An Open Conversation About STDs, by Someone with an STD

Trigger warning: This article discusses self-harm, suicide and depression and may not be suitable for some readers. 

Let me start by saying this isn't the happiest of stories. It's not over yet, so the resolution is still on the horizon, but to tell you my truth, I'm going to be fully honest. 

When I was a freshman in college, I was the happiest I had ever been. I had made amazing friends, joined a great sorority, and truly partied my way through the fall semester. Of course, I met a boy (let's call him Bruce). Bruce and I had a class together and we caught each other's eye. Apparently, he had seen me before, but I didn't remember him at all. How is a little ole freshman me going to resist a frat boy, who said he'd noticed me around our 40,000+ student campus and is glad he can finally talk to me? 

Spoiler, I didn't. Bruce sweet-talked his way into my life, but I insisted to myself and my roommates that we were only friends. Well, after being friends for a while, those feelings slowly begin to develop. I always say your heart has a glow when you're around people you love (platonically or with a friendship), and as your love for them glows, your heart glows brighter. My heart went from the "frat-boy-who-buys-me-WATER *wink*-at-Rounders" glow, to the "OMG-he-Snapchatted-me" glow. 

Quickly, we started hanging out more and I received a different kind of attention that I had never received from a guy before. He went out of his way to hang out with me and my roommates. We would walk to class together, buy WATER *wink* together, and go out together, all without me even asking! I mean come on, how often do you find a guy who genuinely seems like he wants to get to know you and be with you? News flash, RARELY! 

Now, stay with me now, this is where it actually gets REAL real. 

After a while of being together, one morning I noticed a bump around my vagina. I thought it was razor burn since I had recently shaved, so I thought nothing of it. As I got out of bed, I realized the excruciating pain absorbing my hips, thighs and vagina. Bruce and I had recently had sex, unprotected sex to be specific, but it wasn’t unusual for me to sore after sex so, again, I thought nothing of it and popped two Advils. 

The next day, the pain had decreased substantially around my hips and thighs, but my vagina still seemed off. At the time, I shrugged it off and thought it was from sex. One thing I wish I had known then is that if your vagina feels a little weird, it's probably a good idea to schedule a doctor's appointment.   

But of course, I didn't go to the doctors. I went to Google. I was 19! I was a baby! I had an RA! I slept on a twin XL! I still didn’t know pillows cost as much as an arm! 

Keep in mind, this was probably two or three days after I noticed something was wrong. I was getting ready to go out and everything felt uncomfortable, so I Google’d. I looked up my symptoms, and suddenly it felt like the world stopped. 

I no longer heard my roommate's music, I stopped thinking what top would look good for the night, and I could only think of one thing: This cannot be true. 

I looked at the screen, looked up, and then back down at the screen just wide-eyed, open mouthed at the word I saw. Herpes. 

Immediately, I called my roommate into my room and handed her my phone. She looked at me with the same look a puppy gives you when it doesn’t understand, and I said, “I think I have herpes.” 

“Oh, of course you don't have herpes, you're just scaring yourself. I've never met anyone with an STD, so don't even worry about it,” she said in a reassuring tone as she went back to finish her makeup. But her words weren’t convincing, and I started having a panic attack in my room. 

Herpes? I couldn't have herpes. A girl from my high school had herpes and when everyone found out people made nasty jokes behind her back about it. Of course, I never said bad things, but I definitely had thought "what if?" a couple of times. I thought my life would be over. How could anyone love someone with herpes? No one would. Who would have sex with someone who has herpes? Absolutely no one would. Could you even have kids if you have herpes? Probably not, who would want to? 

I tried to not think about that conversation I had with myself multiple times before and forced myself to get ready. After looking at myself in the mirror, I realized there was no coming back from the mess my panic attack left on my face and decided to just stay in. My mascara was everywhere, I couldn’t comfortably wear pants, and every time I peed, I shed a tear. Instead, I laid in my bed alone, crying to Friday Night Lights all night long trying to ignore the fire torch Satan appeared to be holding around my vagina. 

The whole time this was happening, I was giving Bruce very little attention. He was always out, so I didn’t have to worry about seeing him, but it didn’t stop him from texting and Snapchatting me. He could tell something was wrong, but I insisted I was fine. 

The next day, I woke up knowing I needed help. Of course, it was a Sunday, so nothing was open except the ER, and I was not trying to catch that charge on my dad's insurance. Feeling hopeless and scared, I did something that took two hours’ worth of mustering the courage to do: tell my mom. 

My mom is my best friend, and I always told her the tea about my life and others (if we're friends, she probably knows everything but she won't tell anyone). My mom is also religious and raised me in a religion which frowned upon sex before marriage. My mom didn't necessarily force that belief down my throat, but she made it clear she wanted me to attempt to follow it. The thought of my mom not only knowing I had sex but knowing I had unprotected sex and caught an STD, I was considering getting in my car and driving as far away as I could. But I knew I needed my mom, so I called her. 

I cannot thank my mother enough for her reaction and how she has handled this whole situation. Through the sobs on the phone, she finally made out that I thought I had herpes. She said, "I'll leave right now" and immediately drove to Alabama (and let me say, I do not live close to Alabama… like at all). She talked to me as long as I wanted and read a million articles while driving trying to inform the both of us on what to do. 

