Dear Lush Spa, I'm Not An Untouchable: On Two Years With Herpes

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Alarm bells buzz as I reach for my glasses on the nightstand, and somehow manage to unroll myself from tangled sheets. I slowly shuffle myself downstairs to brew my first cup of coffee. Somewhere between my first and second cup, I take my daily vitamins and medications. Omega-3, Multi-Vitamin, Super-B Complex, Valtrex. Valtrex, an oblong blue pill that stands out from the rest, and shapes a meaningful part of my identity.

Two years ago, almost to the day, I walked out of a Patient First mourning the woman I once was. I climbed into the passenger side of my Dad's truck and cried on my his shoulder asking him, "Who will ever love me?" Since that moment, I've come to realize that a lot of people hold significant amounts of love for me, including myself (something that wasn't always present). On the flip side of the support given by family, friends, and strangers, is the reality of how weighted the stigma of carrying a sexually transmitted infection (STI) really is.

No matter how many CDC statistics or "real life" experiences that myself and others who share in this educational pursuit present to the world, there are going to be those who don't get it, choose not to get it, and never will support it. I have felt shame online, but for the first time experienced it in person at the Lush Spa in Philadelphia.

After I take that not-so-little blue pill in the morning, you'll most likely find me hitting the gym, or on the pier for a yoga session.  Coaches and yoga instructors have never had a problem touching me. There has never been hesitation, or lack of love in adjustments given to improve a posture or encourage the engagement of different muscle groups in my body.

Friends and family members have never held back hugs, in fact, they hold me tighter. Sexual intimacy has improved, thanks to a partner with open ears and an understanding heart. There has never been a moment where I have felt "disgusting" or "unworthy" of pleasure in bed in that relationship because of the virus I carry. There is still meaningful touch, there is still pleasure and I'm more comfortable with expressing my sexual desires, needs, and emotions because of that honesty. My sexuality is so well-nurtured in this environment that I often forget I even carry the herpes virus. I just feel like me.

From a young age, many of us learn to differentiate "good" from "bad" touch. When I was first diagnosed with herpes, I remember dragging myself to the gym, and the simple brush of a shoulder by a fitness instructor was enough to bring me to tears. No, it was not an inherently 'bad' touch, but I was sensitive due to a negative experience that happened in my life. So many people are unaware of the invisible boundaries that exist due to the past weights we carry. As much as there is a healing power in touch, there is one that can ruin an entire day. This power of touch is one of the main reasons I sought my RYT 200 certification, to provide that love and care that others have shown me. To offer a safe space and sense of healing, if others are open to receiving it.

The overwhelming sense of judgement that I felt from across the table at Lush Spa Philadelphia when I disclosed my medications was enough for me to determine that it was not a safe space.  When disclosing to medical professionals and even my bikini waxer, no one has inquired further about Valtrex or herpes. I am open with my diagnosis, and usually, there are no further questions, nor should there be. In my research, I found a helpful guide entitled, "Basic Pharmacology for Massage Therapists." A brief description of Valtrex, an anti-viral, can be found on page 44. Although accurate, I do not feel that this guide gives enough background for navigating real-life scenarios like the one I encountered. Collectively, we need to do better.

I am not pushing this issue for free spa treatments, or Lush products. What I am advocating for is further education and understanding in the spa and beauty industry about sexual health, stigmas, and the value in creating a safe space. Lush presents itself as a holistic organization in support of "fresh" and "organic" products that have an "honest meaning beyond marketing." Additionally, Lush gives back through a variety of means (charity pots, limited edition products, etc.) to "advocate for the environment, animals and people in need." This company presents itself to the public as one who cares about its customers.

The support received from Lush Cosmetics North America has been honest and receptive to my comments and concerns, however, the as-promised response from Lush Philadelphia is so far, non-existent. As a company that appears to be so dedicated to the value of natural products and supportive of the good of the world around us, I am a bit disappointed in the way this situation was handled. I've made a list of reasons in my head as to why Lush's promise was left unfulfilled: The manager hasn't had a chance to talk with the masseuse. I'm at the bottom of the manager's 'to-do' list, especially after a return from vacation. The manager doesn't know what to say, or how to respond. Or maybe Lush is just hoping I fade away. If I were in the manager's shoes, I'm not sure I would know what to say, either, except maybe, "I'm sorry."

On it's Charitable Giving page, Lush claims that it focuses "...on campaigning and education efforts to make societal change." Although I have been assured multiple times through Lush's Twitter that my situation is being taken seriously, actions are beginning to speak louder than words. I can only hope that my correspondence and writing efforts hold true with Lush's mission. I've spent two years fighting this stigma in my own mind, and in the world around me, and it's not something I plan to back away from.

