part two: life goes on and
it’s not always great

read part one: summer of love, winter of self-hate

CW: depression

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that the official diagnosis was confirmed by my OBGYN. At that point, I had gotten over the shock I felt and just became depressed. I felt that I had reached my peak sexuality that summer and then been completely stripped of it. I could no longer lead the life I wanted to live because I was ashamed of myself.

The friends and family I confided in were supportive. However, deep down I felt that they didn’t know what I was feeling and they just pitied me. “You’ll find someone, don’t worry,” they repeated with a grimace disguised as a smile. In my head I constantly thought that they can do whatever they want and have no repercussions. I have to live in secret and self-hatred.

Virtually over night I had so much baggage attach itself to me. I could no longer be the confident, sexy girl that can walk into a bar and nab a guy. Dating had to go back to serious and slow. Yet, no one would love me because once they found out about my STD diagnosis they would draw back in fear and judgment. It was a lose/lose situation for me.

I slipped into my deepest depression yet my perfectionist attitude couldn’t let it go. I acted like I was totally ok with myself and proud to be who I am. When in reality, I was disgusted in myself and this was a punishment from a god or the world for being a terrible and selfish person.

I became hypercritical of myself. I had to be the fittest, smartest, funniest, most driven girl I could be to make up for this serious flaw I had branded on me. I had to be likeable to others because I didn’t like myself.

Falling from my highest point to the lowest I’ve ever felt on record was a hard period to go through. Once I got my official diagnosis, I didn’t know where to go next. My doctor was helpful, but I was embarrassed to ask simple questions like: “Does my diet affect symptoms? Do I need to use condoms for the rest of my life—even with my spouse? What if I feel symptoms all the time?”

It was hard researching information about my permanent diagnosis because I feared what I would find. Tales of lonely souls with the same diagnosis on digital forums pulled me into dark places. I felt paranoia where I experienced symptoms regularly and couldn’t distinguish if they were real.

Instead of gaining knowledge through others I chose to keep to myself and tinker on with work and life as normally as I could. Another great Tame Impala lyric, ‘I tried to convince myself I was moving on, but I guess I was just switching off.’ I ignored the problems and emotions I felt in hopes it would go away forever.

I wanted to feel how I did before. I wanted to be able to have control over my body and life again. My fear of honesty and rejection forced me to suppress my sexuality that thrived just a few months before.

I began looking into treatment options for my depression after a bad stint with panic attacks. I started going to therapy to address these issues rather than taking the daily mood-boosting drugs my doctor wanted me to try.

Through therapy I have come to understand my depression better than I could on my own. I’ve realised that through past experiences I put too much emphasis on my sexuality and likeability and they are not my identity.

The narcissistic tendencies I conducted in that summer disguised as my sexuality was on the way to being toxic. Who was I to think I had every guy wrapped around my finger? Reflecting on the issues pre and post diagnosis has been incredibly helpful in my journey to accept myself.

It is a journey because I don’t feel like I have reached a point of total acceptance and I don’t know that I ever will. I still have hard days where I just want to crawl under the covers and never see the light of day again.

It was a really shit time for me to have an STD diagnosis in my early 20s while I’m still trying to figure myself out, but that’s life. I’m still learning how to ask for help and not be afraid of the truth.

Obviously my life would be easier if this never had happened, but I do feel that I have gained a new perspective on things. Now that I’ve gone to my darkest pit and come back alive, I have respect for others who are also battling mental illness. I try not to judge when someone opens up to me and I try to be more empathetic to their struggles, which I was not doing when I was thinking only of my wants and needs that summer.

I’m trying to be a better friend, daughter and girlfriend to the ones I love and live honestly with myself. This is a part of me that I am learning to accept along the way and I can’t live my life thinking this is a punishment for being who I am.

One of the hardest parts of therapy has been learning to say my diagnosis out loud. Herpes is a weird word on the tongue, but I’m coming to realise a lot of people are afraid of the word and condition. This social fear and judgment I would like to end this by clearing up a few misconceptions.

Herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2) are skin conditions. Genital herpes is just like common cold sores on the mouth and is spread through skin-to-skin contact. It is possible to carry the virus with no symptoms and many people spread it without knowing they have it. The World Health Organization estimates that two thirds of the global population has either HSV-1 or HSV-2.

The only way to be properly diagnosed is by a medical professional who tests a skin sample during an outbreak or by blood test. Regular STD screening does NOT test for HSV-1 or HSV-2 and you must ask to be screened for this.

It is possible to have sex without passing the virus by combination of wearing condoms, avoiding sex during outbreaks and taking a daily anti-viral drug. (shown by some studies to bring virus to under 2% contraction rate). I have a healthy sex life with my boyfriend who does not have HSV-2 and he gets tested regularly in addition to the precautions mentioned.

Lastly, even though it may feel like it, your world is not ending if you contract Herpes. It is something that you will have to work to accept and there will be hard days ahead. You’d be surprised how many people accept you despite having Herpes. I like to think in perspective—if Herpes is the worst thing about you, then I’d say you are doing pretty fine.