I have herpes but it could be worse!

#sexualhealth

This piece is part of a series on sexual health. Are you dealing with a sexual health issue? How are you coping with it? Who do you turn for advice? What resources did you find useful? We’d like to hear all about your intimate experiences and encounters with STIs, STDs, UTIs, HIV, pregnancy, abortion, sexual violence, sexual dysfunction, sexual awakening, pleasure and intimacy. No topic is off limits! Send us your blahs on theblahcksheep@gmail.com You can also send them anonymously to us here.


“I HAVE HERPES!” I said to her, dripping in sarcastic enthusiasm.

My dear friend laughed, sighed, shrugged, and pitied me, all at the same time.

“So do I!” she said.

“And so does most of the world”.

Great, was that supposed to make me feel better? That I, along with the rest of the world, was suffering. That we were all passing it on to each other in an endless loop until forever?

Another friend told me a “joke”. “What’s the difference between herpes and true love? Herpes is forever!”

Of course, that didn’t help either. I knew I needed something comforting. I knew I needed wisdom and thankfully, I found it in the most unlikely place – a tale a wise woman had once shared with me.

Story time. Gather around, kids.

There was a beautiful mansion in the middle of the countryside, the house of her dreams. It had vegetable gardens, a little pond with sweet swans … The house had been in a state of disarray for many years but was slowly coming together, piece by piece. Then one day, before she knew it, she had a homeless drunk (that I have named Herpaeceus) move into her basement. At first, she didn’t notice the drunk’s presence, but if we know anything about alcoholics, it doesn’t take too long to smell them.

“It’s time to go, sucker!” she yelled.

“Nope,” said Herpaeceus.

“I’m staying right here, it’s rather nice.”

No abuse or threat worked. It was true: Herpaeceus was here to stay. It was time to negotiate. Herpaeceus could stay as long as they made themselves scarce. They were not to be seen, heard or smelt. If they could be invisible, they were allowed to continue living in the basement.

The negotiation worked and they behaved themselves until unscrupulous men showed up. You see her obedient Herpaeceus had developed a deep sense of love, gratitude and protectiveness towards the house and her and they could not bear for it to be defiled by any unruly characters. So they chose to reveal their worst self, knowing that these men would run away at first sight!

Aha! Herpaeceus’ plan worked. She was left frustrated as they violated their pact. But she also understood that Herpaeceus could not stand to see her trampled by men unworthy of her and her beautiful mansion. So if she wanted them to abide by the pact, she just had to get better at choosing men.

End of her story, and the beginning of mine …

This magical story made me laugh and completely changed my perspective on the situation. It helped me realise that there was more to this than meets the virus. Yes, Herpaeceus would never leave my body because it was incurable but I needed to figure out my story.

What could have triggered it? What was going on with my nether regions? What was my body trying to tell me? Was this an opportunity to understand and treat it better?

Let’s rewind.

It all started when I met him. Which was coincidentally on the weekend of Valentine’s Day. How romantic, isn’t it? But I shall not bore you with the details of how I fell for him, or how over time, he revealed himself to me. How I felt seen and appreciated, loved and cuddled, vulnerable and insecure, held and taken care of, alert and alive, ready to love. How in this fleeting moment, we embarked on a beautiful journey together and within ourselves. He was truly one of my most honest and open relationships. Ah, but no boring details, remember!

This saga unfolded when we had penetrative sexual intercourse. Of course. After a year of celibacy, trying to understand how I wanted to re-navigate sexual relationships, it took me a few months to reach that level of intimacy with him. I was not ready before. And perhaps I was not even ready then.

“When in doubt, don’t.” I was in doubt.

I was doubtful about why I was not ready. It was not about him. He was lovely. He was right. However, that did not necessarily make it right for me then. It is hard for me to come to grips with this as I type.

My body must have reacted. It knows things I do not know, or refuse to acknowledge. I always get ‘injured’ after sex. I am sensitive. It happened this time as well, and I thought nothing of it. But the injury did not get better despite all the coconut oil I rubbed on it. I am big on home remedies so I thought I could self-manage this one too.

I woke up one morning with swollen painful glands, a massive inflammation on my labia and intense discomfort, unable to sit or walk properly. Was someone playing a joke on me? I had sex after more than a year and was this my “punishment for breaking my chastity?”

More coconut oil, turmeric, chamomile and lavender cool compress, some cuddles from the man I have come to love, him holding my hand through this – what can it not solve? I will tell you – undetected and aggravated herpes and yeast infection!

