Finding Your Spark: Don't Let The Darkness Consume You

Sunday, October 21, 2018

I decided to start the "Finding Your Spark" series to shine a light on different types of people who are following various paths – their OWN paths, whatever those may be. The whole idea is that there's no single way to live life and a person doesn't have to be "famous" to inspire others. These individuals have found what inspires them, motivates them, makes them happy. And they've run with it.

Read all posts in this series here.

This month's Finding Your Spark is a little different than the rest. It's not so much a path that someone has chosen to pursue but one she was forced to go through. Still, hearing her story from the other side is no less inspiring.

Hattie and I know each other from high school. We had a few mutual friends but didn't cross paths too often. She always struck me as someone who could be described as being a light, always carrying a smile on her face, always brightening up a room. Her Instagram handle literally means "joyous woman" in French.

One day Hattie messaged me on Instagram saying she had a story that she wanted to share. She said, "It's about a serious relationship I had in college when I was diagnosed with a contagious skin virus that made me sick for seven months and how that relationship affected me."

Immediately I knew, yes, I wanted her to share this. It's such a unique situation. I wanted to be able to share her story and talk about how it affected her, how she got through it, how it shaped the kind of person she is today, because she's such a warm, compassionate person.

We talked about it all, and she didn't hold back.

What is the skin virus that you had? How did you find out you had it? What were the symptoms?

In late September my sophomore year of college, I noticed a few small, flesh-colored bumps on my inner thigh. I didn’t think much of it but went to the doctor on campus to check it out. I was a sophomore at DePaul. The doctor told me I had molluscom contagiosum, a common skin virus spread through skin-to-skin contact.

I had never heard of it before, but the doctor explained that the bumps would appear on various parts of my body and I had to be careful not to touch or scratch them because I could spread it to other parts of my body or to somebody else. I asked how long I would have it, thinking it would pass in a couple of weeks. The doctor said six months to a year.

I remember my entire body freezing up. I hadn’t made any close friends my freshman year and joined a sorority my sophomore year but felt out of place. I virtually had no friends at school and wondered how I would make new friends now.

How did the virus impact your day-to-day life?

Oh man! It affected every single part of every day. In obsessing over not spreading it to other parts of my body or to another person, it consumed every little task, activity, and social interaction.

I didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone I had it, so I took extra caution to make sure I was always fully covered and never touching anybody. It made me feel like a monster. Getting ready for the day or night was the worst: showering, drying myself off, putting clothes on, washing my face, and putting makeup on all became high-risk activities that could mean catastrophe for myself and everyone around me. I was always paranoid.

Instead of focusing in class or on homework I would think, “Did I just scratch my face and then touch my arm? If I did, then another outbreak might pop up a few days or weeks later, thus prolonging the virus. Let me re-count my steps.” Then I would wash my hands innumerable times, alternating hot and cold water (because some doctors said to wash immediately with hot water and others said cold), cry about how isolated and scared and frustrated I was, then try to resume whatever I was doing. Then the same internal monologue would resume moments or hours later. It was exhausting. My grades also suffered because of it. I just did not have the mental capacity for much more than trying to control this illness.

I will say, God has a sense of humor because I am SUCH an affectionate person! Taking this away from me made me realize how much I suffer without touch as a way of connecting to others.
I have rituals to this day that I know revolve around having had molluscom. If I shake hands or brush arms with someone who has anything that resembles a blemish or bump, I immediately wash that part of my body and my hands over and over again until I have peace of mind. I still am prone to not scratching an itch on my body without clothing over it. It took me over a year to touch my own legs and back again. I was so terrified of the skin I was in, and part of me still carries that fear.

How long had you been with your partner at that time? How was your relationship impacted?

I had been diagnosed for a month when I met him. I liked him a lot from the jump but was terrified to reveal this secret. I don’t remember when I told him or his specific reaction actually, but I do remember him being very calm. 

He was unbelievably supportive throughout our relationship. I ended up having the virus for seven months, so for the first six months of our relationship, it was a huge factor. The virus does not spread through the palms of the hands or feet, so we could hold hands without worrying, but kissing and every other intimate thing was impacted by it. It was hard for me to relax during intimacy because all I could think about was passing my chronic illness. I remember one time I had a breakout on my face by my lips and I had to put two or three band aids on it, and he kissed every part around it. He was sweet like that. He never made me feel less beautiful or desirable because of it. 

The thing about the virus is it was unpredictable and hard to tell when it was “gone” because even if a breakout on one part of your body was clear, it would pop up on another part of your body eventually. This made me highly anxious and downright despairing, because I never knew if I was spreading it to him or when it would end.

Oddly enough I cannot remember a conversation where he expressed how the virus affected him. I hope we did have that conversation, and I hope he felt how much I loved and cared for him despite it all.

I finally cured it by changing my diet and soaking apple cider vinegar in cotton balls, putting it over each bump, and finally covering it with a bandaid. I had to change these every morning and night and he would help me whenever he was sleeping at my place. At one point I remember I had 60 bandaids on, and he helped me take off and change each one.

What made you want to share this story?

For one, me and this person don’t talk anymore but I need to honor him and our relationship. He will always be a special person to me. Not just for his care, but for his character. His heart. His personality and creative talents. He is an incredible person all around. I have so much gratitude and love for him and I always will.

The other reason is having mulluscom for almost a year was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through and it’s affected me so much as a person. I want to share my story and help others struggling with the same thing or something similar; but I could not write this story without him.

For those of you reading and currently struggling with illness, you are not a monster! You are worthy of love and respect. I learned that in this relationship and once you experience that kind of love, you never forget it.  

What did this experience teach you?

That we all have to go through things to learn and grow. Don’t let the darkness consume you. Don’t let it take your life. Instead, reach out and lean on others. We are all susceptible to anxiety and depression when facing chronic illness or another isolating life event.

How has this experience impacted you moving forward and/or shaped the type of person you are now?
It’s definitely made me more empathetic to people living with a chronic illness, an STI, or a mental illness. Having molluscum was like having all three at once.

I’m grateful for the perspective and experience it gave me to help others going through something similar. It’s shaped me into being more resilient but also more anxious and paranoid about people I don’t know touching me or vice versa. I considered going to massage therapy school, for instance, but decided against it because the thought of contracting it from one of my clients felt like too high a risk.

Trauma does weird things to you, and it’s a small but mighty thing to be grateful for yourself, for pulling yourself through! And it makes me even more grateful for the people who made my perseverance possible. Without them I cannot imagine how I would’ve recovered.

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