Share your story: Living with an STI

For the safety and privacy of my users, I do not disclose any names.

I am a 23-year-old woman, and my life changed after being diagnosed with Herpes 1 and 2 on the 3rd February 2021. I am a cautious person who always used protection and tested for HIV, so you can imagine how I felt after the diagnosis. I felt my body leaving my soul on that day, thereafter I was suicidal, and fell into a risky lifestyle of substance abuse and risky sexual behaviour. Here’s my story,

I had issues with my boyfriend at that time. There were severe trust issues. He found texts on my phone and believed that I was cheating on him. The texts were misleading, I agree – but I assured him that I never had sex with more than one person, which is true. My values, morals and self-love could never allow me to do such.

I never enjoyed sex, it was painful and unpleasant, and this is one of the reasons why he thought I cheated, because I didn’t give in easily to sex. I was failing to tell him about this because I didn’t want to crush his ego or make him think that he is not good enough.

After a month of dating, and engaging in sex, I started having fever like symptoms, and vaginal bumps – I thought the bumps were caused by using a blade to shave, however, I was wrong and the bumps spread throughout my vagina, both inside and outside. I couldn’t walk or pee, whenever I needed to pee, I would first put ice cubes on my vagina, that’s how painful it was.

My boyfriend at that time saw how weak I was becoming; this was hard for me because I didn’t understand what’s going on. I was constantly diagnosed with BV (Bacterial Vaginosis) and yeast infection before my initial diagnosis. He broke up with me. I was depressed and crushed for a while, until I started googling my symptoms and searching on ways to get healed. All my research encouraged me to go to the clinic for a full examination and that’s when I was officially diagnosed with Herpes 1 and 2.

I started taking treatment, which was given to me by my healthcare provider. I made some lifestyle changes, and decided not to date while taking treatment. I also had to learn to change my mindset on this disease because 90% of my family lineage has been diagnosed with HIV. I remember my grandmother who was a nurse at that time crying when I told her about my diagnosis, but she encouraged me to take treatment, and take care of myself in general.

I changed my Twitter handle to ‘Herpes does not define me’. I was messaged by two guys who never wanted anyone to know about their herpes status. The 3 of us created a support group where we spoke about our challenges, encouraged each other to take treatment, advised on caution when dating, and strengthened each other in general. I also joined an American support structure group on Facebook called Herpes Could Never. The stories I found on this page warmed my heart. I felt at home, and I realised that I am not the only one living with herpes. This group helped a lot with my mental healing.

Even though the people in the support group are miles away, they changed my view about a lot of things. For example, after the diagnosis my dreams of being married and having kids naturally vanished – but now, I see myself getting married, and mindful that there are many other ways to have kids. One day, I am going to have a beautiful big family.

With herpes, you get random outbreaks such as genital warts or discharge and this can be triggered by anything including environmental factors. I also noticed that when I am stressed and eating unhealthily, the outbreaks happen. You can imagine how many times one gets stressed in a year.

I also noticed that during these outbreaks, the nurses at my nearest clinic do not always understand, and sometimes fail to explain why they happen. They will treat the outbreaks for a week hoping that they will be gone but it’s not always the case. If you go to the clinic and they fail to effectively treat your outbreaks, do not be afraid to get a second opinion at another clinic.

I try to maintain a good mental health state, eat well, and be mindful of the kind of people I date – well, the dating part is still hard because of the stigma around herpes. It’s painful to be called disgusting, dirty and all kinds of names by your partner and people around you so my advice to anyone who is living with herpes, is to opt for healthy relationships and foster relationships with people who have knowledge about the virus, or educate them if they are open to it.

If you or a friend need advice, help, or want to share your story, you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send a Facebook message or a Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).