When I originally created this blog I was certain I was bringing something new to the table being a younger woman with herpes and having experience dating men without herpes. But through speaking with readers about their experiences and relationships, I’ve learned more than what I think I could ever share on my own with any of you. I have a guest post I want to share today from another reader of the blog that offers a much different perspective on life with herpes than I have had. I was going to split it into two parts as it is lengthy, but I think it would take away from the experience as you read through it. I hope as with the last guest post, you’ll respect his contribution!
I am the guy who didn’t lose his virginity until senior year in high school and when it happened, it was with my girlfriend and we were in love. I am the guy that has always preferred serious relationships to casual flings and barely needs one hand to count the number of “one night stands” I have had. I am the guy that earned a particular nickname by my (now ex) wife for my unbending stance on the use of condoms when we were using them for birth control. I am a good example of the saying, “when bad things happen to good people”. I am the guy with genital herpes…
The nice version of this story is that my (ex)wife did not know she has the virus and at some point, around year five of our relationship (year three of our marriage), passed it to me. The not so nice version of this story is that she cheated on me during our marriage and contracted the virus and passed it to me. Yet another less likely version is that I had it all along and maybe she did too. I know now that the mystery pain she occasionally felt in her legs that she described as “feeling like her skin was on fire” was actually the “prodrome” or precursor to a herpes outbreak. Her prodrome experiences were long before I had any symptoms and I know what they are now because I experienced the exact same feeling in my legs years later. At the time, my diagnosis did not really seem to matter. The reveal of my lab tests did not elicit a particularly emotional reaction from her (odd now, thinking back) and I guess that we both figured that we are married so in a lot of ways, who cares. We rarely discussed it and the only discussions we really had centered around the risks involved with pregnancy and childbirth as that was something being considered down the road.
As months went on after my official diagnosis, I was experiencing outbreaks about every month or so with varying severity. In an attempt to find any correlation between the frequency/severity of the outbreak and my day to day life, I started keeping a calendar on my phone to track outbreaks, severity and duration. I started reading pretty much everything I could find on the subject of herpes treatment and the internet seems to have no end to suggestions, some good and some downright dangerous. The idea of prescription medication scared me and from the information I read, the cost without insurance seemed high and side effects unavoidable so that did not seem like a good option. Instead, I chose to delve into dietary changes and supplements. For those unaware, a positive component in the replication of the herpes virus is the amino acid arginine. Conversely, the amino acid lysine seems to have negative effect on virus reproduction. Arginine and lysine exist in many foods and some of the highest concentrations of arginine can be found in nuts, specifically peanuts. I found that eating nuts of any kind, and specifically peanuts, almost immediately triggered an outbreak. The end result was eliminating pretty much all nuts from my diet (I miss peanut butter so much!). That dietary change netted some limited results but I also found that it was the ratio of arginine to lysine that seemed to play a role as well. You see, some foods have a lot of each but the amounts are balanced. Some foods have high levels of one or the other. I tried to eliminate food that had a disproportionately high ratio of arginine to lysine and I started taking lysine supplements to compensate even further. Again, the results were limited at best. I also tried a few other supplements, mostly anything that would potentially boost my immune system. I tried red and blue/green algae, modifilan (a supplement made from brown seaweed that has been used to treat radiation victims), lauricidin (the purified lipid extract from coconut oil), various essential oils that would be applied directly to an outbreak (and burn like fire!), and a few others I’m sure I have forgotten. All of these resulted in minimal improvement in the frequency of my outbreaks and in most cases, these supplements were expensive. I imagine that many people, like myself, get into the line of thinking that something has to exist to treat this so you go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, hoping beyond hope that something will work.
