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My First Year With My "Friend" Herpes Or How I Was Re-Born A Modern-Day Leper
It was 1990, I was 24 years old and I didnít think my life could get any worse. I had just finished college and my financial situation was worse than dire. The country was in the midst of an economic depression. A long dismal winter had just given up the ghost and to top it all off I was in the middle of a horrific break-up with a vengeful girlfriend.
Of course it was pathetically naive of me to think that life couldnít get any worse and life wasted no time proving that fact. My relationship with this beautiful, vivacious, urbane woman had begun most promisingly. We had courted very romantically by letter and phone for six months before ever getting together. I was still at University when we first met and we were separated by a distance of about 1200 miles. We started off as friends and the love between us grew slowly with all the optimism and passion expected with us both being in our twenties. Sadly, what was so wonderful by distance was a nightmare close up. When my classes ended and I flew down to move in with her it took no time at all for things to go very very wrong. Our sex life was hot despite the fact told me she had Herpes. She told me that she could tell when she was getting an outbreak and as long as we refrained from having sex at those times, it was cool for us to have a natural unprotected sex life. I believed her, and she certainly sincerely believed that to be the case as well. She had only very recently gotten the disease herself from a man she had casually slept with and who didnít tell her he was infected.
We got along in bed much better than we ever did out of bed. The tall beautiful fair-skinned princess and her Tall, Black dread-locked artist. The sad fact was that we didnít get along at all. Instead of creating harmony we created war. And I must say that I am to blame for much it. I was at a time in my life where my tolerance for certain things was very low and I was very angry about how the world was treating me and I certainly didnít enjoy the treatment I was receiving from my beloved- but I definitely contributed more than my fair share to the discord. Once we were in the same space together the chemistry between us was bad, bad, bad. The relationship ended after a mercifully short time leaving us scattered, raw and dumb-founded.
Two days after the notorious breakup we were reunited by a particularly cruel twist of fate. Less than 48 hours after swearing I would never see her again I was sitting beside her in the waiting room of a hospital. She was looking at me with a combination of guilt, sadness and white-hot enmity. I didnít know how to feel or what to say to her. I was floating around out in space trying to get a grip on the situation.
You see dear readers I was in the midst of what I would later find out to be my first Herpes outbreak. It has started out as an itchy irritation on my foreskin but had quickly turned into a raging swelling colony of tiny lesions and I was overwhelmed by pain and all the flu-like symptoms typical of first outbreaks. I had no idea what was happening to me. I do remember hoping at the time that it was anything but Herpes or AIDS. I would have even considered syphilis or gonorrhea to have been preferable. The doctors said they couldnít tell what it was that I had and had insisted that my ex-girlfriend of two days come in with me so we could both be tested at the same time.
Even though we both hated each other at the time- and Iím sure she still does today, I remember feeling sorry for her. I knew even then that if it proved true that she had given Herpes to me, she would have been devastated too. So there we were with all those mixed emotions dreading the worse and hoping for the best.
Of course the doctorís tormented us by making us wait about a week before the test results would be back. They had taken a swab of my lesions and sent it off somewhere. When the phone call eventually came in the news was good. I had tested negative for Herpes. The doctors said they still didnít know what it was that I had, that possibly it was just an infection of my foreskin from having rough sex. I was over the moon with relief and wasted no time in calling Her to tell her the good news. For one brief moment we actually had something positive to share together. That test result was a big reprieve for both of us. Sadly, and once again ironically, it turned out only to be a reprieve for one of us.
To her credit she had been upfront with me. At the time I really had no idea what the implications and risks were. I was however prepared to take the risk, I just had no idea that this would literally be a very ironic last interaction in what had been the worst relationship both of us would ever have in our lives.
I went on with my life and forgot all about Herpes. But Herpes didnít forget about me, not for a second. I got another outbreak two months later and then another one a month later. It was angry as hell and I stormed into a different hospital demanding to know what was wrong with me. At this hospital the doctors were more competent and took one look at my penis and told me that it was obvious that I had Herpes. They confirmed this with their own cotton swab test- there was not blood test for Herpes in Canada available at this point in history. They told me that false negatives were common for Herpes because if there wasnít enough virus present on the skin at the time of the test, then you would get a negative result even though you had Herpes. They told me there was nothing they could do for me and that I would have this disease for life and that my sex life would never be the same. I wanted to call my ex-love and blast her for what had happened. And even though she at the time was wrecking vengeance against me by trying to destroy my career and telling everyone who would listen how badly I had treated her, I didnít have the heart to throw this in her face. So I have never told her that she gave me Herpes and Iíll never tell her.
I do not possess the power to describe the world of pain and shame the eventual diagnosis of Herpes would thrust me into. In many ways I felt like my life was truly over. I felt dirty in a way that I had never experienced before. Just saying the word Herpes sent a chill thorough my whole body. The doctors were cold and unsympathetic. I couldnít discuss this with anyone in my conservative West-Indian family even though we were otherwise close. I didnít have anyone to talk to. Strange fatalistic fantasies went through my mind all day long, day after day. The mere thought of having to tell someone that I had this thing made me want to run for the cover of enforced celibacy.
I felt cursed like some Old Testament character. Sure I had been an asshole, not unlike most men my age, but I had definitely not been enough of an asshole to deserve to be punished by the Gods this way. This was definitely overkill in all meanings of the word.
My first realization after being able to admit to myself that I had Herpes was that it was forever. No matter what I did or who I became I was never going to be a ďwholeĒ person. That I was ďmarkedĒ for life. That I had joined an outcast caste. I was one of the many modern day lepers- those sad morally challenged people with Herpes. I was a victim and I sure didnít like the feeling. What a burden to have to carry all the rest of my life.
Yes, I was now one of them. But I had no real idea of what being one of them really meant. To find out would take years and many experiences both liberating and devastating.
Why am I telling you all of this? Part of it is narcissism to be sure. Itís human nature to want your story preserved somewhere in the ether and this is my way of making sure that some people know what happened to me and how I felt about it. But the larger part of my motivation is for my own rehabilitation. I refuse to be a victim to this disease and to societyís mean, irrational fear and loathing of those of us who are stricken with sexually transmitted diseases. I wasnít living a high-risk lifestyle- I got my herpes in the context of a monogamous relationship. But even if I had been doing high-risk activities, I in no way deserve to be scorned or ostracized because of it. The worst place to be when you have Herpes is in the closet. If you want to feel like a leper and allow others to treat you like one, be my guest, but I am determined not to live like that. Instead of being imprisoned by this disease, Iíve decided to free myself. I am no longer afraid of saying the word and letting people know that I am one of ďthemĒ. I have Herpes but Herpes doesnít have me. I am at peace with the virus and the virus is at peace with me. I am at peace with my place in this world and I have discovered the joy of encouraging others to liberate themselves from the stigma.
In part two of this Story- ďNine Years in the Wildness: My Personal and Professional Quest for a Holistic Herpes Treatment Plan, I will chronicle how I transitioned from being a victim of Herpes to being a Holistic Herpes Treatment Specialist and a Herpes spokesperson. I was able to turn the biggest negative in my life to one of the biggest positives in my life and the journey is just beginning. We are truly living in a Herpes Nation with 60% or more of the general population in North America having either type one or type two Herpes.
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