I'm not sure I can live with herpes
CJ replies:I am currently living with my boyfriend (who is considerably older than I am) and he gave me genital herpes. He has supported me through the initial outbreak (which was terrifying, painful, and life-altering), and has continued to comfort and discuss our relationship with me. However, I have become quite depressed and feel that I have discarded my body's purity and feel that if I ever leave this man, I will not be worthy of a regular or healthy relationship. I want to be married and have children at some point in my life, but feel like I don't deserve that since I was so cavalier and thoughtless when it came to my sexual health. I have been thinking about hurting myself or ending my life (of which I have a history), and have also considered hurting the man who I am beginning to feel deliberately infected me as a means to entrap and emotionally destroy me. I am 20 years old and alone. I have no familial support and don't feel like I can tell my friends I am infected because they are healthy and may reject me. Any encouragement or advice will be greatly appreciated.
There's a lot I want to say, but I need to get a hugely important piece out there as soon as possible. If you are thinking about self-injury, suicide, or hurting someone else there is immediate help available. I want you to stay safe so we can talk more about what is going on with you, so if you are reading this and you are still having feelings about hurting yourself or someone else, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). This service is free and available 24/7. Your call will be routed to a nearby suicide crisis center where a trained counselor will be able to speak with you about how you are feeling. Keeping you safe is the number one priority and the counselors who may answer your call will not judge you if you choose to tell them about what has been contributing to your thoughts of suicide or hurting your boyfriend. They are there to listen and to help you get the help you need to get through this immediate crisis. Particularly if you have a history of hurting yourself or suicide attempts, it is so vital that you reach out to someone. I'm so glad that you're still here and hope that the strength that has gotten you through difficult times previously will help you pick up the phone and reach out at this time.
Seriously, please go and call them now. What I have to say can wait...
I'm pretty worried about what you're telling me about your relationship. I believe that we tend to have pretty good instincts about the nature of our relationships, and so your feeling that perhaps your partner deliberately infected you as a means to keep you in the relationship is troubling. Deliberately passing on an STI to someone is a means of controlling them, particularly if your partner is then giving you the message that nobody else would ever love you or take care of you the way that he would. Whether that message has come from him or somewhere else, it sounds as if you've internalized that.
Regardless of any STI, regardless of who we are, regardless of choices we've made or had taken away from us, all of us deserve to be loved and cared for--within romantic relationships, friendships, and by family. Having herpes does not exclude you from this. I want to be quite clear that you are deserving of love based in honesty, compassion, and equality.
Contracting an STI can be a really scary time. You mentioned that your initial outbreak was really frightening and painful, but even after the initial outbreak there is a lot to adjust to, and probably even more questions that need to be answered. Just to make sure we're on the same page, I'd recommend checking out The STI Files: Herpes to make sure that you have accurate information about herpes. Herpes infection is actually really common in adults. About 1 in 5 people over the age of 12 in the United States are infected with Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) II, which is the virus that causes genital herpes. About 50-80% of the adult population are infected with HSV I, which typically causes oral herpes and is usually contracted in childhood via casual contact. Oral herpes can be transmitted to the genital area, as well.
Although herpes is caused by a virus, and there is no cure, outbreaks can often be controlled by medication. Although it may feel a little intimidating, getting connected with a doctor or clinician to talk about your options is really important. We want you to stay as healthy and comfortable as possible. For some people, taking medications that can help suppress outbreaks can be one part of feeling better emotionally. While on one hand it seems like your partner has at least been marginally supportive, it does not sound as if you feel comfortable about his intentions or necessarily safe in confiding in him.
Having someone to talk to, however, is really important. Do you have a doctor you feel comfortable with? If you do not already have a relationship with a doc, or do not feel comfortable with the person you've been seeing, try checking out your local Planned Parenthood or local clinic. Clinicians there are incredibly knowledgeable about herpes and can help you get connected with treatment as well as support.
I'm of the mind that nobody--and no body--is perfect. There are things about us that we wish we could change and moments we would like back in our lives. You are not ruined, and you are not dirty. You are still yourself and there is a lot to celebrate. Having herpes does not mean that you don't deserve to get married and have children. It does not mean that you will not be able to do those things if those are the things you desire.
You talked about being cavalier about your sexual health but you did not mention whether you know that your partner had herpes. In fact, from what I read, it sounds like you believe that he might have misled you and transmitted the virus to you on purpose. I would not, then, call that a "choice" that you made. It sounds as if he might have been using manipulation in order to exert power and control over you, which is a sign of abuse. Even if you did know that he had herpes, try to be compassionate with yourself. As I mentioned, none of us are perfect.
It sounds as if right now the most useful thing for you is not to beat yourself up over what has happened, but rather to get yourself to a safe place and then find out what will help you move forward and make some more sense of your current situation.
Calling a suicide prevention hotline and connecting with a caring medical provider are two places to start. But I think it might help you to have some more options about who you can go to for support. If you are in college, you may want to check out your school's counseling services as an option.
Friends can be really helpful, too. I know that you wrote that your friends are healthy and you fear that they would reject you. Keep in mind, though, that you don't necessarily know their experiences, and so you don't know if any of them may also have herpes, or some other STI. There is no way that you could tell just by looking at one of your friends (even if they happened to be naked!) whether he or she has an STI. They will also not automatically know that you have herpes. Regardless of whether or not any of your friends have or had an STI before, they could still be helpful. If they are good friends, I hope that they could put aside whatever judgments they might have and just be there for you. Even if your friends do not know what specifically is going on with you, chances are they might have noticed that you are depressed. Sometimes friends don't ask other friends what is going on because they don't want to seem nosy, or are not sure what they would say. Still, I would encourage you to try to give them a chance to be there for you, particularly if you have a trusted friend. Perhaps you know someone who might be able to go with you to the doctor, even if you don't want to tell them what is going on. You could just say you are nervous or upset and you'd like some company when you go to your appointment. That may seem like a small thing, but even little supports can feel pretty huge when you're in the midst of so much going on.
Even though right now you are in crisis mode right now, you do have a future and the future can be manageable and enjoyable for you. This overwhelming feeling will not last forever.
Once you are out of crisis, it may help you to make a list of your priorities and your goals so you can think about how you would like to achieve them. If you are recognizing some flags that indicate that your partner may be trying to control you, I would urge you to speak with someone about that. It is never as easy as simply telling someone that they should leave a relationship--particularly if you feel like you have no support or nowhere to go--but a counselor may be able to help you weigh options and how to stay as safe as possible, regardless of whether you stay with your partner or decide that you would like to end that relationship. To talk with someone more about the nature of your relationship with your partner, you could call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) and they can connect you with resources local to wherever you are. The National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline website also has some helpful information that may be useful as you try to evaluate your partner's behaviors and attitudes, and they have online peer counseling available, as well as a toll free hotline (1-866-331-9474).
I have some more thoughts about disclosure and dating when you've been diagnosed with an STI but, to be honest, that doesn't seem really to be where you are right now emotionally. I'm more concerned about getting you some immediate assistance and then perhaps you can drop us another line and let us know you are ok, and we can offer some more resources and thoughts about those issues.
Please know that you are not alone. You may also want to drop in to our message board area, as you may be able to get some peer support there, as well. Remember that there is support available 24/7. You deserve help, and you are worth it.
Here are some additional resources for you: