A Letter To Myself Pre-Herpes Diagnosis: One Year Later

Saturday, July 30, 2016

*My Facebook and Timehop are flooded with memories and emotions of who I became last summer. the following is a letter 2016 Emily wrote to 2015 Emily as a reminder of how far I've come on my journey.* 

Dear 2015,

Congratulations on your recent graduation from college. You've dreamt of this day since seventh grade, when you proudly announced that you'd rather be applying for college than high school. I know it wasn't always an easy path for you, being the loner and all, but you accomplished so much during your undergraduate career. Your accumulated coursework and diligence gave you the necessary foundations to prepare you for ultimate success. You recently accepted your dream internship, in a position directly related to your major. The internship was not advertised, you sought it, you reached out, and you earned it. The thing about that internship though, the one you worked so hard to establish, you will destroy it, in the same manner that you will destroy yourself.

You treated your college years more like graduate school. You were never considered as a party girl, but you were content with that, you owned that part of yourself. Whenever your friends managed to yank you out of your bed and into the crowds, you wished you stayed home, and they wished you had, too. You can be somewhat of the Debbie Downer of your friend group. Your one-bedroom apartment was your safe haven, your sanctuary. People thought you were weird because you never had roommates, but you didn't care. You loved having a space to call your own. Instead of going out on weekends, you preferred to indulge in your favorite TV series with a glass of wine, or venture to your favorite Mexican restaurant in search of a house margarita and fajitas. Although you were immune to the stereotypical college experience then, you will soon begin to identify with those girls who dragged you out on weekends.

The bottle of wine will stare at you from across the counter and you won't even feel the need to pour a glass because you know it will disappear by the end of the night. You'll wake up in the morning in the same clothes, with lipstick smeared across your cheeks and a puddle of drool on your pillow. You won't know how you got there. This becomes routine. You walk over to your Keurig and tell yourself that today will be the day that you'll make it into work, but you already know the answer. It's not because you don't want to go to work, it's not because you don't like the work you're doing, it's because you don't like yourself. You don't know who you are anymore and you don't want to face your newly acquired identity.

A month from now, you will be diagnosed with genital herpes. Just as I'm sure you sense disbelief reading these words, you will feel that same sense of disbelief when you leave the doctor's office that day, except this time, it will be attached to an overwhelming sense of degredation. Out of everyone in the universe, you will be given this highly stigmatized virus. And the person who will transmit it to you, is the last person you will expect. He is not just some guy;  he is someone whom you feel a connection with, someone you hold a significant amount of feelings for, someone with whom you've expressed your true feelings with. You will want to talk about it with him. You will want to share in the experience of being shadowed by the shame in carrying an STD. You will want to know more. You will want to know if he knew, or had any suspicion. Well, the reality of it is, it doesn't matter if he knew, you will still contract it. Even if he does give you an answer, it might not be the truth, and that's something you will learn to accept over time. But accepting his response doesn't mean you'll come to terms with it. It may very well be a question you carry with you the rest of your life, just like herpes.

And that guy? He will leave you. But the truth is, he will turn his back on you the moment you share the news with him. He will start running from you then. There will be one day in September when you stay at a local winery from open to close. You won't remember, of course, but you'll make your way to a bar in town and continue to drink. You will take shot, after shot, of different kinds of liquor in attempts to numb the pain. It will have the opposite effect. For the first time, you will be honest with yourself. You will text this guy that you're struggling with your herpes diagnosis, and you don't know what to do, or who to turn to. So you turn to him. He won't respond. Not only will he not respond then. He won't respond for a full 24 hours. He's busy, his phone dies. These are his responses to you. There will not be an acknowledgement of your feelings. That tells you everything you need to know about his character.

I know you're probably cringing in denial as you read these words, you will become a grave of the woman you once prided yourself on being, you will see your hopes and dreams as unattainable, just like you will soon see your love life. You will wonder who will want you, who will love you, who will take the time to learn your body with this. Who will want to take the risk? I promise you, there are people who look past the stigma and see herpes for what it really is: an uncomfortable skin condition on an already stigmatized private place in the body. Someone will come into your life who proves to you that these types of people exist. Just as you relearn your sexual being in the context of this new man, it saddens me to say that your heart will become much colder from the experience with the man prior. It will be difficult for you to open up. It will be challenging for you to initiate any kind of intimacy: a touch, a kiss, a text, a compliment, a brush against his thigh. 

I know you think you have your life plan all figured out, but you still have a lot of growth within yourself that needs to be done before you can even think of moving forward.  Despite your upcoming downfall, these experiences will push you to pursue your wildest dreams. It's one year later, and you landed that job at the same place of employment as your internship. You started blogging and writing, hoping to reach more people, to be that person that you never had to share in this experience. You became the person you needed. You are more than the disease you will carry, so much more, and you will impact the world in a way you never thought possible. Keep your head held high, there is always a light to look to, a torch to carry forward.



The Most Intimate Relationship We Have Is With Instagram

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

         With social networks like Instagram, there is an expected endorsement with a simple like, but when it comes to our feelings, the other party may not be so willing to press the button. Millennials, including myself, seem to be so eager to document our food, our selfies, our adventures—vague little pieces of our self-puzzles, to the public eye. But when it comes to the magnetism we feel towards another human being, we choose to keep our posts to ourselves. We do not even allow the opportunity for a like to arise.