Key word: *undetected*

What was going on? The internet had a range of ideas about the state of my vagina, none of them psychological or emotional. No one told me that I had potentially pushed through my own boundaries instead of them gently opening up for me. None of them pointed to the fact that my diet had been out of sorts recently, my balance was off and that I had wrapped my happiness around this man’s little finger. None of the physiological symptoms added up either.

3 days, barely any sleep, intense anxiety, hives on my finger and amid a depressive spell, I found myself waddling into a sexual health clinic, begging them to see me because I was terrified. It was during the pandemic and I didn’t have an appointment but my desperation was reason enough for them to agree to see me.

I explained the symptoms, tried not to cry, lay on the bed, swab swab swab. Ouch, that hurt. Another swab, this one really hurt. I did not scream although I wanted to. I was tired and confused.

The doctor said it seemed like herpes and a yeast infection, or perhaps just an injury. Actually, she did not say that last one. That was me. I looked at her pleadingly for reassurance. Turns out she was right and all the pleading in the world could not have changed it.

I felt relief though. I had a diagnosis. I knew what was wrong with me, and she said it was slowly healing. The end of my discomfort was imminent.

She took a sample to check for the yeast infection and confirmed it immediately. The results of the herpes test would take a few days to be out. To treat the yeast infection, she gave me a pessary. For anyone who is not familiar, a pessary is to be inserted inside (yes, inside) your vaginal cavity and voila! Goodbye, yeast infection.

But wait. Hold your excitement. What if you are dead set against allopathic medicine? In such times of trouble, do you give up on your values? What do you do? Well, hope you have a herbalist to RUN to, begging them for a solution, like I did.

I liked Cristina, the moment I met her. I stayed back in London because of her. I felt that meeting her and browsing through the herbs and spices section at Brixton Wholefoods was an invitation from London to experience it, love it, know it. She mysteriously knew I was going to stay in London, even before I did. She had dreamt about me. Strangers with strong connections. Isn’t that the best kind of relationship? Cristina inspired me to study herbalism and connect more with the natural world. Never have I gone to her with a problem she hasn’t helped me overcome. And many problems I have had!

So obviously, when I had a yeast infection to deal with, I travelled across town to meet her. A long conversation with her and I was equipped with a list of solutions to manage the yeast infection. She did advise, however, that if my symptoms refused to ease by night, I should not hesitate to take the pessary. Despite multiple eruptions of the infection ever since (it’s been more than a year), the pessary still lies in my drawer, unused. This is because I am able to identify the symptoms early on (almost predict it due to my food patterns) and manage it, naturally with Cristina’s help. Cristina’s recommendations for natural treatment of a yeast infection are added towards the end of this piece (read it with caution and do not try it at home without consulting your doctor).

Back to my story now.

I waddled around town, hyper aware of a garlic clove inside (yes, inside) my vagina, on a mission to end this yeast party they were having on my watch, inside my body. I really did not want to succumb to the pessary. Though at times, when I had a syringe inside my vagina, painfully shooting up either diluted apple cider vinegar or yoghurt, for the 10th time a day, crying about being depressed and alone and grieving for my grandmother who had just passed away in the same week, in the middle of an intensely emotional and painful menstrual cycle, I wished I had let myself take the “easy” way out. Sigh.

But I told myself that it was not “easy,” it was just “differently difficult” and I needed to have faith, especially during the most painful moments when I had to dig hard to remove garlic from the inner recess of my vaginal cavity. Thankfully, natural medicine was healing me, evidently, almost miraculously.

I guess I just needed someone to hold my hand, hug me, and tell me it was going to be okay. I am welling up with tears even as I type this. Who am I kidding? I did not just need someone, I needed him. I wanted him. And he was not here. He was a phone call away, but not here.

Are my needs too much? Are they too much for him? Does he not want to give? Can he give? I’ve borne too much of a burden alone, some companionship would be nice. The hives on my fingers only got worse. I sunk into a puddle of tears. That is it, I could not continue with this relationship.

Simmer simmer. Let the burn simmer through conversations with wise women. It’s not always how we think it will be. Communication, compassion, and compromise is essential, sometimes balance is an illusion. Remember and bathe in the love you feel. I ran to him only to realise we were not meant to be.

