Welcome to the world of herpes support groups.
"I've had herpes for four years now," explains Gloria, who is the group coordinator for Portland-area HELP, a local chapter of a national herpes support group. "The first two years were really tough. But coming into this support group, knowing I wasn't alone, made it so much better. Now, when I get into a relationship and I have to tell people about it, I tell them in a positive way. If you get upset and cry about it, of course people are going to be freaked out and run away. But if you're not upset about it, they won't be upset about it."
Gloria is a facilitator for both a herpes support group, and a herpes social group. The support group meets once a month to discuss the current medicines, medical procedures, and ways of dealing with issues of shame and acceptance. "A lot of people come in thinking, 'Oh, I'm bad, this is my fault,'" Gloria explains. "We help them get through that. It's not their fault. I mean, one girl I know has the virus as a result of a rape; other people get it when their boyfriends or husbands cheat on them."
Perhaps an even more essential part of accepting the herpes virus is learning to interact socially--thus the herpes social group. "It was great for me to have this group," Gloria explains, "Otherwise, I would have become a total hermit." Every month, Gloria and the group plan trips to the beach, movies, dinners, and rafting. "We don't like to bill it as a singles club, but it is a way of meeting people," Gloria explains.
And not to worry, herpes is not the main topic of conversation. "When we socialize, we try not to talk about it," Gloria explains. "If you want to talk about it with someone, you pull them aside, or ask them for their phone number so they can talk about it later."
For Gloria, being with fellow herpes-suffers has been imperative. "It's to the point where it's not that big of a deal in my life," she says. "I've been able to turn a negative experience into a positive one."
Support/social group information for herpes:
National Herpes Hotline: 919-361-8488
Center for Disease Control: 800-227-8922