         Feelings land somewhere between the physical and intangible. The lines effortlessly blurred by fragments of emotion placed on our fingertips, grazing the bodies of one another through the seasons, while our tongues occupy themselves with one another's bodies instead of our vulnerabilities. I find that I fall victim to keeping my emotions guarded. It is easier for me to breathe a man into existence on paper, rather than stand before him and open my heart to him. I bite my tongue. His taste still drips from the corner of my lips. I swallow, smile. The way he reads my body feels like living poetry, but I am not convinced that he would ever be able to read my poems. Despite his ability to undress me in bed, I cannot reach that same kind of eruption spilling words from these lips—and I am not the only one.

         It is easy to maintain habitual relationship patterns over the course of our lives, but at some point, the road diverges between an end and a new beginning. Change occurs when we are able to step outside of our comfort zones. That's how we evolve beyond them. In social media, the only things that change are the filters. Though we often complain about the lack of progression in our relationships, we make a conscious choice to accept the repercussions of our uncertainties. We choose to deny the existence of exposing any accumulation of “real” feelings that could cause a sense of awkwardness or rejection. We quiet our thoughts through sensual touch and heightened arousal. We convince ourselves that the occasional shared moments with our partners that brush our intellectual surface will be enough to satiate our hard hearts. How strange a thought that we are less inhibited to share our nakedness and sexual kinks with our partners, than we are our feelings.

via Pinterest 

           If there is ever a full expression of emotional honesty within our non-relationships, it maintains an heir of mystery, filed away in our private messages. We take screen shots of our rejections, and of messages marked simply as “READ,” and never returned. Despite our original contentedness with keeping things casual, we still manage to find ourselves in the midst of heartbreak. We are quick to label the other party as guilty, but forget to turn the tables on ourselves.  We agreed to this, we gave consent to this 'fling,' but we are still hurt. We are a generation that thrives in almosts and what-if's. We are a generation that pretends to care less in hopes of building something more. We are a generation that cannot handle a conversation regarding our emotions in terms of our relationship status, because that would mean we'd meet our fears face-to-face. Our fear of rejection would no longer be safely guarded behind a screen. If we are truly content with ourselves, we don't post simply for the likes. We post because it's us, and it brings us happiness to share pieces of ourselves with the world. So keep posting yourself, someone is bound to like you.

Stepping Into The Locker Room Is More Than Taking Off Your Clothes

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Every morning as I step into the gym, I immediately put my gym bag in my locker. I shut the door, put my headphones in, and blast Pandora before my lift. My only focus walking out is the workout ahead. Upon my return, I am reminded of a different focus.

Walking amidst a variety of women, my privilege begins to make itself known. I am tall, thin, white, a biological female who identifies as heterosexual. I carry a lot of privilege walking in and out of the locker room. As I strip my sweat drenched Lululemon pants from my bronzed skin, I think nothing of my nakedness. I often do not even reach for a towel until I am headed to the showers. While I am comfortable in my nudity, I see many women clutching their towels, fingers in armpits, scampering off to change in a more private place.

Even me, the privileged girl, still holds insecurities about my body. I have stretch marks strewn across my inner thighs and glutes that are shadows of a high school eating disorder. I know what it's like to feel “fat,” a word that most women have labeled themselves at one time or another. I also know what it feels like to feel too skinny. After recovering from my eating disorder, I deleted all pictures I could find of myself. My breasts are the things I'm most insecure about. They never took the same shape. They're still round, and they're still boobs, but they aren't society's 'ideal', just an average C cup. Some days I look in the mirror and have outlines of my abdominals, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think I'm too skinny, whereas other times, I wish I wasn't so bloated. In fact, most of my insecurities in the locker room reveal themselves to me after peering at myself in the mirror.

But what about the women who are afraid to even peek their heads from behind their towels? The women who hide in the changing room as they shed their clothes? The women who do not step into the locker room out of fear? Not only are we dealing with insecurities we hold towards our physical bodies, but also the ones we hold of our past selves, our personal scars and stories that we carry with us each day. Recently, what I am often reminded of in the locker room, is my HSV2+ status. What if I had to wear a scarlet letter each day in the locker room that said, “herpes+.” Would that change how the women around me responded to my presence? Would they be afraid to step where I stepped, or use the same towels or showers simply because I am a carrier of the virus? Would I be banned from the locker room, or even the gym itself? 

"Toxic Synesthesia" by Alexandra Levasseur

These visits each morning are not simply about the transition from gym to workplace. It is more than standing naked, it is standing in vulnerability. It is silently sharing our insecurities with one another. Each day, a variety of women walk through those shower doors: women of color, women who identify as gender-nonconforming, women who identify as trans, women of all different shapes and sizes. Not only are there physical differences, but also in the histories we carry. There are victims of sexual assault and rape, those suffering from mental illnesses, those going through heartbreak, or those just having a bad day, all walking through the same locker room, and we are not even aware.

As much as we don't like to admit we look at one another in locker rooms, we cannot really help avoiding seeing a woman's vagina and breasts when you're surrounded by them at each turn. You simply can't avoid it. We compare and react, maybe not consciously, but judgements make themselves known. I have been the one comparing, just as I have felt myself being compared, too. It is important to remind ourselves of the deeper levels of self and the stories we carry beneath our skin. How brave an act of removing one's clothes can be, even if we only remove them behind a closed door.