Herpes Nation Newsletter Volume One, Edition Five
Tis The Season
The Other “C” Word
No matter what you call it – Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, Diwali, or nothing at all – the “most wonderful” time of the year will soon be upon us. Try as you will to ignore it, Christmas is part of the cultural soup we all swim in. Best to learn how to stay afloat, and maybe even to ride the wave of holiday celebration and togetherness. There is peace and joy to be found at this time of year, but it’s up to you to keep the spirit alive.
It’s more important now more than ever to practice what you have spent the whole year learning. Meditate, practice your deep-breathing and self-hypnosis exercises, keep practicing yoga or tai-chi, or any other activity that helps you balance your body, mind, and spirit. Stay in touch with nature and the beauty of this time of year by going outside.
Let health be the gift you give yourself and others this year. Change up some of your holiday traditions. Make relaxation your focus as you resist the expectations of others and do things your own way this year.
This edition of the News is devoted to helping you have a herpes-free, healthy holiday. It will provide you with the tools, motivation, and inspiration to do just that. We encourage you to break with tradition and do things differently this year – or simply adapt, re-use and re-cycle old traditions to make them fit your new lifestyle.
Remember what Rinpoche said…”the opportunity to experience yourself differently always exists.”
One Woman’s Story
Jane still remembers the day, many years ago. She had been feeling a strange, prickly, stinging sensation around her genitals, the source of which seemed to be a strange bump. She visited the doctor, expressing a concern that she might have herpes. The doctor said it sounded more like an ingrown hair to him, but he took a swab of the area and sent the test off to a lab. Jane never got a call, so assumed everything was fine. Every so often since, she has been plagued by this familiar stinging sensation.
In the last few years, Jane noticed a sharp increase in the frequency of her mysterious outbreaks. “It was just last year, over eleven years after that first visit, that I finally went to another doctor about this again,” says Jane. “’Looks like herpes to me’ said my doctor. I was stunned, but in my guts, I think I knew it all along. Or at least, I knew it wasn’t just ingrown hairs” Like many people, Jane had been misdiagnosed, or rather, not diagnosed at all, and had been living with herpes, a lifelong viral infection.
It isn’t uncommon for swab tests to come back negative for herpes virus. “My doctor explained that the virus lives in my central nervous system, and could come to the surface of my skin at the point where it originally entered, at any time. During that time, it is contagious, but the thing is, it is impossible to know when that is. They could be at the surface, and I wouldn’t have an outbreak. On the other hand, I might get an outbreak, but by the time I make it in to the doctor for a swab test, the virus has retreated back to its hiding place.”
“There is a huge stigma around genital herpes,” says Jane. “I remember right after I first found out that was what I really had, a friend was making fun of people with herpes. I felt so humiliated, but angry at his ignorance. It wasn’t like I was a slut. Anyone could get this. Yet I was still too new to it, too ashamed feeling, and I didn’t speak up to defend myself. […] I see people all the time with sores on their mouth, and no one even cares. But sores on your genitals is a whole other story, even if it’s the same virus!”
Jane doesn’t know who she got herpes from. Because of her misdiagnosis, she doesn’t remember the exact time frame, but it was around the end of one relationship and the beginning of another. “I was always monogamous, and I would use a condom, at least at first in a relationship. But I would usually end up having unprotected sex with boyfriends. I think most people do, once they get to know someone and feel safe.” None of Jane’s boyfriends ever had visible symptoms of herpes, and none ever mentioned it. “I suspect it was one of two people who I got it from,” says Jane. “The one guy was just a short term fling, and I have no idea where he is now. The other guy, I went out with for two years, and I don’t remember him ever getting an outbreak. I am afraid of asking him, so many years later, if he is infected. If he is, did I give it to him, or did I get it from him? I just don’t know.”