About two years after my diagnosis, my wife decided that she was no longer happy in our marriage and we started down the road of divorce. Along with the trials and tribulations that accompany splitting up, I was also faced with the terrifying realization that I would be single again in the relatively near future and the reality that at some point I would be attempting to date with this scarlet H pinned to my life. Soon after my ex and I moved to new places and filed our official divorce paperwork, it was revealed to me that she had been cheating on me at the end of our marriage and likely at points during. That obviously opened up a lot of questions about how I contracted herpes but the reality was that the specifics were not that important to me anymore and not worth creating more stress in my life. In the end, I can’t change the fact that I have this virus. The best I can do is make sure that anyone that comes into my life on an intimate level is given a choice that I wasn’t.
The stigma surrounding herpes in our society is strong and in many cases feels paralyzing. It’s a funny thing (not so much ha-ha funny)… I think a lot of the stigma originates from a place of fear, ignorance and outright denial. The reality is that about 1 in 4 or 5 adults has genital herpes and about 8 out of 10 adults has oral herpes. My understanding is that most people do not have any symptoms or experience such mild symptoms that it goes unnoticed and because of this, to make matters worse, the majority of those infected don’t even know it. The funny (again, not so much ha-ha funny) and sad part is that it is only when faced with the virus, either with yourself or with a partner that has it, that most people educate themselves and discover the reality of just how common it is. Only 3 people in my life know about this (2 of those 3 also have herpes) and if I consider the numbers in our social circles, I would say that the 1 in 4 or 5 ratio is very believable. One of the people that I told ended up referring me to her doctor and based on her positive experience, I decided to curb my embarrassment and see him to discuss my situation. The doctor was very matter of fact about everything and based on my recurring symptoms, suggested suppressive therapy with Val acyclovir (generic for Valtrex) and reassured me that his patients experience with side effects was minimal. With that, I got my prescription filled (all the while assuming that the tech at the pharmacy was certainly judging me) and started my dose of 500 mg per day. That was about a year and a half ago and I have not had an outbreak since. Every once in a while, when I am sick or rundown or maybe partied a little too hard, I will get the telltale signs of an approaching outbreak and all I need to do is double up my dosage for a day or two and like magic, the feeling subsides and I am all good. I even figured out that my insurance will cover 30 days of a 1 gram dose so now I get that and split the pills in half and I get 60 days for $15. I do not have any side effects that I am aware of and the relief from what was pretty much a monthly occurrence has been almost enough to make me forget I have this… almost…
Dating… sigh… I did not expect to be single again in my early 40’s. My ex and I met in our 30’s and figured we had gone through all the crap and I thought we were wiser and thought we would stay together forever. Turns out, not so much. Dating at this age has proven to be more difficult than any other period in my life, with or without herpes. I feel like I am in a very tough demographic. Most of my friends are married or divorced and on a second marriage, many with kids. I would still like kids of my own and that also presents some challenges. Many women my age do not want kids and younger women that do want them do not seem to be interested in me. Of course I am speaking in general terms here and mostly just illustrating that even if I don’t factoring in the herpes, meeting someone that I want to create a life/family with (and they feel the same) is harder than ever. I have been on a few dates here and there in the past few years but nothing that has gotten to the point that I needed to reveal my viral buddy. I dread the thought of that conversation. Recently, I met someone online, and we seemed to hit it off via email and text/phone. I always try to temper my expectations in these situations but on some level, the optimistic romantic in me always seems to prevail and fill my head with fantasies worthy of a John Hughes film. The flip side of this, and what I remember dwelling on as I made plans to actually meet this person in real life, is the scenario that things actually go well and start down the road of something substantial and that will inevitably lead to “the talk” and with that, the potential to be rejected, despite the rest of the equation. Meeting this person ended up being fine but totally lacking in real-life chemistry so that was that… this time. What I am trying to say is that I it’s difficult enough to meet people that I actually want to date and that I have chemistry with and at this age, have similar life goals. Now, I could meet someone and have all those pieces in place and ultimately still have the carpet ripped out from under me because of a virus that I did not ask for and can’t do anything about. It’s more than a little depressing if I let myself dwell too much but as one of my very good friend often tells me, “lighten up about it… you need to give people a chance”. I hope anyone reading this, that may be dealing with their own personal version of this story, feels a little better knowing that they are not alone.