Among all the headlines we discuss during our seminar, there is one that seems to have caught everybody’s attention. It screams: ‘according to WHO, more than two-thirds of population has herpes’. Everyone winces, stricken with horror and disgust. I even hear one guy shout ‘Oh my God, that means someone in this class has herpes!’.
Yes, you’re right. That person would be me.
I was 9 years old, when I first experienced the consequences of catching the H-word. I got on the school bus, with a swollen upper lip, covered in repulsive blisters. To make matters worse – if that’s even possible – my mom made me apply gentian violet to disinfect it, so I was literally a zombie isolation ward material.
Naturally, I sat alone, surrounded only by scornful looks and scoffs of primary school bullies. Fighting with tears, I just wished my face could disappear…
Back then, I had no idea herpes would stay on my record forever.
Every winter, when the temperature dropped and dragged my immune system with it, I would get the familiar tingling on my mouth; never in my life have I dreaded any sensation more than this. But I still had hope that my yearly terrorist would eventually announce cease-fire and let me be.
Quite the opposite had happened. The attacks became more severe, with multiple cold sores blooming at a time, turning into horrible scabs and after a while – a pearl white scar on my lip. I decided it was high time I consulted a dermatologist.
That’s when I got the news – my affliction was incurable. Once you get herpes virus, it stays with you for better or worse, till death do you part. I knew there were worse diseases out there, but as a girl, always selfishly caring about appearance, I desired to switch my herpes to something invisible.
I went through primary, secondary and high school education, wearing layers of concealer. Yet I was still unable to fully cover my embarrassment. Various ointments, patches and tablets helped to hide the problem temporarily, yet it was always there, inside me; waiting to quite literally slap me in the face, usually three days before a long-awaited occasion.
Over the past 11 years, herpes has become a recurring, annual event, just like Christmas, birthdays and New Year’s Eve. Only a lot less exciting.
Now that I’m at university, the throbbing of an upcoming cold sore outburst makes me hide and miss classes for a week. No one here knows my story, so I can’t expect understanding like I did from my friends and family. The ignorance, causing people to mix up my virus with genital herpes, makes me wear a scarf around my face even when doing the dishes. Quite honestly, I am ashamed of what strangers might think of me.
‘It’s that time of the year’ does not always refer to Christmas. Hopefully you’ll remember these words next time you see a person with a herpes-bejewelled smile. Don’t cringe and walk over to the other side of the street. Unless you kiss them or share a drink, their virus won’t bite you. And by ignoring what’s literally written on their faces, you might just save them a lot of unnecessary suffering.
Herpes feels just as bad as it sounds. You don’t ever want to find yourself in our skin, trust me on that one.