It is commonly believed that stress increases the frequency of outbreaks. While scientific studies on the topic are inconclusive, Jane has noticed it to be true. “My outbreaks increased after a death in my family, and I think I also had some post-partum depression. For a long time, I barely remember even having outbreaks, but it was this sudden increase in outbreaks that sent me to the doctor about it again.”
Jane now treats her herpes with herbal remedies and tries to maintain a positive attitude. “When I was first diagnosed, I felt so dirty and disgusting,” says Jane, “but now, I almost see this virus as a friend, one that comes along to teach me a lesson. If I stay healthy, I am fine, but if I let my immune system get run down, sure enough, I get a sore.”
Jane has noticed that things like a lack of sleep or poor diet contribute to herpes outbreaks, as does anxiety and anger. “One time, I had a minor little sore. I remember getting really angry that day. I was yelling at my kids and feeling super stressed out about some things in my life. When I got home, the sore was really raw and bleeding. It sounds gross, I know, but it was telling me something. Getting freaked out about stress isn’t worth it.” Jane takes herbs like St. John’s Wort and Lemon Balm, both of which are known for easing depression and calming moods, as well as being anti-viral. “I know there are some pharmaceutical anti-viral treatments that some people find success with, but I thought I’d try natural remedies first.” Nothing will ever take away the virus, but through taking care of herself, Jane has managed to greatly reduce the frequency of outbreaks.
Christopher Scipio encourages anyone with herpes to take treatment into their own hands. He acknowledges that there are some very affective drug therapies for treating herpes, however he maintains that a better understanding of your body is most important, and popping a pill will never get you that. He also expresses concern about some of the so-called natural cures being promoted for herpes, warning that products like lysine and di-methyl-sulfoxide can do more harm than good, especially with long-term use.
“Real management of herpes means strengthening your immune system so that it can keep the virus in check which is what your body is designed to do,” writes Scipio in one of his many articles on the topic. It also means making the effort to eat an appropriate diet, managing your stress levels, and working on your emotional and mental relationship with the disease.”
It is important for anyone with herpes, be it on their mouth or genitals, to tell their partners that they are at risk of getting herpes. Condoms alone don’t prevent it, as sores can occur in areas around the genitals, areas a condom doesn’t cover. And for the record, it is a myth that herpes are only contagious when there is an active sore present. “Most people with herpes, maybe up to 70% don’t get noticeable outbreaks,” says Scipio. “You may be having sub-clinical (subtle) outbreaks or may be shedding virus asymptomatically (without symptoms). You could be infecting others with herpes without knowing it.” As Jane said, none of her partners ever exhibited symptoms that she noticed, and yet she caught it somehow.
“The biggest challenge for people, I think”, says Jane, “is how to be sexually active. For me, I’m already married. My husband isn’t scared because he figures he’s already got it, or else will never get it. But I can’t imagine being single and having this.” Scipio points out that judging someone for having herpes is the same as judging them for their race, physical ability, or some other thing they have no control over. He says of his clients that “some are so shaken by [rejection] that they stop dating for years or ghettoize themselves to only dating others with herpes.” He goes on to point out that “herpes is a great litmus test to let you know who really cares about you and desires you. No one who really wants a person, and I do mean wants the whole person and the package that comes with them, will reject them just because they have herpes. Who would want that kind of superficial love anyways?”
We know that stress has a negative effect on the immune system, so it should come as no surprise that December would see an increase in the number of herpes outbreaks. It’s ironic that December is also the time when people allow themselves to become “too busy” to keep up their self-care routines or to eat healthy food. Before you let that happen, think about the points below.
1) Let go.
Resist being a perfectionist when it comes to gift giving and entertaining. Prioritize your TO DO list and don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t measure your efforts against some imaginary idea of perfection. Relax and enjoy yourself.
2) Create new traditions.
If it’s no longer appropriate, don’t do it. There’s an old Hungarian story about a young bride who buys a brisket of beef and cuts off a small piece from the end. When her husband asks why she is doing that she says: “my mother always does it that way.” They ask the mother why and she says: “my mother always does it that way.” They ask the grandmother who tells them that she cut off the end because her pot was too small. Ask yourself why you are doing something. If it has outlived its reason or usefulness, drop it.
