6.3
June 25, 2020

It took 36 Years, a Herpes Diagnosis, & a F*cking Pandemic to Love Myself.

*warning: well-deserved cursing ahead!

Your life is over. No one is going to love you now.

You’re a complete fuck up.

No one can know.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

Why are you so fucking stupid?

You’re worthless.

No one can know.

No one can know.

No one is going to love you—not even yourself.

“What if your deepest shame was actually the source of your greatest power?” ~ Shoshanna Raven

The beginning: the visit to the doctor.

I sat outside the doctor’s office crying, more upset than when I first walked in (and none the wiser). I replayed the conversation in my head. After tearfully telling my doctor my symptoms, I asked her if it could be herpes. Her response, “It doesn’t sound like herpes.” 

Can I get a test? 

“No. You don’t have herpes. Anyways, the test is expensive.” 

Unheard and disregarded, I left.

“You need to advocate for yourself” were my mother’s wise words after telling her what happened. A day later, I called back. The next morning I went in for a blood test, and a couple of days later, I got a call from the nurse. 

What were the results? Positive, I had herpes. 

I hung up the phone and sobbed. You know, like the ugly cry that takes you down to the floor, gasping for air and emitting sounds of distress, until you’re dried out and exhausted? And then you start all over again, days, weeks, months later.

That was the beginning of an end. That’s when shame took full control.

My day of reckoning.

There are people in our lives who walk in and disrupt our senses—challenge the notion of who we are. Without a word, they can break the walls we’ve built around ourselves.

One man walked into my life and planted himself in front of me, blocking my path forward. While the earth shook beneath my feet, I came to a crossroads. I could go either left or right, but I was no longer allowed to continue straight down on the path of self-destruction

Without him realizing it, he was holding up a mirror and forcing me to look at myself. It was an invitation to finally acknowledge my pain, desires, fears, and shame. In seeking his love and validation, I was rejecting myself. It was time to redirect that love back to who needed it most. Me.

It’s time to forgive yourself.

For three years after my herpes diagnosis, I lived in a world of denial and avoidance. 

I ran away to Spain, thinking maybe this will fix me

I drank too much wine, thinking maybe this will numb me. 

I bought a house, thinking maybe this will make me happy

Nothing I did took away the feeling of unworthiness and the belief that no one would love me. I became numb to any possibility of a future. I was scared of myself and my body and was afraid of hurting anyone.

How contagious is it? 

Could I give it to someone through my hands? 

It was time to seek help. It was time to heal.

I went back to the doctor (this time to Planned Parenthood). They gave me resources and compassion without judgment. 

I will always support them.

Then I went searching for anything about herpes and fell down the Instagram rabbit hole. 

What I found was not what I expected: an amazing resource of badass babes speaking out and telling their truth. They spoke honestly about their lives, their pains, and their journey with herpes. They were living life, thriving, and shattering all my beliefs that I told myself.

These women literally saved my life. We all need to feel supported—to know we’re not alone. Find your community, seek help. Your mind is not always your friend. Know that people will love and support you. The ones who don’t? They don’t belong in your life.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It’s the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” ~ Louise Erdrich

The facts: 

1 in 5 women has genital herpes/HSV2.

1 in 3 people has oral herpes/HSV1, also known as cold sores.

Chickenpox and Shingles are another strain of the herpes virus.

When getting tested for STIs, herpes is not typically tested unless you are presenting symptoms.

People can have herpes, be asymptomatic, and still transmit the virus. 

Sound familiar? Hello, COVID-19!

I was blind, but now I see.

Why am I telling you my story? Why does it matter? Right now, we are living through a global pandemic in a country pushed to the edge by systemic racism. There are protests in the streets. Black people are demanding to be heard—demanding us to listen.

So, why is this story relevant? 

It’s important because if we can’t confront our own wounds, our own stories about ourselves, and can’t shine a light on our own pain, how will we be able to recognize and be present for someone else’s pain? 

If we can’t stand up and advocate for ourselves, how the hell are we going to show up for someone else? If we are unwilling to dive into our own ingrained and damaging beliefs, how will we change?

There are many parallels between race and sexuality; they are both negatively impacted by a lack of education, stigmas, labels, and stereotypes. Intentional or not, they keep us silent and divided. We have a whole lot of learning and unlearning to do as a society.

We are being confronted by our pain, fear, and shame, and it’s happening as a collective. The whole country is feeling it.

We need to start with ourselves to enact change. I think of being a woman and the ingrained and unrealistic standards of beauty that are passed down from generation to generation.

I think of how women are taught that their worth is in their beauty (or lack thereof). These structures are in place to keep us striving for unrealistic goals and profiting off of our insecurities. Then you go down the rabbit hole and see how we internalize these labels and stereotypes and how it creates destruction.

Black people are dying of police brutality. Indigenous women are going missing and being murdered, LGBTQ people are being targeted. Immigrant children are being separated from their parents, put away, and forgotten. People with STIs are committing suicide. These are serious issues!

It all comes down to labels and how they create fear. We’re all in this together. Life is like a web. There are points of tension, impacting and changing the integrity of the web. Too tight, there’s not enough flexibility to move and change; too loose, it falls apart in a breeze.

I thought that herpes ruined my life, but now I’m questioning if it did. It definitely has changed it. If it has taught me anything, it has helped me uncover some of my deepest wounds. It has given me the capacity to listen and be uncomfortable. It’s offered me a different perspective on my life, who I am, and who I want to become. Herpes has given me a new beginning. I hope and pray that I can become a better person for it. My actions will be imperfect. I will continue to make mistakes, but I will also strive to move forward for change.

Yes, the vulnerability can be terrifying. And having uncomfortable, painful conversations is hard. The fear of being called out or rejected is scary. It’s all fucking hard, but you know what else is? Living and believing you are unworthy and wrong. 

You are not alone. Keep fighting because you’re worth it, and you are so much more than you think you are.

You are not your diagnosis.

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Cara Barbee  |  Contribution: 640

author: Cara Barbee

Image: Author's Own

Editor: Kate Force

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