How Do I Get Over My STD Diagnosis?

On getting your husband motivated now that you’re pregnant, handling a herpes diagnosis, and quitting smoking when your boss won’t let you.

Scaachi Koul is a senior writer at BuzzFeed Canada, formerly the managing editor of Hazlitt. Her debut collection of essays, The Pursuit of...

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Bear with me on this week’s preamble, because it’s admittedly absurd: let’s say your brother used to be a prominent political figure in a very large city, who has a tape of him smoking crack circulating, as well as a few other recordings of him drunkenly rambling and hurling racist epithets about the very minority groups he is supposed to represent as mayor, who suddenly dropped out of his re-election bid, and now you are running in his place, basically, and are sometimes called on to justify or explain his past behavior or statements.

Let’s just say.

Earlier in the week at a Toronto mayoral debate, candidate Ari Goldkind confronted Doug Ford about his brother Rob’s illustrious history of anti-Semitic slurs. (Specifically, the time Rob was caught on tape saying, “Nobody sticks up for people like I do, every fucking kike, nigger, fucking wop, dago, whatever the race.” Remember that time? I bet you do!)

Doug is not necessarily his brother’s keeper. I mean, certainly they keep defending each other’s bad actions, for some reason, but they do have different ways of handing conflict. (Rob may accidentally strangle a dog by hugging it too hard, for example, but Doug would know how deep a grave to dig for it so the owners wouldn’t find out.) It’s not entirely fair to ask Doug to answer for his brother’s sins, but it would be helpful to know how he feels about all the various peoples he purports to represent, especially given his own past of saying heroically dumb and insensitive things in public.

So, what should you do when people ask you to justify or explain something a loved one has done? Is the onus on you to defend them? Do you make it clear that while you support your family, you cannot support all their actions?

Or do you do what Doug did, and claim that there is no way the Fords could have anything but respect for the Jewish community because of “my doctor, my Jewish doctor, my Jewish dentist, my Jewish lawyer,” and really, who cares how this sentence ended because EVERYONE IS JEWISH.

The correct response to a query about your baby brother’s casual racism is not to defend it in any way, or to wait a full day before realizing, “Wait, my wife is Jewish! Why did I mention my dentist when I could have said wife?”It is to condemn the words of your law-breaking brother (DO NOT BLAME IT ON THE CRACK AND/OR LIBERAL MEDIA), and then back away from the conversation without mentioning that all the people you pay to do stuff for you are also Jewish and therefore, you are a decent man. I’d ask if it were really all that hard but evidently, yes, it is very hard for these dumdums to do.

As always, any advice related to anything the Ford brothers are doing ends the same way: do not do whatever it is the Fords are doing right now.

That being said, vote for Doug Ford.

My husband and I have been happily married for over a year now. Neither of us is particularly successful, and though I wouldn’t really classify us as poor or impoverished, we are definitely below the official poverty line in terms of yearly income. I’m an illustrator; my field is 95 percent freelance, and somewhat difficult to break into. I feel like I’ve finally got the ball rolling, and though not a lot of cash is coming in, I finally have a name in the industry. My husband is trained to work with his hands, but is currently working a service job that he dislikes, largely because it pays the bills. I’ve been trying to get him to make time for his own creative work for a while now, because I know from experience that you don’t just magically fall into these types of careers: you have to work at them slowly. But he never finishes anything, would rather play video games for hours instead of trying to start his career, has no plans for the future, and often complains about not having time to work on things.

If we were just two dicks hanging around in our early 20s, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem. But we’re both nearing 30, and oh, did I forget to mention there’s a baby on the way? I’m not asking for much—we may never have true stability or benefits—all I want is for him to have a PLAN. This is a planned (if a little poorly) baby, and I’m not worried about us becoming destitute or anything, but my job doesn’t have maternity leave—I just stop working. His plan doesn’t even have to be a super comprehensive one. Hell, at this point I’d settle for a complete bullshit lie, if he at least attempted to make me believe it. How do I get across to my sweet, loving husband, that these nesting hormones I’ve got flying around my guts NEED him to get his shit together, or even just have some sort of idea of HOW to get his shit together?
GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER

Congratulations on the poorly planned baby! What a wonderful and exciting time in your life.

Okay, now that we have gotten the prerequisite baby-joy out of the way, I can yell at you. Because the scenario you are outlining is not planned.