3) Do less.
You don’t have to do everything from scratch. If your budget allows, hire help. If not, ask other people for help.
4) Give shopping free gifts.
Instead of spending your precious time shopping for gifts that might be returned or never used, donate money to a person’s favourite charity, or give a “gift certificate” for baby-itting, house-sitting, etc. Find out what a meaningful gift might be for the people on your list. And unless you have been preparing all year, DON’T stress yourself out deciding now that you can make everyone’s gifts. There’s no such thing as Santa Claus, and there’s no such thing as Martha Stewart.
5) Be realistic in your expectations
There’s no reason to believe that family members who don’t get along the rest of the year become bosom buddies on December 25th. Consider having two meals and invite the folks who get along….chances are good you can make the non-traditional menu for one group, and stick with turkey for the others. Remind your family that Christmas not the time to drop emotional bombs. This is not the time to announce that she is getting a divorce or that he lost his job.
6) Have a holiday health plan.
Decide before-hand how much and what you will eat, but even given our recommendations, have a small taste of your favourites so you don’t feel deprived. Its all about balance – if you really must have a Nanaimo Bar fll of nuts and chocolate, be sure you eat lots of healthy greens and foods high in lysine too. (Real egg nog is a good one). At the big dinners or events, keep busy with non-eating activities. Set the table, serve the food, do the dishes.
7) Take care of yourself.
Meditate, get a massage, go for a walk, read a trashy novel, rent a funny (not seasonal) movie, spend a night in a hotel.
8) Recognize what is in your power and what isn’t.
Keep in mind what you can and cannot do, and if you are so inclined, recite the Serenity Prayer:
Grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change
The COURAGE to change the things I can
The WISDOM to know the difference.
Here is something you CAN control – a herpes-healthy salad that will balance some of the not-so-friendly treats on the table this time of year. It’s a perfect salad over the holidays when clementines are in season.
Escarole, Pomegranate, and Clementine Salad
1 x head escarole lettuce, well washed and torn
1 x small bunch spinach, washed and torn
1 x pomegranate, seeds only
2 to 3 clementines, segmented
1 x red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp pomegranate juice (30 ml)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar (60 ml)
1/4 cup grape seed oil (60 ml)
1 tsp honey (5 ml)
1 tsp Dijon mustard (5 ml)
coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Combine the greens in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, clementine segments and onions. Make the dressing by whisking together the pomegranate juice, sherry vinegar, grape seed oil, honey and Dijon mustard in a small bowl. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Toss with greens.
How Not to Get Depressed This Winter
Change Your Lighting. Switch the light bulbs in your home to Full Spectrum Compact Flourescents with a colour temperature of 5100 Kelvin or higher. This is the closest artificial lighting to the sun’s rays and will help combat seasonal depression along with reducing your lighting bill by as much as 67%.
Vary Your Routine. Lack of stimulation, lack of variety and lack of challenge all contribute to depression. Don’t allow yourself to stay in a rut. Try new foods, go to new places, reach out and try to make new friends, move the furniture around in your house, change the colour of your walls. Examine every habit you have and try to shake things up.
Reach Out for Community. Isolation is a slow death. No matter who you are and what you are into there is a community out there either in the real world or on the internet ready to embrace you. You need to feel connected to others and others will benefit by being in your circle.
Have More Sex. I hope the benefits of physically and emotionally fulfilling sex are obvious. So why aren’t you getting more? Perhaps your rules are limiting your opportunities. If this is the case, it’s time to re-examine the priority you have placed on sex. loosen your restrictions, make it easier and not harder for yourself to get more sex. You do not have to be in love with someone or in a relationship to have sex. I am no promoter of meaningless sex, but I know from personal experience that it is possible to have abundant, healthy, uplifting sex in your life if you choose to.
