In May, I woke up excited to spend the day playing with my 5-month-old grandson. At lunch I felt a little achy, and by the afternoon I resorted to laying on the couch. That evening, my fever finally confirmed that I was sick. But it wasn’t until a couple of days later that my life turned upside down.
The next morning, I woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a Mack truck. Gingerly I walked down stairs, feverish and achy. When my husband came to great me with a hug, I forcefully exclaimed, “DON’T TOUCH ME!” I felt awful. Yes, I had normal flu like symptoms, but over riding any normal discomfort, my mouth was a nightmare. I had sores on my tongue, my lips, the roof of my mouth, my throat and my gums felt like they were on fire. The pain in my mouth felt excruciating.
For 2 days I laid on the couch, trying to rest and let my body heal. Everything hurt. Getting sustenance involved swallowing a few bites of bland soft food followed by a desperate rinse of water to calm the pain. With my lymph glands swollen and no end in sight, I finally dragged myself to urgent care to find some answers.
After hearing my symptoms and taking a look in my mouth, I am guessing that the doctor immediately new my diagnosis, but I was not in the least bit prepared.
As my mind raced, she gently explained, “we’ll test you to make sure, but you most likely are having a herpes outbreak. The first outbreak, you can get pretty sick with flu like symptoms and sores in your mouth. If you have more outbreaks, they won’t be near as severe, just the typical symptom of an open sore around the outside of your lips or nose….”
How is that possible? I’ve been married to the same man for 34 years.
Incurable. What I learned about in health class. Using condoms. I will always have it. I could pass it to my husband, my kids, my grandson. Herpes. What the HECK!
In that moment, my life turned upside down. I felt like I had just been given a diagnosis of Leprosy, I became the untouchable. With my body currently filled with high levels of the virus, life changed in an instant. No more sharing beverages, or tasting someone else’s desert. My husband stepped in to cook and serve our meals, while I quietly took care of the dirty dishes. Afraid that I might kiss my grandson by accident, I chose not to hold him for a while and watch him from afar.
My official diagnosis was Type 1 Herpes – the type typically spread by kissing, or sharing a tooth brush, or utensil, and resulting in sores around the mouth. But these days, with sexual practices like oral sex, type 1 Herpes can also spread to the genitals.
I retreated from physical touch with my husband to empower him to make choices about his exposure to the virus. Hand holding stopped. Kissing became non-existent. Sex stopped. We had things to consider. Instead of the freedom we had enjoyed, sex might now require careful protection to prevent spreading the virus. He felt angry, guilty and afraid. I felt dirty and abandoned. It was a dark time.
I have no idea where I picked up Herpes. Two thirds of the world’s population carry Herpes -1 and most of them were exposed during childhood. I might have had herpes all along and something triggered an outbreak. Or maybe I picked it up from a server at a restaurant. Regardless of how I got herpes, I now have it, and the question becomes how do I continue to live while protecting my family from this highly contagious virus.
Now I am going to pause right here, and acknowledge that many, many people have herpes – whether type 1 or type 2. For you, herpes might be a huge struggle, or, herpes might not be a big deal because it has always just been part of your life. I don’t want to judge your journey, or make you feel like it is a bigger deal than it is. I just want to share my story and acknowledge that for many of us herpes is a part of our life.
Whether we struggle constantly with outbreaks, or we never have another one, Herpes does not go away. We can reduce the risk of passing on the virus, but we cannot guarantee that we will not spread it to the people we love. Online information about living with herpes recommends things like always using a condom during sex or oral sex.
Yes, life goes on after a diagnosis, but life does not remain the same. In an instant, life changes and we are forced to have hard conversations, make adjustments, and to grieve the life we left behind.
You may not face a herpes diagnosis, but most of us will face at time when it feels like your life just turned upside down. You might face a diagnosis of breast cancer, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease or some other health issue. Or maybe you finally wake up to the fact that you must battle an alcohol, porn or drug addiction in your marriage. A job change, moving to a new home, or a car accident can send you spinning. Even caring for a prodigal child, special needs child or elderly parents can add huge challenges to intimacy in marriage. Many things can test our commitment to intimacy and a great sex life in marriage.
One of my husband’s favorite verses is James 1:2-3 which says, When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.
Even thought my diagnosis of herpes feels like my life turned upside down, I am not giving up. I know that God is going to grow my husband and me through the hard. Life will be different but God has a plan and He is good.
I just want you to know that you are not alone.
(This is first of a 3 part series)
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