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Herpes Down Under

Looking back on the past few years of my life and the numerous changes which have taken place is quite a daunting process. I have changed jobs several times, moved interstate, struggled through a period of unemployment, contracted two virus’, almost suffered a breakdown, seriously contemplated suicide, and, throughout all this, still managed to raise two fairly well-adjusted teenage kids!

Where did it all start to go wrong? I survived my marriage break up a few years ago and was getting on with my life and doing OK as a sole parent until I realised one day that it had been over a year since I had even so much as glanced at a man! I started reviewing the past year of my life and realised that there had been a few occasions when a guy had shown some interest in me and I had, at the time, not even recognised it for what it was!

It made me think about my potential future... Would there ever be another long-term relationship for me? Did I even want a man in my life? Was raising kids and having a career ‘enough’ for me?

It was not long after I had made a decision to open my mind and heart to new possibilities that I met a man who made his interest in me very clear. We began dating and very quickly our relationship became a sexual one. I felt like he could really be the ‘one’ and imagined us spending the rest of our lives together. About two months after our relationship began I became ill with the flu, then two days after that I experienced my first blisters.

I didn’t know a lot about Herpes then but I was aware that it presented as little white blisters so I immediately suspected the worst. I saw my Doctor the same day and he confirmed my fears, only he didn’t seem that phased by it! He was almost casual about it, not going into much detail as he explained that it was fairly common, no big deal, sent me for a test and wrote me a script.

I left his office in a daze. I thought it was OK for him, he didn’t have it himself and he didn’t seem to have an inkling of how this was going to impact on my relationship and indeed the rest of my life.

I had absolutely no idea how I was going to tell my boyfriend the news! I had to wait until that evening to see him and agonised over how to go about it. I naturally assumed that I had caught it from him because I had previously been in a monogamous relationship for over thirteen years, and he had been sowing his wild oats all over the place!

When I told him that my Doctor suspected that I had contracted Herpes, his reaction was immediate and shocking. I expected him to offer me comfort. I expected him to assume, as I had, that he had given it to me. I expected us to be able to discuss it rationally and calmly and that he would naturally get tested himself. I did not expect him to physically push me away and deny all possibility that he could have Herpes and coldly state that our relationship was obviously over as of that moment!

I left there a total wreck. When I got home I immediately went straight to bed and cried silently in the dark for hours and hours, unable to believe that this could have happened to me, that life could be so cruel and so damned unfair!

Over the next few weeks I cried more tears than I had in my entire life. I constantly dwelt on the impact this would have on my life and honestly believed that I could never have another relationship because no one would ever want me again.

Just weeks after rejecting me completely my ex-boyfriend came back into the picture. He offered me ‘friendship with no sex’, which I gratefully accepted. Unfortunately, that turned out to not be enough for him, he wanted more, and he graciously deigned to take me back and accepted the risks that sleeping with me entailed. He would not accept the possibility that he may have Herpes himself and refused to be tested.

The whole dynamic of our relationship changed after I contracted Herpes. He told me quite plainly that I was lucky he was prepared to have me back because no one else would ever want me. He constantly reminded me how generous he was to allow me to be a part of his life and repeatedly told me that I had no chance of ever finding anyone else who would accept me.

I stayed in this emotionally destructive relationship for two years, becoming so demoralised and depressed that I eventually contemplated suicide.... I just wanted the pain to stop, the emotional torture to end!

Having reached rock-bottom, preferring death to a continuation of the misery my life had become I finally found the courage to leave. Joel may have given me HSV and HPV but it was I who allowed him to crush my spirit, warp my perceptions, destroy my confidence and shatter my life. Making that decision to leave him forever was one of the most empowering moments of my life. Major changes followed as a result.

I made peace with my kids, admitting to having made some very poor decisions and apologising for the mess I had made of things, I admitted that I was not capable of making it on my own right now (not an easy thing to do), and we made a joint decision to move interstate to be closer to my family.

It took some time to establish myself in a new community, work was hard to find without ‘contacts’ in the right places, and I still had a lot of emotional issues to deal with. I searched the net and found a Herpes Support Group which changed my life. Through the posts there I came to realise that others had suffered even worse than I, that others were still suffering now, and that I, whilst being no expert, was certainly able to offer support and encouragement to other people who needed it as much as I had.

The stories that people shared with me, online and off, moved me deeply. They also helped me in the progressive journey of coming to terms with my own Herpes. I noticed that the ‘sharing of stories’ often played a key role in people learning to accept their Herpes and to begin moving on with their life. I believed that a collection of this type of story could be very helpful to people dealing with Herpes who did not have access to the net or were unaware that this type of support group existed and made the decision to write a book. I asked for contributions to the book, and advertised it on support group sites worldwide. Later, I developed a survey which made it even easier for people to tell me how they felt via a totally anonymous form.

Later, when some members of the support group mentioned that an idea for a national social gathering had been suggested previously a number of times but nothing had ever come of it and expressed a desire that ‘someone’ organise one, I volunteered my DTP and web skills to help. A team of volunteers nationwide was formed and we proceeded to plan, organise and promote a weekend event in September. The inaugural Hevent 2003 was born! It was planned to be a ‘Celebration of Herpes’, an affirmation of the fact that we are all ‘Herpes Survivors’ not ‘Herpes Sufferers’ and that life is worth celebrating. Hevent 2003 took place on September 19-21 in Adelaide, South Australia. It was a weekend of wining, dining, dancing, fun and frivolity, with people coming from all over Australia and even overseas.

The Australian National Herpes Gathering is planned to continue as an annual event, relocating each year to a different state. Hevent 2004 will be hosted in Queensland later this year. The theme is “Celebrating Life After Herpes!”

So, although I don’t experience outbreaks now, and I rarely even have any prodrome type ‘tingles’, Herpes has, in fact, taken over my life!

I am involved with several online groups, have set up a local support group (GCHFriends), plan and organise social activities, participate in the planning and promotion of Australia’s National Herpes Gathering, write articles about Herpes and related issues, and am still working on that book (in my spare time!).

My latest project is the forming of the Australian Herpes Support Network (AHSN). AHSN is a non-profit organisation devoted to promoting Australian Herpes support groups; increasing public awareness of the Herpes virus through articles and media promotions, such as the publicity program for Hevent 2004; providing practical advice and lifestyle tips for people living with Herpes; and offering emotional support through the Aussie H-Mate program. A new, comprehensive website is currently under development and the official launch will coincide with International Herpes Week, 10-16 October 2004.

Coming to terms with my Herpes has been a journey of self discovery. I have passed through the initial stages of shock, anger and betrayal, plumbed the depths of depression, admitted my weakness and accepted my failures, found the courage to ask for help and have slowly regained my self-confidence and am re-building my life.

Herpes has taught me a lot about myself, my weaknesses and my real strengths. It has also given me a sense of purpose and an opportunity to contribute to several extremely worthwhile projects. That contribution has helped me tremendously. As the writer, Charles Dudley Warner, put it so well: “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can seriously help another without helping himself.”

So wherever you are on your journey of acceptance, never be afraid to ask for help, and always be willing to give it.

Best wishes to all,

Jeannie - of Living Sphere

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