For many people, a new diagnosis of genital herpes can be a devastating event. When a person is told they have an infection that is incurable, many things will begin penetrating their minds. Speaking from personal experience, when I heard my physician udder the words “genital herpes” followed by the words “life long” I immediately went into a state of shock and heard little else beyond those few words that echoed over and over in my mind.
At that very moment and the many hours and even days that followed, I believed the intense physical pain I was suffering was a pain I was going to feel every single day for the rest of my life. Perhaps my physician explained to me that the virus would suppress, I honestly do not recall.
If you have recently been diagnosed with genital herpes, it is important to realize the physical pain will subside. The virus will retreat into a suppressive state and you will feel near normal again. Near normal is a term I have chosen because if you are like thousands of others who have been diagnosed you are likely being plagued by the ongoing emotional issues that follow a diagnosis of genital herpes.
During my own research and recovery, I found an article on The Five Stages of Grief. Swiss-born psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has counseled hundreds of patients and their families through her research into death and dying. She described the classic pattern of the coping strategies of patients who know their diagnosis is terminal. This is easily applicable to someone newly diagnosed with genital herpes.
In hopes of putting things into perspective of what you will likely feel over the next several weeks or even months, the five stages of grief are outlined as follows:
The first stage is denial
Upon hearing the diagnosis, the patient reacts with a shocked, “No, not me.” According to Dr.Kubler-Ross, this is a healthy stage, and permits the patient to develop other defenses.
When a person has been infected with genital herpes, the actual outbreak will typically last anywhere from a few days to three weeks, depending on the person and their own bodies immune system’s response to the virus. Most oftentimes when a person has an outbreak that heals on the surface more quickly, this will allow the person to retreat into a stage of denial, until the next outbreak occurs. If a proactive approach is not taken from the beginning, the stage of denial will be much more difficult to overcome.
Next comes anger or resentment
“Why me?” is the question asked during the stage of anger and resentment. Blame, directed against the doctor, nurses and God often is a part of this stage. This outcry should be accepted, and should remain without judgment.
During the stage of anger and resentment, the person living with genital herpes is more likely to pierce themselves to death with thoughts or statements of remorse. “If I had only used a condom.” “If I had only gotten to know them better.” “If I had only been more responsible.”
A person who has genital herpes is guilty of no less than an act of human nature. Sex is as much a part of life as sleeping and eating.
It is important to realize that it is OK to be angry. It is OK to be resentful. It is a normal phase one must pass through to come to the end of your grieving period and begin the real emotional healing that will begin to take place. In as much as it is ok to be angry, it is important to realize that you are no less the person you were before you contracted genital herpes. Allow yourself a time to be angry, but also realize that it is a life-altering diagnosis that you have only one of two choices to make. You can choose to take the positive or the negative approach. The positive being to gain knowledge on treating and controlling the virus and empowering yourself to live as near normal a life as you did before, or you can choose the negative approach which will keep you trapped in a phase of anger. Choosing the negative alternative will only allow genital herpes, a virus that can be controlled; to take control over you.
The third stage is bargaining
“Yes me, but-” “If you’ll just make it go away, God, I’ll . . .” This Dr. Kubler-Ross calls a period of temporary truce.
The fourth stage is depression
Now the person says, “Yes, me,” with the courage to admit that it is happening; this acknowledgment often brings with it depression. (Note: The family or closest friends often go through all the stages, along with the patient.)
Finally comes acceptance
During acceptance, the patient will face reality calmly. This is often a difficult time for the family, since the patient tends to withdraw, to be silent.
Any life altering event or diagnosis can be devastating in the beginning. Only after the initial shock wears off and the various levels of grieving have been surpassed, can a person truly begin to heal emotionally. Genital herpes may be a lifelong incurable virus but it is a virus that thrives on social ignorance. Be smart, take control, become educated.