I pour my coffee just like everyone else. I say "shit" one too many times when I realize that I'm late for work. I may take one more pill in the morning than some, but that one blue pill is not the standard for who I am and how I should be treated.

How Herpes Unexpectedly Defined My LUSH Spa Experience

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Is it up here, or...down there?" the masseuse nervously inquired. While I applaud her knowledge of the differentiation of HSV-1 and HSV-2, the situation was not dealt with in a professional manner. 

One of my greatest fears is failure--that I won't do something 'just right,' or that I will disappoint myself in my execution of a project, or lack thereof.  I've been having a lot of fun lately, and seeing that this is my first summer in a new city--my first summer living in any city--I don't think that there is anything 'wrong' with that mindset. What I do see fault in is my avoidance of housekeeping, grocery shopping, and the mundane things that seemed to be so easily accomplished months ago. Things that kept me successful in running my active lifestyle, have somehow loosened their seems. Underneath the beer gardens and poolside mimosas, there is also an element of fear that I've kept from myself. School. 

When I submitted my deposit just a few months ago, I saw a box that said, "defer to Fall 2018." In hindsight, I wish I had checked it. I do not believe my original six-month plan was adequate time for me to adjust and explore my new city, and develop a new routine for what success means to me.  One of my best friends summed it up well in his advice to me, "It's not that you're incapable of completing the work now. But you have a lot on your plate and mind, and I'm not sure if you can give it the attention you want at the current time."

Since that conversation, there have been moments of weakness and uncertainty, and I'm still unsure as to what my next move is. What's right, what's wrong--it's overwhelming to me. Believe what you may about the power of the full moon and it's effects, but this past one was no different, at least for me. A feeling of strangulation by my innermost thoughts, a constant stream of intuitive analysis- to the point of physical manifestation of symptoms that don't add up. It's enough to make me want to lock myself in my apartment during the next cycle.

My stress management has improved with age, and typically, yoga does the trick. This time around, I dug deeper into my practice of self-care and booked a massage. After an already shitty Wednesday, I was looking forward to the time to decompress and let go--of school, people, injuries-- and just be. Originally, I was seeking a deep tissue massage, but when I learned that one of the two LUSH Spas in North America was in Center City, I quickly changed my mind.

I booked an appointment for "The Good Hour," a seventy minute deep tissue, ship-themed massage. After pre-paying for my services, I was greeted with lemon water and whisked away into the chic county kitchen. I was greeted by my masseuse, who handed me a paper that I thought nothing of. A usual list of any known allergies and medications I'm currently taking. I filled out the paperwork in a little under two minutes as she gave me a background story of the LUSH Spa. I knew something was wrong when her brows furrowed over my paper.

"...You take Valtrex? How long have you taken that?"Just about two years now.
"...Why are you taking that?"I have herpes.
I'm not sure what the usual spa standards are when it comes to disclosure forms, but I have written Valtrex on a variety of treatment forms, and this is the first instance when someone inquired how long and the reason it was prescribed to me. She scribbled something on the paper, shuffled it under the cabinet, and asked me to follow her upstairs. At this point, perhaps I was as nervous as she was.

Before leading me into the treatment room, I was given a chance to explore the LUSH bathroom--complete with a shower and almost any LUSH product you could think of. I did not care so much about experiencing the free LUSH products as much as I cared about my massage, so I quickly retreated into my supposed oasis. There were two chairs in the room, and I was asked to take a seat in one. After dropping the Big Blue bath bomb underneath the table, she joined me on the opposite side of the room. Before she sat down, she drew her hand to her face, and asked where I was infected. She couldn't even say the word, "herpes." It reminded me of a child describing his or her genitals for the first time: Awkwardness. Nervousness. Accompanied by a side of shame and slight embarrassment.

It's been almost two years to the day when I found out I had herpes, which is also why I think I was especially sensitive to this conversation. Herpes has become a common word in my vernacular, and for me is virtually just another part of who I am. I've done the crying. I've felt the shame and experienced the stigma. I know it exists in this world. And yet this conversation caused an internal breakdown. I bit my lip and shared my truth, "I have genital herpes. I was diagnosed two years ago and have only had one visible, physical outbreak. If you are uncomfortable touching me, or providing me this service, I'd be happy to leave." I knew I should have, and I wish I had. She insisted it was fine since I was on medication, but her attitudes, mannerisms, and questioning told me otherwise.  I felt like a leper.

I cried through half of my massage. Something I booked in an effort to show myself a little more love and de-stress, caused the opposite effect. I spent seventy minutes in my head trying to come up with a few sentences to share with my massage therapist. There was nothing wrong with the massage itself, even my therapist's touch, but the experience that LUSH intended to create was ruined by the lack of education, care, and sensitivity leading up to the main event.

I couldn't wait to escape after those seventy minutes. I was led to that little bathroom again and was faced with only my reflection. It reminded me of the girl I was two years ago, when I couldn't even face myself in the mirror because I was so disgusted. Mascara and eyeliner led a trail down my cheeks. As much as I tried to hide my tears, there was no way my therapist turned a blind eye. Tea and biscuits awaited my arrival downstairs, as did the massage therapist who I'd rather not be faced with again. She seemed over-friendly and energetic. I felt that we both wanted to say something to the other, but neither of us did.      

That night, I made a decision to contact LUSH*. I did not reach out to complain about my therapist, or the massage itself, but offer an opportunity for education. I have told chiropractors and other skin-care and holistic health enthusiasts about my medical health and diagnosis, and not once have they turned me away as a customer, or made me feel uncomfortable. This experience showed me that despite my efforts to educate, the stigma is very present, and very real. And no matter how much of a brave face I put on, I'm still affected by it.

As unpleasant as this experience was, it taught me something. There is still work to be done, and this is why I'm here. This is why I'm seeking to further my own education so I can create change, or at least a wave of it. Perhaps this is the universe's strange way of telling me to push forward with graduate school this semester. We are all afraid of something. Some people, like myself, are afraid of failure. Some people are afraid of spiders. For some, it's death. And some are afraid of being infected by an STI--likely because they are uneducated about STIs and only 'know' what society presents (which is usually not the best source of information). In her years of experience, I am sure this woman has touched many people with herpes, but I can guarantee you that not all of them disclosed--likely in fear of what unfolded during my experience: unnecessary shame, stigma, and lack of a safe space. I strive to change just that... 

*I have been in touch with LUSH North America since the incident and they assure me my comments and concerns are being taken seriously. The communication I have exchanged with them has been open, and very much a safe space for discussion (Thanks, LUSH!). I am supposed to hear from the store manager this Monday and will update this post accordingly. 
UPDATE- Lush Philadelphia remains silent

Escaping Emily

Monday, May 22, 2017

I’d liken my introspective nature to a paralysis at times; I am my own worst enemy. The last few weeks has caused a deeper reflection and repetition of my young adult life in my head. Fragments. Memories. Words. Years. Things I wish I said, or phrased differently, or didn't say at all. Things I’d rather forget. Things I wish I wrote down, or wish I savored longer. Although I cannot change the past, I can appreciate where I am now and the moments, lessons, and people that led me to present. In an attempt to maintain my usual positive mentality, and not collapse into an oblivion of Emily thought, I created this Gratitude List to remind me of just how lucky I am, how far I have come, and what still needs some fine tuning-- and maybe inspire a few others to do the same.

Written Expression. Words are one of my gifts. An extension of my voice, my heart, best articulated by putting pen to paper. I’m not the best at translating those thoughts into a solid vocalization, at least, not yet. I have little trouble talking to people, but when it comes to verbalizing exactly what I wish to say, it's not easy for me. I think it has something to do with my perfectionism and a pressure to find the exact words to relay my emotions. Because of this, I allow thoughts to bubble in my head longer than they should, and even though writing serves as a form of release, the words still linger.

 I am always thankful of those who appreciate my writing, whether through this blog, letters, or other form of written communication. Those in my life who accept me where I am, who are open to reading my voice and my thoughts, even in times of disagreement, misunderstanding, and uncertainty. I wish verbal communication came naturally to me. I reflect, and things have left my tongue with the wrong words or intention, or a chip of attitude, and are just subpar to things that could have been better expressed with patience. I have taken steps of honest and transparent communication through my writing, and have been working for the past year to create an improved verbal application, but it is still very much a work in progress. I am always thankful of those who appreciate my writing, whether through this blog, letters, or other form of written communication. Those in my life who accept me where I am, who are open to reading my voice and my thoughts, even in times of disagreement, misunderstanding, and uncertainty. I wish verbal communication came naturally to me. I reflect, and things have left my tongue with the wrong words or intention, or a chip of attitude, and are just subpar to things that could have been better expressed with patience. I have taken steps of honest and transparent communication through my writing, and have been working for the past year to create an improved verbal application, but it is still very much a work in progress.

