Hi, I’m Amy and I have herpes. As do 70% of people by the time they are 25 years old in one form or another. There is a lot of shame around this topic and many of us don’t feel able to talk about it for fear of being seen in a certain way. I had my first outbreak of herpes many years ago, and I could have caught it long before that without knowing. I don’t know who I caught it from and I don’t really need to know, they may not even know. What I do know is that the word ‘herpes’ bring with it a whole host of fear, embarrassment and unknowns.
My first outbreak was agonising. I was working as a support worker on a 13 hours shift and I could barely walk for the pain. I made excuses for my frequent visit to the toilet just so I could stop my knickers from touching my sores for a few minutes of relief. Eventually I couldn’t hack it any longer and told my boss that my sister was unwell and needed me – this was a lie but I was too ashamed to tell her the truth (even though I worked in a medical profession). I went to a sexual health clinic and they were able to take a swab and gave me a treatment to speed up the healing. When they called me to tell me the diagnosis I felt utterly broken. I cried in silence. I worried in silence. I thought of all the worst case scenarios in silence.
For many years I didn’t tell anyone except my sister who was lovely and supportive, as always. I did tonnes of research to make sure I was doing what I could in my lifestyle to minimise the likelihood of further outbreaks, and made sure I wasn’t passing it on to others. I have had relatively few outbreaks so far, maybe one every two years, and they have definitely become less severe each time. I decided not to take any regular medication to prevent outbreaks because I didn’t feel it was necessary. One year I had an outbreak when I was on a family holiday and I decided to tell my Mum because I wanted her help to get a prescription from a local pharmacy. I soon realised that it was MUCH easier to cope with an outbreak when those around me knew what was going on for me and I wasn’t having to pretend that I was fine.
Not long ago I saw a post on Facebook from a woman who had concerns about herpes and birth – she had been told that she wouldn’t be able to give birth vaginally because she had herpes. I was so grateful that she had been brave enough to put that question out there into the world, and that she got some answers. It took me a long time to feel able to share my story but I’m hoping that in doing so, I will be able to share some information that I have found useful and remind people of how common and normal this is. We shouldn’t be suffering in silence, and we shouldn’t be given misinformation that we are too embarrassed to question.
If this topic is something that applies to you, I hope it has been helpful. If you know someone who is struggling with this, you now have more knowledge to support them. If you would like to talk to us about whatever journey you are on, you can book a ‘holding space’ support session with us here. If you would require access to our fund for this session, please contact us before booking.
The resources I found helpful: