How to Cope With Emotional Pain of STD Diagnosis
Take Charge Over the Emotional Impact of Receiving an STD Diagnosis
The Emotional Devastation is Isolating
It's not often that the emotional devastation of getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is discussed or even acknowledged. The secrecy surrounding this kind of diagnosis can make a person feel very alone.
It's an embarrassing event that happens every day, all over the world—turning the lives of adults and young people, male and female, upside down in ways they cannot anticipate.
The emotional and psychological impact creates a loneliness, coupled with hurt and betrayal, which can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, anger, worthlessness, and a decrease in self-confidence.
The following poem, called "Defiled," speaks to the devastation of learning your partner, who you thought was faithful, gave you an STD. It was inspired by listening to the experiences of many women, married and single, for whom I provided therapy in my work as a licensed professional counselor. Poetry is often used as a therapeutic tool, assisting clients to articulate the depth of their emotional pain through the use of descriptive words.
Acknowledging Your Emotions
What feeling was most predominant after your STD diagnosis?
Bruised and burned
Cracked to the core
Never to be whole again
A sacred trust broken,
Shattered into many sharp pieces
Piercing my heart, one at a time
Touched in the head and soul
Left alone to feel dirty, stained, and maimed
Over a lapse in judgment
A moment of weakness
An act of betrayal
Forever cursed by a night of passion,
To which I was not even invited.— JLE, 2006
Diagnosis and Betrayal: The Double Whammy
If you're in a committed relationship, receiving the diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease carries the force of not one, but two punches: the diagnosis of the disease and the shock of knowing that someone has been unfaithful.
Of course, the situation could be that the devastated person who contracted the disease is the one who was unfaithful.
But for purposes of this article, the poem refers to those partners who were blind-sided by the revelation of a cheating partner, or at the very least, a partner who was a carrier of disease and knowingly failed to share the information.
The "double whammy" effect has the newly diagnosed dealing with this revelation on many levels, as outlined in the table below.
The Emotional Stress of STDs on Relationships and Health
Personal and Financial Costs
Uncertainty About the Future
broken trust, inability to trust partner again
relationship is in crisis; marital discord
being single and alone
feeling unsafe with partner
possible end of relationship; separation or divorce
fears of being unwanted
anger and resentment
upheaval of living situation; moving expenses
withdrawal from friendships and social activities
inability to forgive partner
expenses for individual/couples counseling
abrupt change from a casually free lifestyle
having a serious illness with a social stigma
unexpected medical bills and medication costs
possibility of risks to health
feeling like physically damaged goods
embarrassment and fear of judgment/labeling by healthcare practioners
damage to reproductive system and fertility
decrease in self-esteem
fear of exposure regarding privacy
changes in overall functioning of immune system
loss of sexual confidence and spontaniety
fear of sharing information with family, friends, and potential partners
fears regarding decreased quality of life
feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame
becoming a health statistic
adjustments to taking medications on a long term basis
Emotional and Physical Fatigue are Common Symptoms
After the Diagnosis: Suggestions for Coping and Taking Care of Yourself
After receiving diagnosis and treatment for your STD, the care and support for the emotional and psychological impacts may be lacking. Referrals for support groups are hard to find and even more difficult to attend due to comfort level and privacy issues.
Unless you become proactive and courageous, you may not get the chance to express the fears and emotions that accompany this diagnosis.
The list of suggestions below take a holistic healing approach to address the emotional and psychological needs, as well as the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of the diagnosed person.
This take-charge approach emphasizes the importance of looking at all aspects of one's life in tackling the crisis. It also includes preventative measures to increase the chances of maintaining good health:
- See a doctor for testing as soon as you are aware of physical symptoms which are out of the ordinary; if you are sexually active, make testing a routine even without any obvious symptoms; follow through with treatment and medications; get adequate rest.
- Know your partner well; ask questions about past history, lifestyle, and sexual behaviors that might put your health at risk.
- Increase good nutrition habits to include vitamins, supplements, herbs, and natural remedies to strengthen your immune system and ability to fight disease (Consult with your doctor or nutritionist first).
- Consider seeing a therapist or attending a hospital-based or treatment center support group to address shame, anger, and loss issues caused by the betrayal and trauma of receiving such a diagnosis.
- Explore how religious beliefs may feed into feelings of guilt, shame, and need for punishment; focus on the healing power of your religion and the support of family, friends, and compassionate healthcare professionals to assist you with resolving spiritual and religious conflicts brought on by the diagnosis.
- If your feelings persist and begin to turn into symptoms of depression, see a doctor for an evaluation; acute trauma or grief reaction can worsen and resemble depression if not addressed immediately by a trained professional.
- Educate yourself about the symptoms, treatment, and prognosis of your particular STD; knowledge is power and will increase you ability to cope, manage your emotional reactions, and take control of your overall health.
Facts About STDs in the U.S.
These statistics about STDs in the U.S. come from the Center for Disease Control's National Prevention Information Network.
- 19 million new STD infections occur every year
- Men and women of all backgrounds and socioeconomic status are at risk
- Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 are at higher risk for chlamydia and gonorrhea
- Men who have sex with men are at higher risk for syphilis
- Health problems caused by STDs tend to be more severe in women than in men; men present with less symptoms than women
- Annual healthcare costs for STDs is estimated at $17 billion
The Most Common STDs in the United States
- Genital Herpes
- Genital Warts
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Viral Hepatitis
For information contact: The Centers for Disease Control/National Prevention Information Network
For help call: CDCINFO (National STD Hotline) 1-800-232-4636 or TTY 1-888-232-6348 (English & Spanish)
Questions & Answers
Can you still have a good sex life with an STD?
It depends on two things: First, if you've been treated, counseled on understanding how to recognize symptoms, and if you're engaging in safe sex. Second, if you've sufficiently worked on the anxiety about the STD which affects your comfort level during sex. It can take time to work through these issues before you're ready to return to a good sex life. I wish you well.Helpful 2
I am only seventeen, and got involved with an older man with whom I did not use protection. I am scared daily of an STD diagnosis. How do I cope?
Sorry, you're going through this, the anxiety can be extremely difficult, taking over every thought about your health. But don't let it consume you daily. Life does go on in spite of our worries. Allow yourself to focus on other things that are just as important. Follow-up with testing and get to know your body well so you can be aware of any changes. Take it a day at a time and don't punish yourself.Helpful 2
What triggers an outbreak of STDs?
Triggers include emotional and physical stress, friction, and supposedly some foods (chocolate, oatmeal). I recommend looking up what foods are considered triggers; foods may be a very individual triggers for some and not all people.
© 2013 Janis Leslie Evans