Herpes and Worth: The twenty dollar Bill Exercise: Since finding out about your diagnosis, have you at one time or another made comments like, “No one will want me anymore since I'm damaged goods.” Or, “People will think I'm dirty because they'll assume herpes means I slept around.” Have you begun to rethink your expectations in life, whether dating, or career related because of your herpes? Keeping your self-esteem intact can be a struggle for many living with herpes. The stigma that continues to be connected to herpes causes many men and women to develop negative beliefs about themselves. Individuals can feel they are dirty, broken, or damaged goods, now that they are living with a life-long sexually transmitted virus. Often, individuals with herpes begin to wonder if their dating expectations are too high, or if they should start to date only other individuals who have the same virus. Herpes may permanent, but how can you continue to live your life with self-doubt, and low self-esteem, especially, if you have never lived this way before? Why should a virus determine your self-worth?

The twenty dollar Bill exercise.
Take a twenty dollar bill and look at it. Hold the twenty dollar bill in your hands. Take a moment, and think about all of the things that you can afford with a twenty dollar bill: a new shirt, a dinner out, 2 tickets to the movies, etc. Now, take the bill and crumple it up, stomp on it, throw it in dirt, do everything destructive you can think of while keeping the bill intact. Once you are done, take a look at it at the bill now. How much is the twenty dollar bill worth now? Did it lose value? No, because no matter what that twenty dollar bill just endured by you, it's still worth the same amount.

Think about the different types of twenty dollar bills that have passed through your hands over the years. Some might be worn, some might be crumpled or even have writing on it, and some might be fresh and crisp, but their worth is all the same. All individuals are like that twenty dollar bill. No matter what you have experienced in your life, no matter how you contracted herpes, your self-worth remains intact even if you feel damaged or dirty.

No matter how damaged or dirty you feel you have become, no matter what you think having Herpes means to you or others, you still have as much self-worth as anyone else. You are still the same loving, funny, creative, sexual, whole person that you were before you were diagnosed with your herpes. Individuals can often confuse the things that have happened to us with who they are as a person. Such as, “I am now carrying a disgusting and unappealing virus, therefore I am disgusting and unappealing.” Your herpes is not you. As you go through life experiences with herpes (working, dating, socializing, etc), you may feel like you have been stomped on, or dragged through the mud, but at the end of the day, you have just as much value and self-worth as everyone else, with or without herpes.

The appearance of a dirty, crumpled up twenty dollar bill may be different from a new and crisp twenty dollar bill and the difference may impact how one handles each twenty dollar bill. The same will go for some people and herpes. Someone may be turned off by the idea of dating someone with herpes, but that notion is based on surface level issues. If someone were considering a more long term relationship with you, the issue of your having herpes would be less relevant because who you are as a whole person is larger than any one part of you.  This experience of big picture versus small picture is similar to someone who was turned off by receiving a crumpled twenty dollar bill at graduation as a gift and not imagining the larger picture of what that twenty dollars could afford them in the future.

Check in with yourself after doing the twenty dollar bill exercise, how do you feel about yourself and your self-worth now? Does it feel different to you than before you started the exercise? What is your perspective on your life and living with herpes now compared to yesterday, or last week? These are just a few questions to ask yourself to assess exactly how this exercise challenged your feelings around having herpes, and impacted you overall.