I was STD paneled… again… for everything! But when the tests came back positive for HSV-2 my world came crashing in.
How was I supposed to go on with my life?
It was the end of the year and I had met my high deductible with my insurance earlier so when I scheduled my appointment with the OB/GYN. So, another STI panel would be a bargain. But I hadn’t bargained on being diagnosed with a lifelong STD.
Heck, I didn’t even know what HSV-2 was! Well, at least by its clinical name.
I did have reason for concern, given the circumstances of my divorce. That’s why I had already been paneled at least three times. And was overjoyed to find that I had tested clean every time. This time was different.
I was told that I had herpes – the genital kind, not the cold sore kind. But why did I never experience any symptoms or even an outbreak?
I didn’t deserve to have herpes. I wasn’t the cheater!
I had a diagnosis and I was in shock. But how could it be true? I was in tears. I knew this diagnosis was not life-threatening but I knew it would be life-changing.
I had no idea what to even ask my doctor, but I made it my mission to do some research. I had some phone calls to make. And I had to keep moving forward.
Here’s what I learned.
Did you know that STI panels don’t routinely screen for genital herpes? Why? First, because testing is only recommended when a patient has experienced symptoms. Secondly, routine testing would not necessarily spread the disease. Thirdly, while herpes may be a life-long disease, it’s not life threatening. In fact, here’s what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has to say, “More often, the stigma and shame from a genital herpes infection can be more troubling to someone who is infected than the disease itself.” Let’s just say, I could relate!
→ HSV-2 is common but not openly talked about.
Here’s another fact from the CDC: more than one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes. But most people don’t even know they have it. So, I could have gone years – perhaps even a lifetime – without ever being diagnosed!
→ I started talking.
Even though it was awkward, I talked about it – first, online behind a screen name, then with a few friends and family members who were willing to talk about it and all of its implications. Interestingly I found a remarkable amount of helpful information, resources and support from a reddit.com group. That’s where I learned about my test results and options for testing. I found out that my index levels were extremely low and could possibly indicate a false positive. It was suggested that I ask for another test, a more definitive test. I even began to feel like maybe HSV-2 wasn’t so awful. So many people were living their lives and involved in great relationships. After all, it would have a way of weeding out potential suitors who weren’t interested in a serious relationship. The support I found was truly amazing.
→ I got re-tested.
Equipped with this knowledge from my new-found online community, I went to my OB/GYN follow-up appointment with all of the right questions. In fact, the staff asked me if I was a Med Tech. It was then that I began to think about finding sharing my story.
→ I found hope before I discovered a misdiagnosis.
Eventually, I came to a healthier place of acceptance. The HSV-2 scare was one a several diagnoses that affected my reproductive health but to the CDC’s point, it was facing the stigma that forced me to take a long, hard look at what so many people face. I’ve learned that it’s difficult to cast blame when it comes to HSV-2. That’s some tough learning when I had some heavy stones I was prepared to cast. But I was not alone. The group taught me that taking responsibility for my disease would become a way of life. That became a comfort and a strength to me. And even though I came clean with a second test, I learned an important lesson in forgiveness and letting go. Because it was just as possible that I could have contracted the disease in my college days as it was from an unfaithful husband. And that’s where my story begins.