Healthy Friendships. It's taken me most of my adult life to identify with a strong friend group, or even open myself to the idea of what society defines as a "best friend."  In childhood, someone you supposedly spend every moment with, never fought with, exchanged friendship bracelets and had sleepovers with each weekend. As a child (an only child at that), I was likely unaware of my introverted nature and need to recharge, and therefore, failed to identify with sharing that space, or conceptualize myself having, needing, or wanting a "best friend."

There was never an absence of friends, but maybe I was in scrutiny of the ones I did have--searching for this supposed "best friend" that never really identified with my needs. Friends have entered my life, they have left, and some have even reappeared. For better or worse, with the few friendships that have fallen apart, some of those whom I now consider to be my best friends have emerged from that rubble. And perhaps that was the purpose in those individuals' roles all along. That is not to say I was a perfect friend, I'm still not a perfect friend, but I have friends that love me, and who appreciate my presence, even if I make them take a picture everywhere we go.

We might not talk on a daily basis, but I know in the end, they always have my back. I know they're there, just as I am there for them. It goes both ways. We learn and grow from one another, laugh with each other, support each other, and listen with honesty and integrity, furthering each other to our best selves, even when we feel we are at our worst. That depth matters to me, and my friendships were not always at that level. I have finally reached a place in my life when I am happy with the energy surrounding me, and am receptive to finding that energy in a new locale.    

Forgiveness. Necessary to my healing, but something that does not come as easily to me as it once did. Last year, I wrote a controversial post about how "I am Most Grateful to the Guy Who Gave Me Herpes," and really, I am. That experience forced me to grow in every area of my life. In my romantic relationships, friendships, career, and educational pursuits. Things I had ignored for years, or brushed to the side. I was forced to look in the mirror and reevaluate my existence and what I am seeking within myself and my life. It was a transformative year for me--I'm not the same person I once was, I think it would be a problem if I were still the same person in terms of personal growth.

I have loved. I have lost. I have forgiven, over, and over, and over again. Cyclical, my own toxicity. Even when people highlight the negative aspects of someone, I will seek the good. I've always held a healing presence. There were times when I acted from that place too quickly. I never gave either party time to reflect, I simply pursued a quick fix, a temporary bandage for larger problems at hand.

Some of these people are no longer in my life, but their absences are not indicative of a lack of effort or forgiveness. Continued attempts and failures to heal and begin anew do not equate to healthy friendships or relationships. Not everyone will lift you up. Not everyone wants to see you achieve success. Not everyone is as positive, caring, and genuine as we wish them to be, or know they could be.  People can enter your life, and fail to hold a permanent place, and sometimes, this person can be you. I'm sure it was me at some juncture. There is no ill will to those who I have separated from, but I think it is important to achieve an awareness of how you affect others, and the effects they have on you. Like oil and water, some relationships just don't work, no matter how much effort you put into them, or how often you start over, not everyone is meant to stay in your life. Although there were better ways of navigating my separations, for me, these people served as teachers of pivotal growth points within myself that were necessary to my healing and maturity.    

 Passion. I see failure. I see mistakes made. But I see persistence, and someone who seeks growth, even though sometimes--most of the time, she has to learn the hard way.
But at the root of this list, I see passion. I see dreams realized. I love hard. I put every ounce of myself into my goals, interests, career, vision, and those who matter most to me. At times, probably a little too much. In my teens, I often lost my identity in others. It took several rounds of playing hide and seek with myself for me to learn, accept, and understand my value, need for space and independence, and appreciation for that in others.

I know some practice daily gratitude journals, but for me, these are current life themes that jump off my page. They offer a more complete picture of what I have realized, and what my current self-work is dedicated to.

Not Yet Trending: Letters & Why I Write Them

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Fingers harmonize a melody against keys as they search for just the right combination of... words. With exactly 1.5 spaces between my paragraphs, I press print. Brightly colored pen in hand, I strike through what doesn’t make sense. I circle words I want to change, and parenthesize phrases I don’t know what to do with. Colorful scribbles of questions and ideas fill the remaining blank space. Another edited document is tossed into the recycle bin. This process continues until I reach complete satisfaction with what I’ve written. Sometimes that means three reviews, other times, that means twenty. And sometimes, that piece never sees beyond the horizon of that blue bin.

Much of my writing goes public—be it through my blog, within a research community, or other publication platforms. There is a small collection that makes it past the recycle bin, and is not for public consumption--my letters. My writing process for letters goes one step further: physically taking a pencil to paper and writing. A three-page piece in print equates to roughly six pages of my nearly indecipherable handwriting on loose-leaf paper. Add a lipstick mark if you’re one of the lucky ones. 

Considered "love letters" by most, Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook may come to mind in romanticized media. Letters are seen as old fashioned. Something maybe your grandparents or great-grandparents did during their courtship, or while away at war. Handwritten, typed on a typewriter, and often unreturned. Why bother writing them today? Millennial dating is easy. You download an app, create the best version of yourself, swipe left or right through people in your city, and come up with a clever pick up line in hopes of grabbing the interest of your perspective dates. Undoubtedly, most suitors likely don't have the courage to approach you in public, or even use those oh-so-clever lines.

The lines I create require much more intimacy. I write when I have something of importance to say, but cannot trust the delivery method of speech. This can be a double-edged sword, and has often left me wishing I spoke up instead of allowing my thoughts and emotions to boil. The problem with verbalization, for me, is that it comes out wrong. Or is misinterpreted. Or I turn into a blubbery, crying mess. Or it just flat-out sounded better in my head than the words that spewed off my tongue. So I write. I write until I find the perfect syntax structure and tone. I write until I find meaning. I write until my heart feels release. I write until I can rest my head against the pillow at night.

And maybe some believe this communication method to be as cowardly as those online dating apps. But for me, it comes down to effort, and living a life of authenticity.  Writing exactly how I feel, why I feel it, and handing it to another is a courageous act, an intimate act. It's something that took reflection, preparation, and, knowing me, unnecessary overthinking. Letter writing is a rarity--there's no app for that.

When Even Yoga Pisses You Off: Finding Ease in the Effort to Look Up

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

4:45AM on Monday morning and my alarm sounds. Well, the first of three. I begrudgingly drag myself out of bed at 5:07 and am somehow out the door at 5:36 to make my 6 AM lift. I’m late for work, lugging three bags and a yoga mat onto the subway because I still haven’t found a bag that effectively transitions me between work and my workouts. Scrambling around pockets and crevices for my KeyCard, I realize I left my work ID in my apartment. Shit, it’s Monday.

My stream of consciousness is noticeably bitter. The question that sticks out in my head is a simple one: “Why?” The answer, much more complex.

Anger is foreign to me. It knocks me off balance, it heightens discomfort. My shoulders rise closer to my earlobes, my teeth clench, my brows furrow, my breath quickens. Fight-or-flight mode is fully engaged, and I can't seem to let go. After a series of post-workday vinyasas, my body felt lax, but my thoughts still held an intensified edge. Otherwise known as, "I left yoga wanting to punch someone in the face."

Unsatisfied, I resorted to what I often do when I need to grasp a sense of peace within (or at least, convince myself that I'm still capable of it).  I poured my favorite seven dollar riesling into a coffee mug and walked down to the Race Street Pier. I’m more of a sunrise and coffee kind of girl, but the water was calling, the sunset inching closer. I never just attend the sun's scheduled decent. I crave the transitions, the in-betweens that often go ignored. As I walked around and read some of the penmanship etched into the railings, one sentiment found its way into my heart:

“Look at all these open canvases to write upon… Now look up at the bright lights of the night to wish upon, the stars you gaze at may already be dead or dying, but to you they are still as bright as the day you first saw them…first saw HER!!! The only difference is that her love shined brighter. And her love never dies…leave dying to the body, because love, love lives forever.”

Corny, cliché, and oh so poorly written--it's tragic, but the intention is not.  Living in a city, I don't see many stars in comparison to the agricultural reserve of Maryland I once called home. Or at least, I don't care to devote my efforts to searching for them here. Ah... effort.  It was not until the value of their presence was brought to my attention that I noticed their absence.

Our actions serve as testaments to what matters to us. A combination of our jobs, friends, families, hobbies, and habits build a complex puzzle of "us." Somewhere between all of our "I'm on-the-way's," appointments, and deadlines, is emotional attachment. Invested interpersonal effort. The people we make time for. The relationships we choose to maintain. The energies we allow into our lives. That all too familiar conversation in which both parties say, "We should really get together soon," but neither follows up. Effort--it's a choice.

I've been known to burn bridges. Cumulative years of disrespect, naivety, and a hurting heart have developed into a zero-tolerance attitude as a mode of self-protection. Some things just take time to heal, and I'll re-open a door when I see fit. Although, there are some doors that will remain sealed forever. I have become skilled at honest communication, and it is a way in which I have found great satisfaction in my relationships. What I need to pay closer attention to is expended effort, especially as graduate school approaches.

The reality of working and going to school full-time is daunting, but it's something that I've been preparing for over the last two years. Add in yoga, lifting, writing a book (yes, that's actually happening as of three weeks ago), hiking, and associated keys to Emily's happiness, and I'm not going to have much time. I crave meaningful and intimate relationships. I want the people I surround myself with to matter to me, I want the time we spend together to be equally as valuable and productive. I want growth. I want each of us to reflect and notice a positive impact since entering one another's lives. No one wants a friend or loved one to keep us at a level of stagnancy--but maybe that's just an Emily thing.

I have a bad habit in which I stay in relationships, and even friendships, longer than I should. I have a big heart. It is likely my greatest fault. I forgive and forget. Or at least, I pretend to. Highly sensitive and open about my feelings, I still hurt. Subconsciously, I keep myself at a safe distance because of the past, in fear of overstepping my place in the present. I internalize intimacy.  I have never felt that I have met the concept of enough--whatever that loose definition may be. I've never felt like that star when someone looks up. I know I'm that star. Surely, I know I am capable of that love. But I haven't felt like her.

And it's not that there is a need to feel like her. I don't think that's a need anyone should claim or seek. I'm in a good place. I am happy, noticeably happier. I have a high standard of growth and success set for myself. I have no reason to complain or emanate negativity and anger. But sometimes, there is a small part of Emily that reflects upon her history, and wishes to spend a sunset with someone who isn't afraid of that depth, or reaching beyond that barrier. I think a similar glimmer of hope resides in all of us. "Maybe we'll both look up at the stars. But maybe, you'll choose to look over at me instead."   

The Most Common Questions People Ask Me About Herpes

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

I have been open about my experience with herpes for a little over a year now. Seeing that April is STD Awareness Month, I think it is about time I step up in an area I have openly lacked in—my activist writing. My interview was released today on a colleague’s website, Millennial Manifest, which a to “highlight the work of young activists who are passionately improving the world around them.” As it turns out—you can be your own inspiration. The actual interview was conducted months ago, but its release allowed me to see myself, and my vision, in a new light. 

I’ve decided to conduct a more in-depth interview with myself below about some of the most common comments and questions I receive about having herpes. Hopefully, it provides insight and comfort to those who have an STI, those who are involved with someone with an STI, or just someone who may be curious about what it’s really like.  

Q: So… if you have herpes how do you have sex?

A:Position of the day? Ha, I kid. It’s not really any different.  I receive pleasure, and I think sex is more enjoyable for me because I have a better awareness and sense of peace within my body. I disclose. I share the risks, the statistics, etc. Personally, I am not someone who has been able to invest in emotionless sex, I feel very deeply and require more of a connection with someone—that has always just been me. At this point, I’m pretty sure all of my social media followers are aware that I have HSV-2, it’s nothing I choose to hide or keep secret. It’s just another part of me.
Recommended Works: “Should I Tell My Boyfriend I Have Herpes” And Other Qs You Ask When Dating With an STI, 10 Lessons I’ve Learned After Living With Herpes For 1 Year

Q: You say you need a deep connection to have sex with someone, but you have herpes, so you must’ve slept around.
A: Nope, not my style--I need a mental connection before I can engage in physical intimacy. And even if I did "sleep around," my number wouldn’t make a difference. You can contract herpes by sleeping with one person, or you could contract it after sleeping with 100. Chances are, no matter how many people you’ve slept with, you’ll come into contact with the virus in one form or another (HSV-1 or HSV-2).The CDC estimates that about one out of every six people from 14-49 years old have genital herpes—and some don’t even know they have it. It is more common than you realize, and it isn’t always visible—yeah, you read that correctly. 
Recommended Works: No Stupid Questions: Seemingly Desperate Things I Asked Myself After I Was Diagnosed With Herpes, When ELD Became an STI

Q:What do you mean it’s not always visible? Doesn’t it hurt?
A: My first outbreak—the primary outbreak—was the worst physical pain I have felt in my life. I couldn’t walk, I hobbled to the bathroom. Going to the bathroom was painful and I cried every single time. I basically wanted to live in the bathtub surrounded by candles and wine. The doctors saw sores when I went in for my test, but I never saw them—I was too afraid to look, I could not even look at myself in the mirror I was so disgusted.

