I was diagnosed with HSV-2 in the middle of what I once considered to be my prime. I was soaring high after a magical trip to Thailand - I had just signed the lease on a new apartment, finished my yoga teacher training, and was dating, dating, DATING. I was having the time of my life…until I thought it was all over.
I found out I had genital herpes after a series of unfortunate misdiagnoses. For days, no one really knew what was going on with me- my symptoms didn’t exactly match up with those I was reading about on WebMD or any of the horrific information Google threw my way - nor were the symptoms anything the gynecologist, urgent care practitioners, or arrogant ER physician would think to diagnose as genital herpes. But I knew. Something in the pit of my stomach was telling me exactly what it was.
Sure enough, after a blood test that confirmed my worst fears - I was curled up in a ball, grieving. I was grieving over the death of my sexuality, my self-worth, and my hope of a bright future. It was as if someone turned off the bright light inside of me and I was left sitting in the dark. I thought that was the end of Rae as I knew her. And, essentially, it was.
I spent a great deal of time in hiding. Luckily, I found an extremely supportive and loving partner right out of the HSV gates. But for nearly two years, he was the only other person that knew of my herpes. I was not a great partner. I was so caught up in my diagnosis that I wasn’t able to accept the love and support he was offering me. How can you ever believe you’re worth loving when you can’t even stand yourself? Needless to say, our relationship didn’t survive my dark times.
After my partner and I split up, I understood that I had a lot to learn about myself. It was time to pick myself up off the ground, breathe some fucking life back into my body, and start living again. So that’s exactly what I did. I started to meditate often. Whether it was sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of a burning candle, pushing myself to move and breathe mindfully atop my yoga mat, or sending my tangled thoughts through my pen and onto paper… I was digging up the shit that I had so long ago buried.
I surrounded myself with women. Women who I loved and trusted dearly. I began to confide in them, telling them the secret that I was so tired of lugging around. You know what happened? Nothing. Their opinion of me did not change, they did not turn around to leave. If anything, they loved me more than before I had told them. I believe that’s because if you share a part of yourself with another, it invites them to do the same. Not only did they accept my truth with true empathy, but they would often turn right around to tell me about their own heavy piece of themselves that they too, we so tired of carrying. My bonds with my friends had never been stronger.
The more I told people my story, the easier it was to share. I realized that my personal narrative was changing. I no longer wanted to be the broken victim whose sexuality was stolen from her. No, now I wanted to be the woman that overcame that tired, old stigma. Herpes could only ruin my life if I let it.
Long story long, I realized that this was my path. I cured myself of self-hatred, of shame, of embarrassment. All I want to do now is help other women heal themselves. I enrolled in the Institute of Sexuality Education and Enlightenment (ISEE), I started the local chapter of Positive Results to create a community for women just like me, and I started reaching out to anyone seeking resources on social media. Now I’m a founding member of the Herpes Activists Networking to Dismantle Stigma, speaking out publicly about the stigma surrounding HSV, and doing whatever I can to make it easier to be H-positive in a world where 1 in 6 people are living with it.
The old Rae may have died back in 2016, but from her ashes sprouted a much more beautiful version of me. I am proud of who I have become - and I’m sure many of you would call me crazy - but I wouldn’t change any of it. Something deep within me is leading me down this path, something is telling me that this is what I’m supposed to be fighting for. So that is what I’ll do.