A simple equation I’m trying to work out:
Better than > worse than
Celibacy > Pregnancy worry > Undetected yeast infection > ? Incurable herpes? > Heartbreak???

Somehow, I have written more than a 1000 words and I have not even gotten to herpes yet…

I found out about herpes via text from the National Health Service (NHS) while I was moping on my best friend’s mattress, my legs spread apart, no underwear, with a clove of garlic up my vagina, sobbing about my imminent break-up and was now convinced that the universe was playing a cruel joke on me. Had they not had enough? Well, at least someone was laughing. I surely was not. I know I will someday. In time, everything is funny, but right now – I am angry, upset, in pain, hurt, confused, irritated, heartbroken, defeated, scared, anxious, and grieving.

“It could be worse, it could always be worse.” This phrase has given me much solace over the past few months. I picked up this phrase, and potentially the herpes from Arthur. The other potential suspect was Noah, who I had just split up with. Only 2 options in 2 years.

This number was somehow a reflection of the time and care I had invested in myself. I had come to rationalise my needs and my relationship with sex and my partners. I had learnt to not make sex a political statement or fill a void but for self-expression, the deepening of a relationship.

I could not be more pleased with myself. 20-year-old me would have disagreed. 20-year-old me would have been embarrassed about my “lacking” sex life. But 27-year-old me is different. Thank god. And growth.

27-year-old me did her research on herpes and remained oddly calm. 27-year-old me called up the other two potentially affected men, discussed the situation in details with care and without embarrassment. 27-year-old me did not get angry at either one of them for potentially passing it on to her. “It does not matter,” she said. All that matters is that we know our bodies, and how we can take better care of them. She felt compassion, she felt like we were all in this together, and she felt less devastated.

27-year-old me had herpes, was treating a yeast infection naturally, nursing a broken heart, mourning the loss of a could-have-been beautiful romantic relationship, fighting the urge to feel less than worthy, grieving her grandmother and the relationship she never had the chance to develop with her. 27-year-old me was feeling anxious about moving countries and quitting her job and having no money, and yet had faith that it could actually really be worse.

What is this piece about? It is about awareness and growth. It is a reminder to listen to my body and not take it for granted. It is an affirmation to stick to natural medicine, even when the going gets tough. It is a realisation to not have such staunch beliefs that can hinder my wellbeing. It is about appreciating the power of storytelling and the wise women in my life. It is about the cathartic process of writing. It is accepting that I need to continue to reassess my relationship with sex. It is about adding lightness to our painful moments. It is about compassion. It is about unlearning and relearning. It is about me – and that is okay.

I sincerely hope you found humour in it. I have not laughed about it yet, but hopefully the next time I tell this story to someone, I imagine I’d be clutching my belly, and joking about how ridiculous everything can be sometimes. In the words of a great friend of mine, “Embrace the madness, it’s better than sadness.” Touché.

Am I cured? From heartbreak – not yet; from the yeast infection – just about; from taking my body for granted – no, but I am one step closer; from herpes – never.

But it could be worse.

xxx

So here’s the promised treatment for naturally curing a yeast infection, suggested by Cristina Cromer, professional herbalist practicing in London, UK (please proceed with caution – do not use it without consulting a doctor) :

Garlic
Garlic is an incredibly powerful anti-fungal and has great defensive qualities. I imagine it as sending an army to end the yeast party.

Usage: Insert a garlic clove inside your vagina for a few hours. Make sure you use your fingers to take out the peel and DO NOT make an incision because it will burn your vaginal cavity. When removing it, remember not to panic and to calmly dig for it, using your muscles to push it out. “It’s a cave, not a tunnel” (quoting Cristina) so it will be in there somewhere.
You can also include raw garlic in your food.

Apple Cider Vinegar
Yeast loves an alkaline environment and we need to change the conditions of the vagina (and gut) to ensure they aren’t happy. Apple cider vinegar is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and in fact is mentioned in the second verse of Jack and Jill (the one no one knows).

Usage: Dilute apple cider vinegar with water and insert the liquid with a syringe (or a lube launcher, whatever you fancy) inside your vaginal cavity. It will leak out slowly so bear that in mind.
You can consume some diluted apple cider vinegar in your food as well.

LIVE Yoghurt
Live yoghurt has the kind of bacteria that we need to balance the microorganisms in our gut and vaginal flora. Variety and balance of microorganisms within our body is the key to a healthy system.