Until recently, that was the only physical outbreak I know of. I am largely asymptomatic. I could be shedding the virus at anytime, and my partner could contract it. Although the use of protection (Valtrex, condoms, etc.) decreases the risk of spreading the virus, it is still possible to contract since herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact. In the first year of infection, people with HSV-2 asymptomatically shed the virus 6-10% of the time.
Recommended Works: This Is How I Learn To Come, Positively Me 

Q: How do you feel about herpes jokes?
A: I'm not afraid to call someone out on them, that's for sure. I am a sensitive person by nature, and those comments do hurt.  Usually, the people making those jokes do not know someone with herpes (or they don't think they know someone with herpes), or they just aren't thinking when they say it. To me, it exemplifies the power of stigma in our society. When I address a herpes joke, the person typically is embarrassed, or doesn't know quite how to respond. Which goes back to why I am involved in this work, and why I am so public about my herpes status. I desire change.  
Recommended Works: My Path is Rooted in Orgasms and Herpes, I Am Not Afraid of Who I Am, Cultivating Power Through Vulnerability, Transformation Tuesday: My Story Before Herpes

Q: What about love?
A: I've been burned. I've fallen for people I shouldn't have. My feelings have been tossed around more than a salad. But perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned is how to love myself. I know love is possible. Even when you're STI positive, love is possible. Love is always, always possible.

What I've Learned During My First Week in Philly

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Followers of my social media platforms probably know that I have relocated from Maryland to Philadelphia. The most commonly asked question I receive about my move thus far has been, “Why? Why Philly? Why now?” Despite assumptions and accusations made regarding my move here, what it comes down to, is this: Why not? Because I can. Because I want to. Because I do not want to reflect on my life wondering, "what if?" I set my mind on moving here. I pursued employment opportunities, and after months of interviews, rejections, and tears, I found success. I'm here.

Although I am clearly still finding my way around the block (and the state) here is a shortlist of things I’ve learned during my first week.

1. This is the closest that I have felt to European Emily. What I mean by that, is who I was when I was abroad in London and Paris. I was more fun-loving, more adventurous, more open, more of a free spirit. It was a side of myself that I never witnessed before, and I hated to leave it behind. So much so, that my parents thought I would purposefully miss my flight back to the States. I've found a more realistic version of that spark here, and I think it's here to stay. 

2. I have a love affair with the Race Street Pier. Over the past week, I've watched multiple sunrises and sunsets with the Ben Franklin Bridge. One day, I even had the urge to run here. While I am fit, I do not consider myself to be a "runner" by any means. Maybe it's the Pisces in me, but I love living near water--even if it is a few blocks away. 

3. I walk anywhere from 12,000-20,000 steps per day and enjoy it. My car is more likely to be found in its new home in the parking garage around the corner, than roaming the streets. And for the first time in my life, I'm okay with that. Who needs cardio when you walk 6-8 miles per day? 

4. I am capable of using all forms of public transportation.  As someone accustomed to driving everywhere, for multiple hours a day, this is a significant personal achievement. One of the first things I knew I had to do when I arrived in Philly was figure out how to get around, especially since I'd be relying on public transportation for work. Embarrassingly enough, I wasn’t even sure where to buy a pass (the obvious answer, the station. Duh, Emily.) I am happy to report that I have survived SEPTA without losing my key card, keys, or way home.  

5.  I’ve spent less on groceries. I’m that girl who buys organic meat. Typically, my grocery expenditure is around $100 per week. I spent only $40 this week by shopping at ReadingTerminal Market--an easy metro ride from my apartment. See ya, Whole Foods. 

6. ...but I have discovered the beauty of Caviar, GrubHub, and UberEats. Delivery cupcakes, anyone? 

7.  Taking a week away from my fitness routine has allowed my body to rest and reset. The chaos of moving and unpacking left me in an anxious haze. I decided to take the week off from my normal lifting, cardio, and yoga routine. I knew that I needed a personal change, but was unaware that my fitness routine needed a remodel, too. Although I am still a part of my yoga training in Maryland, it's not what I expected it to be. I need a break from my floor practice because I do not want to hate it forever. I've joined an aerial yoga studio around the corner from my apartment. I love the challenge of exploring familiar poses from a different perspective. It's an easier way for me to release tension and just let go. Additionally, I joined a barbell club. I am mentally strong, but I want to feel that transition into physical strength, as well. I want to be able to do a pull-up, reach new PR's in my squats, and just carry myself more confidently than I already do. I am always working to be the best version of myself, and I am looking forward to seeing the changes that come with my new fitness endeavors. 

8. There is a significant amount of history here that I neglected. Living in Old City has many benefits, but my inner history nerd is elated walking the streets each day. I feel a need to take part in more touristy activities as I settle in here. Several people have noted that I'm doing activities most Philadelphians have never thought to take part in--and that's why it is important to me. I want to know the city as intimately as I know those whom I love, which is a tall order. I visited Philly once when I was in sixth or seventh grade. All I remember is taking a carriage ride and visiting the Liberty Bell. I stopped by this week, and of course my boots set off the security alarms. After being frisked (let freedom ring..), I stumbled upon Benjamin Franklin's grave on my walk home. History is everywhere if you are open to exploring, and digging a bit deeper into the "normal" sights you see each day.   

