My name is Liz and I have genital herpes. Four months ago, I would’ve never thought those words would escape my lips. Even almost half a year after my diagnoses, I’m dealing with the pain, heartache, and anguish my condition has put on me and my family.
I was a happy 19 year-old basking in the excitement of almost finishing my freshman year of college. I loved to go out on the weekends, drinking, smoking, dancing and flirting. Just like my friends, I’d hooked up with a few guys, but I used protection usually every time. The possibility of getting pregnant was the only thing in the back of my mind, let alone contracting an STD.
At the end of April, my school had a week-long break. I expected it to be a relaxing time at home, so I asked a friend of mine, *Kate, to spend the week with me. On a Thursday night, we decided to spend the evening at my best friend, *Lisa, from high school’s college. Long story short, we went to the bars downtown and I drank myself into oblivion while flirting with a guy I’d met a few times before, *Shaun.
I woke up the next morning completely confused. I was laying in the top bunk in Lisa’s room, no pants on, next to Shaun. In my drunken stupor, I had supposedly broken my phone in half and then lost it. Kate had gone home with Shaun’s friend and didn’t return for an hour. I didn’t even know until the next day that Shaun and I had sex. Normally, I would’ve physically been able to tell but I was too hung over to notice, plus I had been on my period and couldn’t believe I would do that with a guy I barely knew.
Lisa’s parents arrived to help her move her stuff back home early that morning as I spent the next eight hours vomiting. Surprisingly, not repulsed by my hangover, Shaun wanted to see me the next two nights. I was a bit weirded out by the fact that I didn’t even remember kissing him, let alone having sex with him. And I was very upset when Kate told me Shaun’s friend said Shaun didn’t use protection.
Nevertheless, I kept talking to Shaun as Kate and I moved back up to school that Sunday, phone-less and relying on e-mails to keep in touch with Shaun. On Monday, I woke up with a funky, thick and smelly discharge. Thinking it was one of my recurrent yeast infections, I called my mom (from Kate’s phone) and asked her what I should do. She told me to go get Monistat and use that. I shook it off as not a big deal and didn’t go get the over-the-counter medicine.
On Tuesday, the discharge was so prominent and the burning and itching was so painful, I decided to look through my medicine box, where I found a Monistat box I hadn’t used the fall before. Although it was expired, I used it anyway which only irritated my situation.
By Wednesday, I could barely walk and finally scheduled an appointment with the campus clinic for Thursday. As my girlfriend went out that night to the bars, Kate and I stayed in. I went to the restroom, to use some Vagisil anti-itch medicated wipes and to my horror, noticed at least a dozen tiny bumps. I burst into our room and locked the door. I immediately looked up pictures of STDs and in my desperation, I asked Kate to look at my bumps and look at the pictures. We both confirmed they looked eerily similar.
She immediately called Shaun’s friend *Alex, who was at a party with Shaun. She asked him if he was sure Shaun didn’t used protection. He answered yes, and asked why. “Shaun doesn’t have anything does he?” she asked.
“Are you kidding me?” he replied. “No, he doesn’t have anything. Why would you be worried about that?”
“We were just wondering,” Kate covered up. “I mean, she isn’t on birth control. She could be pregnant.”
“Well, Shaun said she had her period, so she clearly can’t be pregnant.”
Pissed off, Kate hung up the phone and we tried to get to sleep. I spent the whole night, doubled over in pain and thinking about going to the ER. Instead, I toughed it out and hobbled to my three hour class the next morning. Finally, at 2:30 I had my appointment.
Waiting nervously for the doctor, I flipped through a magazine, and of course the first ad I flipped to was a Valtrex advertisement. I got it off my mind, and the nurse summoned me into an examination room. I explained the symptoms. The physician assistant came in and examined me. With one look, she grasped my hand and said, “Honey, you have genital herpes.”
I lost it. I immediately started sobbing uncontrollably as the PA went to get the nurse who rushed in to hold my hand and wipe my tears. The PA informed me they didn’t have the materials to do a culture test, but to come back tomorrow. After apologizing immensely, giving me a numbing ointment, a pamphlet, and my prescription of acyclovir, I left the clinic and walked, as fast as I could, back to my dorm where I was consoled by my friends.
Kate was infuriated and called Shaun who insisted he didn’t know he had it. Ending the conversation with, “The next time you decide to take advantage of a drunk girl, freaking wear a condom!”
Kate and my friends tried to help me decide what to do. I had to call my mom. She was my rock, my support, my best friend, and I needed her more than anything. Trying my hardest not to start crying, I told her that I needed to tell her something and she wasn’t allowed to say anything until I finished. I told her about Shaun, how I didn’t even know we had sex, and what the PA had told me. She immediately drove to get me in the middle of the night. We stayed at a hotel in my college town so I could return for my culture test the next morning.
The next day, I couldn’t barely walk. I went to the clinic to get my culture test taken. The nurse had to hold my legs apart, I was in so much pain. My dad is a doctor, so I declined the pain meds the PA offered to prescribe, and my mom and I made the 3 hour trip home. I spent the next week at home, popping pain meds, sleeping, taking warm sitz baths, and acting as though I had mono so my brothers didn’t get suspicious. I almost didn’t return to finish out my last three weeks of school.
Although I went back physically healed, my friends tried their best to heal me emotionally by carrying on as nothing was different. It worked for awhile, but when I returned home for the summer, my life fell apart. I was still talking to Shaun, who had to wait three months for a blood test, and on a couple occasions, I made the mistake of having sex with him, once even unprotected.
After he stopped talking to me, I felt horrible, like no one would ever want me again. I contemplated suicide, and my mom still insists I need to see a therapist. A couple weeks ago, Shaun sent me a text telling me his insurance expired so he would have to wait until November to get tested, although he told me he’d been tested at the beginning of July. I saw through him and told him that I already knew he must’ve given it to me. The fact that he put himself at risk of contracting it (by having unprotected sex with me) gave it away that he knew he already had the virus.
Today, life is better. I have only had one outbreak, and I try my best to stay healthy to prevent any more. My mom always tells me that this isn’t the worse thing that could happen and perhaps, it was a warning sign from God that I needed to step back and examine my lifestyle before something worse happens. My blood still boils when someone brings up Shaun or unknowingly makes a herpes joke, but I know that I am stronger than this virus.
All those months of my closest friends and parents telling me that genital herpes does not define me have not gone to waste. Because I have now come to terms with the fact that I have a virus, a very popular one at that, but I still am who I am. I am still smart. I am still beautiful. I am still confident. I am still optimistic. And most importantly, I am still me.