I was very sad after the break up. It was the kind of sadness that swallows all the light inside until you feel hollow. I stopped eating, smiling, enjoying life, and most of all, I stopped being me.
I can't remember what triggered moving on - time most likely - but eventually I'd had enough of feeling like a ghost. Dating seemed to be a natural way to move on. It had been several months after all.
I was surprised how easy it was to make that leap and accept a date with a new person. I wasn't asked out much in high school...ever actually. Suddenly I noticed the attention at my gigs (I was in a band), and now that I was single, I flirted back.
This was my first heartbreak, so I had no concept of how to move on, how to deal with the pain and rejection, or how to ask for support from family and friends. But I was eager for something new. I had a tendency to run from my problems, so I ran straight from them into the arms of some cute guy.
It was fun at first. I went on a couple dates, moved way too fast, and witnessed all of them evaporate as abruptly as they'd started, which in turn left me lonely and sad all over again. It wasn't the type of sadness that comes from breaking up because I didn't have a real relationship with any of these guys. Instead, it was the type of sadness that comes from within when you don't recognize yourself. Pieces of me were pushed so far down that I couldn't even hear their faint cries.
I practiced safe sex for the most part, requesting a condom from the guy in addition to being on birth control pills. But several weeks after one rendezvous with a guy that cancelled on our next date and never called back, I noticed an uncomfortable burn down there. It only got worse until I knew it was too painful to be some "normal" ailment. Something was wrong with my body, my habits and my mindset. The pain was telling me to stop and face the truth.
The doctor asked me to come in to hear my test results. I knew they'd be positive, but it still made my stomach sink to hear the word. Herpes. I nodded and released a sigh. Well, shit. I really fucked this one up, didn't I?
She educated me about the virus. It's likely it won't affect me being able to have sex, or even giving it to anyone else if I have safe sex, but I have to face the fact that I have it, and I must be honest with any future partners. The most staggering part about herpes is that I have to acknowledge it forever.
Weeks passed and I was a mess. My best friend and roommate knew something was wrong, and eventually I confessed to her with choked words and tears. She comforted me, and I realized in a big way how receiving it was to have someone know.
I didn't, however, tell anyone that I started seeing. I made sure to be safe on my end, but I never gave them the choice to abstain from sex with me because I feared rejection. With all the stigma surrounding the virus, I felt overwhelmingly unwanted and worthless. Still, it was unfair to keep that information from a sexual partner. I know that now.
Eventually I got the courage to share the truth with a guy I was really starting to care for. I didn't want to lie to myself anymore and I didn't want to lie to him. I wanted an honest and compassionate relationship, so I opened up and spoke my truth, awaiting rejection, fearing disgust, and ready to cry. But he accepted it well. It wasn't even a big deal in his eyes. I was still worth it.
We ended up not being right for each other, but I am so grateful for what we had because a lot of me healed that day I told him. He showed me that I was worth loving. I've never forgotten it, and since then, I have decided to try my hardest to keep that love going by accepting everything about myself that might seem unworthy, broken, ugly, etc. Maybe someone else will accept everything about me too, but, in the event they don't, I want to make sure that I have my back at all times.
The truth is, this "loving yourself first" thing is not easy. That's why I've been in therapy diving deep into my experiences and discovering myself. Luckily, things like heartbreak, depression and even contracting herpes, are like mirrors that ask us to be responsible for ourselves and our own well being.
The key is to welcome the mirrors and to see them as gifts. You can even yell at them, "Bring it on! I'm ready! Show me whatcha got!" It never hurts to have a warrior attitude. But when you see your reflection in there, also be kind and say hello. Get the help you need, and don't feel like you have to approach it alone. Your reflection is yours and only yours, and you are absolutely worth fighting for.
Illustrations by the Mender