There is no “good time” to have a baby unless you have a bionic body and an army of maids to tend to the child once it shoots out of your mouth at the speed of light (I do not understand childbirth). But you describe yourselves as a couple that is not financially secure, with at least one of you in flux about your career. I don’t mean to say this precludes you from having children, nor does it mean that you won’t be loving, providing parents to your child. Plenty of creative-types have happy children who are cared for financially. I just mean that this is not really planned.

But I’m also struggling to see what the big issue is. Your career is rolling on, and you sound pretty happy about where it’s going. Your husband is pushing 30, has a service job that makes decent money, but isn’t really working at his ideal career. I totally get that this is frustrating for you to watch, but look at it from his perspective: He’s got a job. He isn’t moping around the house, complaining about how no one will let him do his art because he is an artist. He’s making money and providing for your household. Only you know whether that money is enough to also feed another mouth and handle the cost of a stroller (WHY ARE THOSE THINGS SO EXPENSIVE, ARE PARENTS LAUNCHING THEIR STRAPPED-IN CHILDREN INTO TRAFFIC), but it sounds like he’s doing what he can for now. And of course he doesn’t want to work on other things when he gets home—he is tired. You can’t really blame the guy, can you?

What you need to do now is have a conversation about your shifting priorities as a family. People sometimes change gears when a baby comes into the picture, because suddenly they are responsible for much more than just holding up their end of a marriage.

All you’re asking for is a plan, which is a very reasonable thing to give to a pregnant woman with hormones who—if I understand pregnant women correctly—could crush a Ford Escape with a single blow. Sit him down and very nicely, very calmly ask him what the plan is going to be. Is he going to stay in this job and try to move up the ranks? Does he think it’s maybe time to start his career? Does he want to get into another career? Will he be able to support the three of you while you are on your unpaid maternity leave, shoving blended vegetables into this new mouth you made? Or will he take paternity leave while you work?

Whatever the answer may be, both of you have to start looking beyond yourselves, because YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANOTHER PERSON. Like, a whole other human being! One that will need things and get sick and grow teeth and have to go to the eye doctor. When was the last time you went to the eye doctor? And oh, god, it’s going to poop and pee everywhere, and it will look at you and say, “Clean this up, my thumbs are barely opposable.”

Whatever the answer may be, both of you have to start looking beyond yourselves, because YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANOTHER PERSON.

This baby may not have come with a great plan in mind, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan for life after its birth. If your husband claims he can’t find the time to work on his own projects, then suggest carving out time in the evening or on weekends where both of you work on your creative stuff. You sit at your desk for a few hours and draw things (please draw a picture of me first) while he makes a cabinet or whatever it is that he does. Sometimes just starting to do something will reignite whatever he liked about his field in the first place.

Or, it’s possible that he realizes that while he likes what he was trained to do, it might not be the thing he feels he should do, but that’s a conversation you actually have to have with him.

If you really want to tell your husband to get his shit together, hold his sweet, gentle face in your hands and say, “Sweetheart, my darling, love of my life, father to my unborn child: figure out what we’re going to do or else I’m going to slam this toaster into your teeth and run off with the first man I meet that has an RRSP.”

*

I was recently (as in a few days ago) diagnosed with HSV-2, AKA genital herpes. I feel absolutely disgusting. My doctor tells me it’s essentially a skin condition, or to think of it like HPV: many, many people are carriers, and not everybody has symptoms. I don’t know from whom I got this or how I’m going to live with it. I can’t get out of bed or eat. I understand that a lot of people have it, and that you can get it even if you have protected sex (which is what happened to me) but I can’t help but feeling like woe is me, my life (plus my sex life and dating life) is over, I don’t want to live with this. What do I do? How do I get over this and be a normal human again?

— Got The Herp

I am not a doctor. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario keeps sending me letters to that effect, so I am pretty sure that I am not a doctor. I am therefore not fully educated on the health ramifications of a genital herpes diagnosis, so I asked Emily Nagoski, author of the forthcoming Come as You Are, an exploration of women’s sexuality, to address your concerns with some actual insight rather than my brand of incessant Internet screaming.

“We live with microscopic critters on and in our bodies, all the time. Our bodies contain 10 times as many bacterial cells than human cells. Our snot is full of critters,” she says. “Herpes is a virus, one of those microscopic critters that mostly doesn’t bother us, but sometimes it does, in flare-ups that cause uncomfortable sores. It’s cool. We live with it, just as we live with the eyelash mites and the gut bacteria.” If this doesn’t comfort you about the herpes issue, maybe you can spend your time panicking about eyelash mites instead. (Do they make sanitizer for your eyeballs?)

“The fact is,” she says, “microscopic critters happen. Sex also happens. And while sometimes microscopic critters happen with sex, joy also happens.”