9.  I made the right decision leaving my previous job. This was the first time in my life that I negotiated my worth in the workplace. I loved the people I worked with, and was passionate about the work that I was doing, but I do not think I was appreciated or valued in terms of my compensation. I will always be thankful for the platform it provided me, but I am excited for the challenges associated with my new position and the opportunities it may lead to. 

10. I’ve needed this change for longer than I’ve thought. Each day, I seem to find a new reason to love life here. I'm sleeping more, I am much less stressed, I love where I live. My friends and family members can tell that I am happier. So far, Philly looks good on me. 

A Move Toward Happiness

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

I haven’t been committed to a lot of things that I love. Over the last six months, I acted out of necessity and habit, more than desire.  I haven't felt like me. I forced myself to be 'me,' or the idea of me, in hopes of locating that misplaced identity. And it showed. It showed in my over analysis of situations, it showed in my receptiveness and reactions, it showed in my habits, it showed in how I treated those whom I hold close to my heart. But most importantly, it showed within myself.
I have felt misalignment in my writing, and have been unsure as to how to navigate it. I started this blog to share my experience as someone living with herpes. How far I had fallen from myself, how I overcame the stigma, how I learned to love myself again.  I’ve had several of my followers reach out and ask, “What’s going on? We need you. Where is your writing? Why stop now?”  I don’t want to write something just to put media out there; I want it to matter. When I write, it has to come from within. When I truly care about something, or someone, the words will flow. And you know if you’re on the receiving end of them--they’re a direct extension of my heart.
             Something I have needed to accept is that my experience with herpes will always be changing. So will my writing. So will my life. Herpes is a constant force in my body. And yeah, it crosses my mind a couple times a day, but not in the way it once did. It does not overpower my thoughts, nor does it dictate my moods. Given my interests and career goals, herpes will always be a significant part of my identity--but I need to be open to the capacity it chooses to maintain. At present, that piece has taken a backseat. It is not the most important part of my journey. Happiness is.
              Closely associated with my status as a herpes-postive individual, is my journey to self-love. That's the piece I need to focus on. Reflecting over the past few months, love of thyself has been an overwhelming battle. Acknowledging my unhappiness was not an easy thing for me to admit to myself. Mentally, my head was in one location while I was still physically present in another. I was living out of bags. I was not sleeping well. I was not taking pleasure in the activities I once loved and took great pride in. I sincerely think my anxiety encroached into a more depressive state--a side of myself that I had not witnessed before. 
             Relocating to a new city (blog to follow) brought my attention to the people that I love. I have not been the best friend, or the most loving person that I know myself to be, and I'm sorry for that. There are things I wish I could've phrased better, or wish I had been more fully-present for while I was still in MD. Instead of sitting here wallowing in "I wish," I am committing myself to a happier, more balanced me, a journey I look forward to sharing with everyone--but mostly with myself. 

My Unannounced (& Unexpected) Hiatus

Monday, January 16, 2017

I have received a significant amount of thank you letters over the past week--more than usual. All from strangers, yet, their remarks of gratitude had something in common: “Thank you for writing. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for your presence on this planet. Please keep writing. Please get back into blogging. The world needs more women like you.”

How does one even begin to respond? I want to be able to sit down with my laptop and write more than, “you’re welcome.” To live in 2016's shadow of honesty, that spark of inspiration hasn’t quite been there for me. I am mentally in a place where I want to dedicate a post as a sincere apology as to my absence over the last three months. Instead of reflecting on all of the posts I could've written, or simply brushing it aside, I decided the best thing for me to do now, is to write. 

This lapse in posts has happened once before--for a similar duration of time. Although the circumstances were different, the conditions were the same. High stress. I have a lot to be grateful for, and one of my readers reminded me of that. Her note made me realize just how lucky I was to be alive. 

She thanked me for sharing my story and positivity. She said that I helped her see her own herpes diagnosis as more of a gift when it came to love, rather than a curse--as I (and most) once saw it. She continued, that the day she told her best friend that she contracted herpes, her friend had something to share, as well--she had liver cancer. This girl relayed that her HSV-2 diagnosis was immediately put into perspective, because all of the sudden, it was no longer the end of the world for her. Unfortunately, for her friend, it was. Suddenly, our burdens no longer carry the same weight. 

Thank you for inspiring me, and letting me see myself from the readers' point of view. I tend to read myself quite well, but sometimes, I need that reminder of my purpose and passions to feel alive again..