May is mental health awareness month. I feel like the intersection of mental health, and an STI diagnosis is very real. I have struggled for many years with mental illness and getting an STI did not do me any favors in the beginning. I was very lucky to have access to medication and therapy. Below is the intersection of mental health and my herpes diagnosis.
You may or may not know that the test for HSV is not in the standard STI panel. This means that unless you have visible sores, you have to ask to be tested. Well, I didn’t ask to be tested for HSV, but my doctor accidentally checked the box when I was there for my yearly exam. I get a call a few days later while I am on my way to Virginia Beach to celebrate my birthday. Herpes was not the birthday gift I was hoping for.
I was devastated, I thought my boyfriend was going to leave me, I thought no one was ever going to love me again and worst of all I thought I was contaminated. I had a lot of preconceived notions and stigma surrounding herpes and STIs in general. I stuggle with OCD, anxiety and depression. The fear of contamination (from any disease, but especially STIs) was central to my OCD. I honestly felt suicidal and unsafe with myself after finding out. I am very lucky that I had the presence of mind to call my therapist. I even contemplated committing myself that day, but ultimately my therapist was able to help me out and I went on to try my best to celebrate my birthday.
I was already in the midst of depression at that time, but my diagnosis sent me even deeper, and I let it eat my self-esteem. I stayed with the guy who gave me herpes for 2 more years after that because I couldn’t love myself, so how would anyone else. Having OCD and Herpes made it hard for me to even touch myself or to let myself be touched by anyone else even in a non-sexual way. I washed my hands raw after my diagnosis. All that being said I am very thankful that I had access to mental healthcare because even though I felt this way I still put in the work in therapy. I still took my medications; I still tried to provide myself with self-care. The three things that really helped me change how I felt about having herpes was therapy, following herpes advocates on Instagram, and joining a support group.
It’s really easy to look at the people on the internet who are okay and out with their diagnosis and think they must have always been this way. It’s easy to forget that these people had to do the work and build themselves back up. It truly takes time to fight through ingrained societal stigma and rebuild, but it is possible. You are worth the effort to seek help.
I tell you this story because it can feel hopeless in the beginning and it can feel all-consuming, but I want you to know that you are needed and that having herpes doesn’t change who you are as a person.
If you are feeling unsafe with yourself, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255. The national suicide hotline also has a chat function on their website. If you are a veteran, who would like to contact the Veteran’s Crisis Line you can contact 800-273-8255 and press 1. The Veterans Crisis line also has a texting option (which I have used) text 828255. They also have a chat function on the website.
You are not alone.