Hopefully, the preceding chapters have given you a clearer picture of what herpes is and how it may affect you. The unfortunate’ truth is that the media and uninformed persons often make the disease seem worse than it actually is. If you have herpes, it is very important to ignore any myths and exaggerations you may have heard. Doing so will help you increase your self-esteem, maintain a good attitude, and thereby possibly even decrease the severity and frequency of your recurrences.
Adjusting To The Idea
The fact that you have contracted herpes may cause you severe resentment and denial. You may have found out under traumatic circumstances. The primary episode was probably painful and emotional. You “caught” herpes. Luckily, recurrent episodes are different. They are milder. You can’t “catch” herpes again because it is already in your system, so the stress of discovery isn’t as bad.
Though herpes is almost never life-threatening, there is no drug that will rid our bodies of the virus. The inevitable concern over the appearance of symptoms may be heightened by the fact that one’s sexuality is threatened as well as his physical comfort.
In order to adjust to the idea that you have herpes, it is stress-inducing disease like herpes. The following section on placebos further substantiates this point.
The term placebo dates back to the Hebrew Bible. It came from Latin to mean, “I shall please.” In the 1700s it appeared in a medical dictionary for the first time, meaning “make-believe medicine.”
Today, placebo refers to an inert substance which has no physiological effect on the disease process. The inert substance is usually a saline solution or sugar pill. Placebos are often given to one/group of people, in the testing of a drug, to provide a standard against which to compare the effects of the drug being tested.
Placebos are interesting in that they have the profound ability to decrease disease symptoms without the administration of drugs. They are particularly effective in an emotion-laden illness such as herpes. Medical literature is full of reports on the power of the placebo to help patients with anxiety, tension, pain, insomnia, seasickness, senility, ulcers and many other ailments.
Why do placebos work? If a patient believes that he is receiving beneficial treatment and wants to get better, he will often improve. The stress of the illness is decreased because something is being done to relieve the problem, and it is being done by a doctor whom the patient trusts and believes has the power to heal him. We already know that stress is a major component in the herpes disease syndrome. If that stress is reduced the treatment “is more effective. Reducing stress is the key to keeping the immune response high, to aid in the early recovery of symptoms, and to prevent recurrences.
Discussing Herpes With Others
There are two very good reasons for discussing herpes with others. You may need to give or receive emotional support and information. You also have an obligation to let any sexual partners know you have the disease.
You may understandably find it hard to broach the subject with your sexual partner(s) or potential sexual partner(s). Perhaps you fear rejection. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Remember how you reacted to the concept. How would you change the situation under which you were educated? Let your experience he a learning model for the discussion. Think of how it could have been more pleasant.
Resolve to make the upcoming experience an educational, positive one for the person you will be talking to.
Let your own personality and style dictate the manner of your approach. Try not to sound rehearsed. Timing is important. There is no perfect time, but there are certainly some highly undesirable ones. While riding up a crowded elevator or milling around a cocktail party are less than ideal times. Possibly the worst moment would be after making love. This may cause a certain amount of resentment and distrust. Avoid the temptation to bring it up at such a time. Even if you have no active lesions and are sure that you are not contagious, your partner has the right to learn the facts beforehand.
Maintain a positive attitude. Leave out strongly negative words. Don’t say you have a horrible, incurable disease. Concentrate, instead, on how lucky you are that it’s only contagious during active outbreaks and that the prodrome will usually let you know when that will be.
Avoid the word incurable. You will only hit someone over the head with a scary term. You might point out that science has not yet discovered a drug which will kill herpesvirus, but be sure to follow that information up with the fact that the common cold virus happens to share the same trait. Herpes lesions, like a cold, will always heal with time.
Other words to avoid might be: venereal, dirty, herpetic, disgusting, cancer, malignant, evil, virulent, torture, scourge, unclean, contaminated. You get the idea. You can get your point across much less painfully and with greater success by using positive and neutral words.
It is important to relay the facts to the best of your knowledge. If you deviate from the true picture of herpes you will compromise your credibility. Your listener will wonder if everything you related was inaccurate. If you are unsure how to answer a question, tell him. He will respect you for it.
