point in time, we balanced one another out quite well. But there came a moment in our friendship in which this person became toxic to me. I think the one phrase that echoes in my head (probably more often than it should) was when this person said, “If you met the right man, you’d want to drop everything to get married right now. But you have goals and dreams and things, don’t you, Emily.” Yeah, you know what, I do. And I should not be shamed for living a life that makes me happy, and neither should that person, nor anyone else.  This person feels that her sole purpose in life is to be a wife and mother—wonderful, I am truly happy that she has found something that she feels fulfills her life goals. But along her path to becoming a wife, she seemed to lose herself in the process. This philosophy goes for any career or familial role. Do not make yourself stagnant to fulfill an outside role or duty in appeasement for someone else. You will end up searching for happiness in other people and outside situations because you never found it within yourself. It becomes obvious to those whom you once labeled as “friends,” and you will wonder why suddenly, you have none. Your quest for happiness and lack of self-esteem eventually manifests itself in all facets of your personality, and thus, you became a draining and toxic individual. Being a wife and mother are important roles, but life extends beyond those identities, and so should you. 

From the moment I cut this person out of my life, I felt such a weight lifted from my shoulders. It felt freeing that my lips no longer had to mouth her name, or voice one more remark regarding my negative feelings towards her. Finally cultivating enough of a backbone to tell myself, "I’ll be okay without this person, I need to protect myself. I need to walk away" was a big step for me.Since eliminating this toxicity from my life, I have been much more content. Not every relationship I have is perfect, but I can say that they all contribute positively to my life. For the first time, I am happy with those whom I choose to surround myself with, and spend time with, even if it is in sparing moments.