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What It’s Like Growing Up With Herpes Simplex

I had my first outbreak at the age of 13, the summer right before I started eighth grade, two weeks after my first kiss with some boy at sleepaway camp (romantic, right?). One day, I woke up to a large, hard, zit-like lump on my bottom lip. I had absolutely no idea what it was, so I did what any 13-year-old would do–Googled my symptoms and determined that my lip was going to fall off. Ashamed at how large, ugly and red it was, I hid in my house for the week it took to clear up and wouldn’t let anyone look at me for too long. Then it went away, I decided I was no longer a freak and went on with my daily life. Then it came back. I hid in my room and refused to go to school. It went away. Came back. A girl in one of my classes pointed at me in the hallway and screamed “HERPE LIP! HERPE LIP!” I came home in tears. Hid. Repeat cycle for the remainder of eighth grade. 

I eventually told my mom about it, ashamed at myself for hiding it for so long. She sat me down and told me I had a strain of the herpes virus, called herpes simplex or HSV-1. Upon hearing the word “herpes,” I went into hysterics at what a freak I was and how I had an STD after kissing one person. I swore off boys and wouldn’t let anyone within spitting distance of me every time I had an outbreak, about once every two months. I carried the shame of having an STD with me like the tube of Abreva (cold sore cream, for those of you lucky enough not to know) I always had in my pocket through the beginning of high school, and felt utterly unlovable. I was a freak, an outcast, a leper. (Side note: if you ever need a reason not to make out with a random boy in the middle of the woods during summer camp, this is the only reason you should EVER need). 

Eventually, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and decided to learn more about the curse I was afflicted with (I was only a little dramatic as a kid). I did my research, read the back of my cold-sore cream and felt a little less like a leper than I had before. I learned that about 67 percent of people worldwide carry the virus, but only some have outbreaks like the ones I get. I learned that high times of stress, illness, sun exposure and even getting my period can trigger an outbreak (which seems INCREDIBLY unfair to me, like c’mon). I figured out that I had probably had this virus since I was little, as anyone who had a cold sore as a child carries the virus with them, and that kissng that boy in the woods triggered my first outbreak. 

I’ve eventually come to terms with carrying around the HSV-1 virus. After having regular outbreaks for about a year, I now usually get one or two a year; mostly around finals time, because hello stress. I still cringe every time I have to tell someone I have it, as they always say “excuse me, WHAT?” after hearing the word “herpes” come out of my mouth. I still don’t find herpes jokes funny, and will give you the death stare if you joke about it. It’s something I have come to terms with having, as it isn’t going anywhere. I’ll have this virus with me for the rest of my life, whether it’s dormant or causing a flare-up. 

So, to all my ladies and gents out there struggling with having herpes simplex, I feel you. It sucks. It’s painful, it hurts, we can’t kiss anyone for a week or two and it’s overall a pretty miserable experience. But it’s much more normal than we think — stats show that your best friend, mom, significant other or professor probably carries this virus with them. We aren’t freaks or anything less than anyone who doesn’t have one. 

So that’s me. I have herpes, HSV-1, cold sores, fever blisters, whatever you want to call them. I get large, ugly sores on my lip sometimes, but most of the time I don’t have one. I’m not contagious, just don’t kiss me or share any utensils with me. I’m a normal college student in every sense of the word– I can’t function without coffee, I procrastinate on my homework, I sometimes don’t go to bed until 3 a.m. even when I have a morning class. I’m your everyday college girl, just add herpes. 

Sources: cover photo, 1, 2, 3

Emily is a part-time coffee addict and a full-time English and Public Relations student at Virginia Commonwealth University. She enjoys all things punny, intersectional feminism, Chrissy Teigen's tweets and considers herself a bagel & schmear connoisseur. You can probably find her either listening to the Hamilton soundtrack or binge watching The Office for the thousandth time
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