Humidify. Drink lots of unfiltered spring water and teas like siberian ginseng, rhodiola and tulsi. Take a good fish oil supplement and make sure you have a humidifier in your bedroom if you have electric heat in your house.
Find Meaning in Who You Are and What You Do. If your daily life isn’t full of joy and meaning, you will get depressed, it’s only a matter of time. Some try to self-medicate themselves from this morass by doing reactional drugs or drinking too much. There is ultimately no escape from your internal judge. You know in the depths of your soul whether the life you live and the things you do have enough meaning. If meaning is lacking in your life, strip away all the dead wood and see what persists at your core. Who are you? What do you wish your life to be about? What dreams still remain unfufilled? How would you like to impact the world around you?
Tell your Story
There’s a beautiful print by Roy Henry Vickers, a famous native artist, at the bottom it reads: “Storytelling is the Ointment of the Healer”. This quote speaks to the social aspects of healing. Using storytelling as a healing tool is not only found in native traditions. It can be seen in the role of the modern-day therapist, or in the everyday act of relating a difficult event to a trusted friend. In short, storytelling is an essential part of being human.
However, the stigma and shame of having herpes often causes those with the condition to rob themselves of telling their story, speaking their pain to the world. We are left feeling more alone, more isolated from our family, friends and community at exactly the moment when we need most their support and to progress on the path of healing.
Perhaps, my story, or rather how I finally came around to telling my story, can help you. When I had my first outbreak, I was working on a fishing boat in an isolated part of the Queen Charlotte Islands. I knew something was wrong and eventually had to ask the captain to call a floatplane to pick me up to visit the hospital in Prince Rupert, at a large expense and disruption to those on the boat. However, out of shame and fear, I lied about my symptoms to everyone around me.
That started a long road of deceit and internalizing my story. This continued for many years. I came into the habit of only telling my partners when intoxicated, a regretful symptom of my fear of rejection and lack of my own comfort with having herpes. Or, worse still, I would put people at risk by not revealing what I felt was my darkest secret. Either way, I was left to further internalize my suffering. This only worsened my stress, paranoia and outbreaks. I was diseased mentally and physically, and very much in a wilderness mostly of my own creation.
But, change did come. Four years after the float place landed and after breaking up with the woman from whom I contracted herpes, I suffered from my worst period of outbreaks: nearly four months of constant sores, prodromes and pain. Finally, in a fit of pure desperation, I broke down the walls of shame and told my family. This was the beginning of using storytelling as a powerful tool for my healing.
My family did not reject me as I had imagined; shattering their picture of the perfect son. Instead, they loved and supported me more than ever.. One of the things I realized was that by not telling them, I had robbed them of the opportunity to help me; to guide and hold me when in need, just as they would if I had any other problem. I had denied them (and myself) their chance to be a shoulder to lean against and, yes, cry on.
Only a month later, my mother was driving me to see Christopher Scipio in Vancouver. And, for all of you have had such an experience, you know that getting his support and adopting a holistic approach can be a life-changing experience. It was for me. But, I probably would have never have made it to see him, if not for speaking out when I did.
Mostly recently, I joined a herpes support group, some five years after my first outbreak. While talking about living with herpes to strangers is a personal decision, I would strongly encourage those who are so inclined, but still apprehensive, to do so. I left my first meeting with a new sense of community. It put faces and stories to the statistics of how many people are going through the same thing: lawyers, doctors, senior citizens, construction workers, single mothers and fathers, and university students.
Of course, you must choose to whom and when to tell your story on your own terms. But, do not let fear stop you.
As a final note, I do not want to give a false impression that suddenly everything was perfect for me. I have my struggles with this condition. Yet, what has changed is that I have a network of love, support and community to lift me up on my bad days. I chose to stop feeling isolated and so I hope will you. This is because not speaking out robs you from harnessing storytelling – the ointment of the healer – to live a more balanced, honest and happy life.
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