Usage: Insert yoghurt with your syringe (or lube launcher) inside the vaginal cavity. Yoghurt also feels very good on an inflamed burning vagina. You can increase consumption of live and cultured yoghurt. Fun fact: despite my yeast infection flaring every time I travel, my time in Greece with the abundance of tzatziki kept the infection at bay!

Herbs:
Yarrow
Yarrow is a wonder herb that has anecdotally been used for warriors for its healing powers and its ability to send blood flow to your nether regions to stimulate drive or healing in this case.

Marigold
Marigold is a wonder herb for all skin and surface related issues.
Usage: Make a strong tea of both these herbs and sip on it throughout the day. The tea blend can also be inserted into your vaginal cavity with said syringe (or lube launcher), just make sure the temperature is appropriate and the tea is well strained.

*Sterilise your syringe/lube launcher every time you use it.

Foods to avoid:
Sugar, instant bread, cheese, milk products, potatoes or any starches, marmite, anything containing yeast.
Sugar is especially bad because it is food for yeast, so you might even strongly crave it but just resist. It’s not you, it’s the yeast!

Foods to promote:
Increase intake of fermented foods, live cultured foods that promote a healthy and varied gut flora. Herbs like ginger and garlic are potent anti infection and anti-fungal and good for your system. Berries have been known to be helpful in fighting the yeast army.

Repeat all these steps until you are fully healed. Talk to your body, see what it needs and where it’s at. Take yourself out of it gently and slowly.

xxx

Suggested natural management for Herpes:

  • Through my research and conversations, most people say it gets aggravated by stress, lack of sleep or discomfort with their sexual partner. Hence, a flare up can be prevented or stress can be calmed using a variety of tools like herbs and/or yoga, meditation, pranayama.

However, everyone’s body and story is different. It worked for me doesn’t mean it will for you too. Consult your doctor.

  • Cristina did suggest the essential oil of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) as it has worked for a number of her patients but it is very expensive. Another herb she suggested was Prunella (Prunella vulgaris).
  • Understand your herpes and figure out what works, there is no one size fits all virus.

Understandably these herbs in particular can be easily found in the UK, which is where I live and received this advice. Do consult a herbalist/Ayurved in your particular area to receive advice that’s specific to what’s easily available near you and that best suits your bodily needs.

xxx

Note from the Author:

This author has chosen to be anonymous. She is not very sure about how to navigate this conversation with her future partners but knows for sure that she would not want them to find out via the internet. She is aware that it may seem hypocritical, since the point of sharing such stories is to overcome the shame related with sex and sexual health. But she also realises that overcoming shame is an internal process and screaming on rooftops sharing personal details on a public platform isn’t necessarily a sign of lack of shame.

This piece was written more than a year ago, and has undergone a process of cathartic, frantic typing, hence the tenses are a bit here and there. It was written with no intention of being placed anywhere but in the author’s personal Google Drive cloud … the realisation that this might prove comforting and inspiring for someone else out there prompted her to publish this story. She hopes that it will initiate more meaningful conversations on sex and sexual health.

xxx

Note from the Editor, The Blahcksheep:

All medical advice in this piece has been issued and verified by a professional herbalist in the UK. The Blahcksheep does not advocate the use of any remedy or cure prescribed in this piece. Please consult your medical practitioner immediately if you experience symptoms for herpes or yeast infection.

We, at The Blahcksheep are committed to amplifying the personal, unfiltered voices of marginalised communities from around the world. In the hope that these intimate narratives will inspire others to be heard.

We also welcome your feedback on this piece. How did it make you feel? Is there anything you’d like to share with us? Write to us at theblahcksheep@gmail.com

If you’re a medical practitioner, educator, researcher or activist working on sex and sexual health, we’d love to hear about you and your work. Please reach out to us on theblahcksheep@gmail.com

xxx

The societal stigma surrounding herpes or any sexual health issue can do more damage than the infection/disease itself. Here’s a resource guide that you can follow to learn more:

  1. WHO on Sexual health
  2. Ella Dawson’s TEDxTalk on Herpes
  3. Herpes Facts by ASHA
  4. Sex Education with Emily L. Depasse MSW, MEd
  5. Why Is Genital Herpes Still So Stigmatized? Influencers Are Working Hard To Change That.
  6. CDC STD Awareness Week

If you’d like to contribute to our resource guide on sexual health, drop us a mail on theblahcksheep@gmail.com with relevant links and research. We’ll be sure to update it!

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