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It's not the end of the world

I’ve had genital herpes type 2 for almost half my life now.  Has it stopped me from having the life I wanted?  No way!!!  It has affected my checkbook balance because of the cost of antivirals over the years but that’s about all.  I’ve been married (and divorced but herpes had nothing to do with that!) and I have 2 beautiful children. I’m currently involved with a wonderful man who is hsv2- and we are very much in love.  No wedding bells yet but if that changes you’ll know! This is my story.

When I was 19 years old I was sowing a few oats as they say.  I was finding myself as an adult and out doing all the fun party things my friends were doing while out of the house and away at college.  At that time HIV was only something gays and drug users got and I thought that by being on the pill so I wouldn’t get pregnant I was safe.  I thought it was a man’s responsibility to carry condoms not a woman’s and I never insisted they be used.  After all only those “other” girls ever got any sexually transmitted diseases not us nice gals right?  One night I hooked up with a medical student who was just as bored as I was.  One thing led to another.  He seemed reluctant to want to have sex but when I said ok well then I’ll be going his “little head” evidently did some thinking and we had sex anyways.  Several days later he tracked me down and told me he thought he might’ve exposed me to something he has.  He never did say herpes and so I blew him off (after all at that age we are all invincible right?).  I never thought anything else about it.  I continued on as usual.

I noticed one day as I was going to shower that I had a pimple in my pubic hair.  I popped it and didn’t think anything of it. After all a pimple is just a pimple or so I thought.  I never had any reason to think it was anything else at that point. I continued to get a pimple in that same spot here and there but still never suspected a thing.  Several months later a friend/occasional sex partner of mine came to me to tell me he was diagnosed with genital herpes and since I was the only person he had been with in awhile he assumed it was from me.  Suddenly that pimple I had now and then down yonder and that med student’s words came together.  I felt horrible for infecting my friend with genital herpes (Scott thank you for being able to come tell me - I know that couldn’t have been remotely easy and thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt and knowing that I had no idea I had it and not being angry or accusatory. I will NEVER forget that and it means more to me than I could possibly ever put into words).

I couldn’t believe that a “good” girl like me could possibly have contracted herpes!  Yes I was still in denial.  I basically continued on in denial for several more months until I had a rip roaring “classic” herpes ob.  There was no denying by that point that I indeed did have genital herpes.  I went to a clinic at the mall and they looked at me, cultured it, handed me some prescriptions and sent me on my way.  I don’t even think I was handed a lousy brochure even ( but if I did I’m sure I threw it out because I didn’t want my parents to find it ).  By that point I was already involved with someone for several months and couldn’t find the maturity to tell him about my herpes.  I avoided having sex whenever an ob [outbreak] was present and hoped for the best.  Of course it wasn’t long before he told me he was diagnosed with genital herpes.  I told him that I knew he had gotten it from me and the relationship soon ended.  From that point forward I made sure to tell a partner that I had genital herpes before we had sex but I didn’t take any precautions and really didn’t know a thing about it.

In 1987 I met my husband to be, got married and life went on.  By this point I was having frequent ob’s sometimes one right after another.  I WAS MISERABLE! Trying to get 200mg of acyclovir in 5 times a day each ob was almost impossible!  I got a new doctor, talked to him about it and he told me about this new thing he read about called daily suppressive therapy so I started taking acyclovir every single day. What a difference that made for me! My ob’s decreased considerably J  When I got pregnant with my son I had to go off antivirals and I had went back to my pattern of very frequent ob’s.  I was scared to death to deliver him vaginally so I begged my doctor for a c section and had one.  Soon after I had him I went back on suppressive therapy.  When I was pregnant with my daughter I was on antivirals most of my pregnancy due to mostly my own choice (I never told my doctor).  I tried to deliver her naturally but she had other plans and I had a repeat c section eventually.  Neither of my children had any complications from my herpes.

I’ve stayed on daily suppressive therapy for the last 9 years non-stop.  I am a nurse and work the night shift and don’t sleep near as much as I should and the strain on my body seems to aggravate my herpes so I’ve just stayed on them. I also have some other “technical difficulties” down yonder that would be aggravated by having frequent herpes ob’s so I try to decrease my chances of having ob’s.  The new studies that show that daily suppressive therapy helps to reduce the chance of my partner acquiring the virus from me is just one more reason to stay on them.  They’ve definitely given me back my life as far as I’m concerned.  I still have about one ob a year but I can live with that and so can my partner!  He’s accepted that his risk is still there but that I take steps to make sure it’s the lowest risk possible.  He educated himself some on the virus after I told him I had it and decided that I was worth the small risk to him.

Being a nurse you’d think I would’ve known more about my herpes than I did for many, many years but I didn’t.  The education you get on all std’s in nursing school is very minimal. We spent more time learning how to properly make a hospital bed than we did learning about herpes.  When I was diagnosed the internet was still a new thing and wasn’t like it is now and I wasn’t motivated to go to the library and learn more.

A couple of years ago I was in between boyfriends and was on the ‘net and saw an ad for an online herpes dating service.  It suddenly occurred to me that yes there were others out there with genital herpes and wouldn’t life be so much easier to date someone and not to have to have the “talk” with them.  I did a search for herpes support groups in my area but instead found a yahoo support group called “picking up the pieces”.  It seemed fairly active so I joined.  Well needless to say I quickly realized that I didn’t know squat about genital herpes!  I started to do reading and started my “real” herpes education.  Now several years later I am actually a group moderator for a couple of herpes message boards and an active participant on Picking Up the Pieces.

I have stacks of herpes studies and info here around my computer and I am able to help out others.  I am pretty open about my genital herpes to my friends and family too.  I live in a fairly small town where my doctor is my daughter’s soccer coach and my pharmacist sits next to me on the bleachers.  I run into the clinic nurses everywhere!  It just was easier for me years ago to be open about my herpes instead of living in fear that someone would find out about my “secret”.  I’ve made an effort to educate others about it whenever the opportunity arises.  I’ve had several of my coworkers over the years come to ask me questions about their own herpes.  That makes it all worth it to me and at this point in my life I don’t give a damn who knows about my herpes.  It’s easier than walking around in fear that someone will find out.

If you get nothing else out of reading this understand that herpes is not the end of the world. Precautions do work to help reduce the chances that you’ll transmit herpes to a partner.  Do not limit yourself because you have found out you have genital herpes. Read up on herpes so you can control it instead of letting it control you. It only has as much power in your life as you give it!  You are the same person you were before you found out you had this virus.  For most people it is merely an inconvenience and when they look back on their life they’ll see that genital herpes was merely a footnote in their lives.

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