Presume the person you are about to take into your confidence knows nothing about herpes. Even if he is conversant with the disease, chances are good that his information is colored with myth and misinformation. By starting with the basics you will perhaps enlighten him and correct any misconceptions. Once you’ve covered the basics, get into the details, but not too far into them. Unless your listener is a microbiologist, launching into a dissertation on molecular cell structure and the like will only serve to confuse him and detract from the important concept—that herpes is something that can be controlled and worked around.
Keep in mind that herpes is not a life-threatening disease. If it were, it would not be so prevalent. It would be self-limiting and burn itself out instead of becoming an epidemic.
Above all, try to be natural and spontaneous. Relax. Don’t rehearse and don’t worry about the discussion beforehand. It won’t help. You may even find that the person you are about to talk to has had herpes longer than you have. Given the millions of people who have herpes in the United States and applying that number to only the sexually active, there is a significant chance that your partner already has had an experience with the disease.
One last tip. If you are not sure just how to begin, asking the person if he knows what a cold sore is might be of help. Most people are familiar with cold sores, but not everyone knows that the same virus can cause genital herpes.
Take to the person not just the facts on herpes, but also your dispassion and logic. Leave out your frustration, anxiety, anger, or depression. You have too many other things to offer that are far more significant than herpes, which is really just a small part of your life.
Herpes does not cause physical impotence. If you are experiencing a decrease in sexual desire it is probably of rejection. Once you come to grips with this concept, you will realize you are not impotent at all. If you fear pain from active sores, you should not have intercourse for obvious reasons. The real concern is to avoid touching the active lesions. This does not mean all sexual activity must stop. It simply has to take a different form for the duration of the episode. There are other methods of intimacy besides intercourse. Think of it as an opportunity to explore new sensations and techniques. Some couples have even found that with this exploring a new closeness and increased caring has resulted. The point here is that exchange of emotions and touching between partners need not come to a halt.
Some of the fear of spreading the disease may subconsciously come from not knowing how to communicate the subject to another person. This can cause you to undergo a tremendous change in your social life. Social withdrawal and deeply seated guilt are not healthy attitudes. They cause a lot of stress which, besides increasing the severity of herpes, could well result in a total lack of sexual desire. Seriously consider seeking professional counseling if you have these problems to an excessive degree.
If your self-esteem suffers from a nagging feeling remember that herpes is but a small part of you as a complete person. When you are able to deal with the contagion problem and can communicate with others regarding the disease, your outlook will improve. Keep in mind that people with herpes make love like everyone else. They walk and talk like everyone else. Remind yourself of the possibility that the person you are afraid to communicate with may also have herpes and be trying to get up the courage to tell you.
Nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress, hygiene, and attitude all play a part in the severity of the disease and the frequency of attacks. If our bodies are kept in good condition, we will achieve higher immune response. This, in turn, is responsible for keeping recurrences under control.
There is no magic diet or exercise regimen for people with herpes. Most of us know what comprises good treatment for our bodies: a diet low in sugars and fats, some kind of exercise program, and refraining from leading “the hard life.” It should come as no surprise that drinking and smoking in a bar until closing three or four nights a week, with the resultant loss of sleep and nutrition, is not beneficial to our general health or our immune response. Known triggers such as excessive heat, sun and cold should also be avoided. A little common sense will go a long way in preventing recurrences.
Newspapers, magazines and electronic media, in their effort to gain readers or listeners, will propagate a myth or take fact and make it a feared subject when it might be quite benign in the overall picture. Even some physicians are guilty of conveying to patients their sense of futility in treating herpes. All these attitudes have taken their toll. Some people have come to feel a sense of hopelessness in the treatment of their disease.
Scare statements coming from the media only serve to increase the frustration and anxiety of those with the disease who may be uninformed. Headlines like “The New Sexual Leprosy,” “The Terrible Curse of Herpes,” “The New Scarlet Letter,” sell magazines but engender inappropriate feelings. Many articles in newspapers and magazines around the country, especially those in the less-ethical publications, dispense inaccurate information. Before letting something in print distress you, discuss it with your health professional to make sure it has validity.