My mom and I went to the student health center, I sobbed through what felt like a million tests and heard the doctor confirm my belief- she thought I had herpes. After an excruciating couple of days waiting for the results, SHC sent a message from God above saying my herpes result was negative.

The joy that sprouted through my body after getting that call was true happiness. Of course, my friends and I went out for bingo Monday at Rounders the next night and drank lots and lots of WATER *wink*. I told Bruce my mom had just spontaneously decided to visit, but she was gone so we could hang out again. But when he came over, I insisted we wore a condom. I never noticed any herpes bumps on his mouth or his penis, but I had learned it doesn't really matter if there's a sore, sometimes, it can just be there waiting. 

Summer came and I visited my hometown OBGYN who told me sometimes if herpes tests are taken late, they’re inaccurate and produce false results, but they’re also untraceable unless an outbreak occurs. Low and behold a couple of weeks later after getting a bikini wax, there was that bastard white-head-looking son of a b*tch again. I burst into tears, and my mom called the OBGYN again and took me straight in. Again, I suffered through the poking and swabs of my already painful vagina, and a couple of days later I got a positive result. 

Did you know that one out of every six people ages 14 to 49 in the United States have genital herpes? Did you know people with genital herpes can still have sex with people who don't have herpes and not infect them? Did you know that in the four years I've had herpes I've met three other people with it, and they have even met more? Did you know you can still have a baby if you have genital herpes? 

These are facts I have to remind myself over and over every day. I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety and so many other things due to this diagnosis. I am still struggling with this diagnosis. I contemplated suicide, self-harmed, and was on the brink of tears 25/8. 

It was really hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel and see a point in living a life I deemed unworthy of love, but that light is here again. Through Her Campus and my friends, I was able to find joy in life again. Oh, and therapy. Lots of therapy. Everyone needs therapy even if you don't think you do, yay! 

I am so grateful that I have some amazing friends who have stuck by me, even after learning this seemingly deadly diagnosis. I want to point out, though, that I still haven't told all of my friends about it. Some people are more open with their diagnosis, but it is a big insecurity for me, so I don't tell many people. 

STDs have a horrible stigma around them, pushing the topic of safe sex to the brinks of idiocy and the stigma of having them skyrocket. When one in six statistics is brought up, I think it causes people shock, because there is a lot more people who have herpes than society is led to believe. 

If I could advise freshman year me going through this, I would just tell her that she's not alone. I know it might feel like it, and it is probably going to feel like that thousands of times after, but you are not alone. Think of NSYNC (a throwback, I know). There were five members in that boy band. So, either one of them has an STD, or their guitar player does. 

Another thing I would tell freshman year me would be that someday you will be given the opportunity to share your experience to hopefully make someone’s life easier or give them some sense of hope. 

I understand struggling. I am so hopeful that someday the stigma around STDs is gone and that a vaccine will be successful. I wish I could completely normalize having herpes. I wish that someone with a public voice would come out and share their experience. I don't know about my other herpes's havers, but as dumb as it sounds, if a public figure openly spoke about the issue, I would feel more understood and safer. Not talking about it only makes it worse, and I’m ready to start talking about it. 

Also, if anyone was wondering, Bruce and I are no longer together (shocker, I know). Unbeknownst to me, I wasn’t the only girl whose heart was glowing like Times Square over him, and I also wasn’t the only one he was having sex with (again, shocker). I found this out way later than I would like to admit (only 7 months later, but still, ICK). It was my own boo-boo the fool’s fault for thinking something who has herpes but still didn’t use a condom would be exclusive with me (even if his verbal reassurance was quite convincing). 

When I was first tested, I didn’t tell Bruce because I didn’t want to scare him away, but a quick week into school when I had finally mustered the courage to tell him, his dirty laundry aired. It was too hard to see him face to face after the apparently one-sided breakup, so I texted him. If you couldn’t figure it out, things didn’t end well between us, so I never found out if he got the message. 

It’s been almost four years of telling myself I was dirty, broken and unworthy of love. These thoughts aren’t easy, but over time they’ve become quieter and easier to conquer. I hope someday I and everyone else with this disease can find inner peace with the fact and live a wonderful life.   

For others who are experiencing the same thing I did, or want to learn more, I’ve listed some articles about what to do if you think you have herpes, what to do after you get diagnosed, and then a couple of articles written by people with herpes.

If you think you have herpes: (Googling can be helpful, but it isn’t a doctor. Go see a doctor if you think you have herpes. If you don’t, then you got checked and you’re good to go. It’s better to be safe than not know.)

How to Know if You Have Herpes - Healthline

Please go see a doctor though, for real. 

Genital Herpes - NHS

Go see a doctor still!

Post Diagnosis:  

Living With a Genital Herpes Diagnosis

Living with Herpes - Planned Parenthood

Helpful Articles:

My Herpes: From Shame to Empowerment - National Coalition of STD Directors

This article truly helped me see a future with herpes. It was the best one I had read after my diagnosis and the first one to make me hopeful. 

This is What No One Tells You About Getting (And Having) Herpes - Huff Post