I know being diagnosed with herpes feels horrific and like your entire life is over, but you need to keep everything in context: plenty of people have it, and plenty of people have sex. I’m not going to tell you that this is fun, but it is far from the end of your life. And since it’s somewhat common, it’s likely that you may find partners with the same condition—and even if you don’t, it’s possible to have an open conversation with future partners about this.

“Microscopic critters happen. Sex also happens. And while sometimes microscopic critters happen with sex, joy also happens.”

“All herpes means if you have to explain it, ‘There’s this critter that sometimes visits my genitals…’ which can be awkward,” Nagoski says, “but with the right partner, it’s just one of the things you talk about before you get down to the play and laughter and orgasms.”

As for the sex itself, Nagoski says that barriers used during sex can help prevent transmission, but aren’t 100 percent effective. If you have active sores when you have sex, you’re more likely to spread it than when you don’t. The more you know, etc.

What you have is a virus that lives in your body, like so many other viruses. Your sex life isn’t over, and your reputation isn’t ruined. It just means you’ve got a thing that a lot of other people have, too.

“It’s normal to grieve. Allow yourself to grieve. And then recognize that there is nothing about a herpes diagnosis that prevents you from being the person you want to be and having all the amazing, joyful, fabulous sex you want to have,” Nagoski says.

So take some time to feel sad and weird about this change in your life, go to the doctor and get as much information about it as you can, and then get yourself back on Tinder and lay down or pick up some pipe.

*

I’m a longtime smoker now trying to seriously quit after almost a decade of heavy smoking. My boss smokes too, but she has no plans on quitting. I used to get a lot of one-on-one time with her because we would go out together for smoke breaks at work, but now I barely get to talk to her. (Worse, maybe, is that I think she is trying to get me to smoke again to keep her company.) How can I maintain my relationship with her and actually stick to quitting smoking this time?

— Puff Puff

Congratulations on making some solid steps towards a healthier existence. I know it’s hard. Cigarettes are addictive, and horrible for you, but above all, THEY ARE DELICIOUS. A cigarette after one or two (or six) beers is like dipping your flaming-hot skin in a cool bath. A cigarette after a heavy meal of simple carbohydrates and tomato-based sauces is like a full-body deep-tissue massage. Some people are surprised when they meet a heavy smoker these days, but those are people who have never had a cigarette while feeling so anxious that you think the world is going to open up and eat you alive. I’m amazed that everyone in the world isn’t constantly smoking. I mean, I know it causes cancer and all that, but what doesn’t? (Seriously, please tell me what doesn’t cause cancer: I am waiting for it around every corner. Next week, they’ll report that all Ebola actually does is cause cancer.)

Smokers feel a lot of social anxiety about their status these days. It’s never been a worse time to be a smoker, since everyone is very eager to lecture you about your health, second-hand smoke, and just how gross it is. This is all fair, yet I can see why your boss feels uneasy about smoking solo—if you’re going to feel alone, it’s at least nice to feel alone together.

Seriously, please tell me what doesn’t cause cancer: I am waiting for it around every corner. Next week, they’ll report that all Ebola actually does is cause cancer.

But your health overrides her need for a pal, so make it clear that it’s not something you’re doing anymore. As much as she begs (or teases you for being a SQUARE), explain to her that your smoking has affected your health and you’re under strict orders from a doctor to quit smoking (I don’t care if this is true or not). No one is going to guilt-trip an unhealthy person into smoking. (Stop short of actually feigning an illness.) Bear in mind, however, that this means you can’t slip up, because she might never let you forget it. That means no sneaking drags in the bathroom when you’re stressed out, no half-smokes when you’re out for drinks, no chewing tobacco in meetings. She needs to think (and know) that you’re doing this for real, and it’s nothing personal against her or her company.

That said, there are still ways to maintain all that face-time you got with her. When she goes out for a break, grab a cup of coffee and join her for a break from your desk. Walk to lunch with her when you can and get a few minutes there. It sounds like you’re relatively friendly, so ask her out to a monthly lunch now and then to catch up. A carcinogen should not and cannot be the linchpin of a professional relationship, and if she only liked having you around because you always had a spare lighter, then you didn’t have much of a relationship to begin with.

Oh, and avoid replacing your cigarettes with food. Or, maybe, just eat your leftover cigarettes.

Unfuck Yourself appears every Wednesday. Got a problem? Send it here.

[Ed. note: an earlier version of this post stated that herpes is a bacteria. It’s actually a virus. The error has been corrected.]

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