Living With Herpes And Healing The World One Disclosure At A Time
On September 21st of 2019 I disclosed on stage in front of 300 people. If you would’ve told me years ago when I was diagnosed that I would ever have the courage to share with more than one person at a time, I would’ve laughed in your face. Because in this world we live in, disclosure is far from easy, especially at first.
My positive herpes diagnoses rocked me to my core. I had grown up believing my life’s purpose was to find the man of my dreams, settle down and live the “American Dream.” I believed that the best I had to offer was how I looked and how good I was in bed. Love was transactional. My crippling perfectionism (my biggest problem) would sneak in and always rob me of any happiness I may have felt along the way.
Life felt hard and it seemed I could never catch a break. Disclosing seemed impossible the first two years. I could barely even say herpes out loud to myself. As much as I was scared, I wanted to be in love more. I kept trying to put myself out there but this fear of rejection had me continue to settle for people that weren’t the right fit. I noticed while it was harder to disclose to partners, it became easier to disclose to close loved ones and the more I related to it as practice, the easier it became.
Disclosure after disclosure it felt lighter. I felt like I had mastered the craft. I was even beginning to be met with other people’s shame around their diagnosis. They would explain how my experience sounded a lot like their autoimmune disease journey, their fight with bipolar, their sexuality, and the list continued to grow.
I began to feel more intimate with so many people in a way that I only imagined possible with romantic partners. It’s the type of connection I’d been looking for what felt like my entire life. But this time, I was getting intimacy by sharing my own shitty life experience.
The more I worked on my emotional intelligence and began to really process my experience with herpes, the more I began to change the way I related to not only myself, but the diagnosis that forever changed my life.
I started to see the gift that this experience was for me, the way it cracked me open and forced me to redefine the way I looked at the world. I stood up and decided that this thing would no longer define me and that I would become an advocate for others to have that same realization. I would be an activist networking to dismantle stigma any way I knew how!
The biggest chance for me to to that was on a stage at a women’s empowerment summit.
When I began to tell my story, I explained to the crowd how it was never actually just about herpes. I walked them through my journey and when I got to the point where I shared that I contracted herpes, the entire audience gasped! We are talking a loud, audible gasp. It threw me off. Hard. It’s been years since someone’s response was that strong to stop me dead in my tracks. But my 20 minute timer was still counting down and I had a lot more to go. In that one split second I had to choose to react to their response or keep going. And so I did.
When I continued on I shared more about what unfolded next. And as my story goes, I couldn’t hold the secret any longer so the first person I told was my mother. Then she told me, she had it too. I shared that with the audience in almost that exact manner. There it was! AGAIN! The loud audible, suck-the-air-out-of-the-room, GASP!
I was done. It shook me. Do I address it? Do I ask people what that was about for them? Do I jump up on my soap box and wave my finger. “See that?! That is stigma!” Do I make them wrong for still seeing this irritating skin condition as a big deal? But was it? Were people just impressed with my storytelling abilities? Was it compassion they felt? My friend told me that she felt like it was.
Another women I knew in the audience hadn’t disclosed to another person in over 20 years until she’d met me. She expressed how stigma never bothered her but this, this made her felt ashamed and nervous, she continued to tell me how uncomfortable she felt by this.
But I took the longest pause of my life and got back to my breath. Because I’d done enough work to understand my emotional landscape, I was able to continue on from a place centered in my purpose: love. I would share the love that I found for myself because of how I chose to live life after being diagnosed. Love that they deserve regardless of how they responded to me and for myself to remember that I love myself no matter what others have to say. I didn’t take any of it personally from a truly unwavering place inside of myself. Because compassion had reminded that I don’t know what they are going through or exactly what that response was about without having asked them.
Because I have done the work to be so sure of who I am, people’s reactions can no longer define me. That this, this is how we break the stigma. We need to continue to disclose and share our stories in service of healing shame and leading others in how we can change the future of our world, one disclosure at a time.
To hear more about Clarice’s journey and disclosure story, listen to the latest episode of Something Positive for Positive People below.
Clarice Connolly is an accountability coach whose focus is on women’s empowerment. Find her on www.youraccountability.coach or on Instagram @pieces_of_reeses.