February 4, 2023

Filipino Guardian

Sentinels of Filipino Free Press

Living with herpes has been a journey of self-acceptance

As Kimberly Rex said

I had my first symptoms on a Sunday in July 2011. I was 28 years old. After a weekend with the guy I was seeing, I knew something was wrong. My genitals were painfully inflamed and blisters seemed to form. I immediately thought it might be herpes but never thought I could get a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Like many people, I had a preconceived notion of what type of behavior would lead to this diagnosis. I wasn’t judging anyone, but figured since I was in a monogamous relationship and regularly getting tested for STIs, this could never happen to me.

I was wrong. It only takes one sexual encounter with an infected person to get an STI.

Four days after a doctor’s visit, she called me to say that I had tested positive for herpes. At first I took the information well. Despite part of me wanting to, I didn’t stop the car and sobbed. Instead, I thought about the next steps. With my best friend’s advice, I decided that day to contact my former partners to tell them.

I dialed each number with shaky hands and took deep breaths before I spoke. While some men were supportive and understanding, others were defensive and angry. After that I was emotionally drained. But it was a Friday and I had yet to return to my sales job.

I stood in the doorway of my colleague Bill’s office to ask him a question. “Are you alright? You don’t look good,” Bill said. I walked in, closed his door, and slid down the wall onto the floor. I cried and cried as I told him, my tears falling onto my turquoise Dress.Bill wasn’t sure what to do but he was calm and friendly.He told me to go home for the day and call him if I needed anything.

I went to my friend’s house that night, a bottle of wine and a bag of candy in hand. When I told him the news, he called me terrible names and kicked me out. I grabbed my stuff and left, but when he followed me outside to apologize I accepted and stayed.

For the rest of the weekend, while other 20-year-olds, including my boyfriend, partied on the beach, I lay in my bed in the fetal position and thought my life was over.

That was the first problem I faced with no solution. Herpes didn’t go away. je. I spent the next two years in a very dark place. I was angry and cried every day. I kept going out with my boyfriend believing no one else would ever want me or really love me. I really thought herpes was the end of my life in every way. I didn’t think anyone, not just romantic partners, would accept me, and I couldn’t accept myself. I felt unworthy and insecure. My herpes outbreaks were frequent. I cried every time because of the pain, the wounds, and the simple reality of it all.

At the age of 29, I boarded a plane with my boyfriend for a trip. As I sat by the window, I started sweating and my heart was racing. I got up to visit the bathroom but passed out in the hallway and hit my head on the floor. After that, I knew I had to end my relationship and make big changes. I didn’t want to be in this dark place anymore.

Little by little I started to become self-employed. I started eating a balanced diet and avoiding foods that can trigger a herpes outbreak. I started meditation and yoga, which not only helped my mental health, but also lowered my stress, another breakout trigger. My breakouts subsided as my body adjusted to my new lifestyle.

I took part in self-improvement workshops and even found inspiration in Newton’s third law. When every action has an opposite and equal reaction, I had to spend what I wanted to get back. If I held on to my anger and distrust, this would come in return. Instead, I gave love to everyone I saw. Whether it was my postman, someone at work, or a cashier, I envisioned sending them love and compassion. And I found myself starting to get love back day by day.

I knew I wanted someone in my life who would love me for me, so I put myself in the position of dating men. If someone asked me out on a date, I would go. It no longer mattered if someone wasn’t my “type”. The more people I met, the more I would grow and the more opportunities I had to meet the right man for me.

I haven’t had sex with any of these men. I got to know them and practiced telling them about my STI. Some of these talks went well. Others don’t. I got rejected by people I really liked. Although it hurt at the time, I was confident that even if one door closed, another would open.

I ended up marrying someone I didn’t have to tell about my STI—Bill, the colleague who comforted me in his office the day I was diagnosed while I was sobbing. After working on myself for a while, Bill and I realized there was something between us and we found each other. We got married in 2017 and two years ago we welcomed our son into the world.

Alexandra and her husband Bill in Costa Rica, 2021 (Photo/Sylvia Guardia)

Today, while herpes can be uncomfortable, especially if an outbreak occurs on vacation or a romantic night, the virus is not affecting my marriage or happiness. When I have outbursts now, I may feel regret for the past, but I can’t change what happened and I have forgiven myself for my past choices. Overall, herpes has actually made my life better. Now I eat in a way that keeps me healthy and strengthens my immune system. I make sure I get enough sleep and I’ve learned to be more confident about who I am. I am married to the love of my life and we are raising a beautiful little boy.

I encourage everyone to be sexually responsible, get tested regularly, and insist their partners do the same. Some STIs can have long-term effects, such as infertility. In this case, better safe than sorry.

You can read more about Alexandra’s story on her Life With Herpes website.

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