As a celebrity journalist, I’ve covered the demise of several celebrity marriages after couples made the fateful decision to allow cameras into their bedrooms.
Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson’s marriage was one of the first relationship casualties of reality TV. Recently, the public has had a front-row seat for the tribulations of Kendra Wilkinson and Hank Baskett, as well as Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott’s crumbling union.
I learned years ago through my profession that it’s usually not a good idea to make your personal life so public. I’ve tried to be careful about how public I make my relationships since my life has been in the public eye.
However, that was before I contracted an STD, which not only almost killed me, but altered my life forever.
Two years ago, I made a six-figure salary working full-time at a tabloid. I also wrote a weekly entertainment column for a Chicago newspaper and made regular TV appearances.
I lived in Hollywood and found myself attending fabulous red carpet events and traveling to amazing places, like the Galapagos Islands, to cover some of Hollywood’s stars, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. I dated a charismatic older man who took me on vacations to his multiple homes across the country. I thought I had it all.
In the fall of 2012, I grew very ill. I found myself in the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles with meningitis. Several weeks later, I learned genital herpes caused my meningitis. My ex infected me with herpes 2. He initially denied having any STDs to all my doctors, which ultimately delayed my treatment.
My medical condition went from bad to worse when my herpes-meningitis progressed to meningoencephalitis. This left me with brain damage. I was unable to take care of myself; I couldn’t read or write the same way, or sit up in a chair for more than a few minutes at a time because my brain was so swollen.
I flew to Chicago so my parents could take care of me full-time. I eventually lost my jobs due to my illness. I went from a young woman living on top of the world to a person who fantasized about taking her own life.
Once I realized my ex caused my illness, I broke up with him. I was heartbroken. I feared no man would want to date me because of my incurable STD.
Additionally, my ex refused to pay for a penny of my medical bills, so I got a lawyer and began the long process of reclaiming my life.
I’m currently pursuing civil and criminal legal action against my ex. I tried to settle with him out of court, but he refused to take any responsibility for the assault he committed against me. After I spent a year in silence, unable to tell most people, aside from my inner circle, the true reason for my illness, I had had enough.
I decided to file the lawsuit and go public with it, rather than sue my ex as a Jane Doe. People asked me if I worried I would never get a date again. After all, no one wakes up and says, "I want to grow up and be the poster child for herpes!"
I knew my coming-out party could mean I would never need a plus-one to a red carpet event again. But, I had already come to terms with that.
Before I got ill, I had no idea herpes could be deadly. I felt an obligation to spread awareness about a disease about which so many are ill-informed since its attached stigma is shameful. For me, this calling was more important than an active dating life. But still, I reserved hope that I'd be able to date and someday, fall in love.
Earlier this year, before my lawsuit went public, I went to Mexico and threw a bachelorette party for my friend Courtney Bingham, who married Nikki Sixx from Motley Crüe. I wanted to make the most out of this trip because I knew I’d be returning home to hell. My first night there, I met a Canadian named David Hennessey.
We spent some time together there, but nothing romantic happened between us. We swam in the ocean, drank at the pool bar and taunted an iguana that hung out by the pool every day. When the trip was over, I figured I’d never see him again.
After my lawsuit went public, the stress took a huge toll on my body and my health took a dramatic turn for the worse. I found myself bedridden with pneumonia for weeks at a time throughout the next few months.
Slowly, my body recovered. I worked hard to get my health, career and life back on track. I underwent therapy and finished writing my novel, Malice, inspired by my experience with the illness and my job involving high-profile celebrities and politicians. I was also steadfast in my determination to recover and return to the dating scene.
During this time, I visited Courtney and Nikki’s home for dinner. In Courtney’s master bathroom, I noticed she lined her mirror with photos and love letters from Nikki. As I stared at her mirror, I realized, I want that, too. I want an old-fashioned romance.
I finally set my dating bar. And, when I learned to embrace and love the new me, I started getting dates. On some dates, I revealed my situation immediately; on others, I didn’t because I knew our relationship wouldn’t progress, regardless.
In the state of California, a person who suffers from a STD is legally obligated to divulge his or her health to a sexual partner before engaging in sex. While it’s never a comfortable conversation, with the right person, it won’t matter.
One of my doctors said herpes is a good screener to find a partner because what if you get cancer one day? Let’s face it: Sh*t happens, and everyone has struggles. Most men to whom I've confessed haven't seemed too concerned about my disease, but they have asked questions.
They were curious whether I still have meningitis. Though I don't, I do suffer from multiple neurological problems the meningitis caused — and I'll always have herpes. None of the men reacted negatively toward me, at least to my face.
However, my gut tells me there are probably some men who may have asked me out or asked me out on a second date if I didn't have herpes.
As I dated, David continued to contact me. He checked in on me over the phone and through social media. He strongly supported me when I went public with my story. He invited me to go on trips with him earlier this year, but I said no since I was still handling my health problems.
When in July, my health finally seemed to be back on track and David asked me again to go on a trip, I said yes. When we reunited, he was well aware of my health situation. I told him while we were in Mexico about my lawsuit and herpes-meningitis, so he knew about it from the beginning.
When David and I got together again, I wasn't sure if I was ready to have sex, and I made this clear to him. But, as I got to know David and felt increasingly comfortable, our friendship turned into a romantic relationship.
Initially, I was afraid to have sex with him because I didn’t want to infect him with genital herpes, or worse, herpes-meningitis.
But, David was well aware of the risks and told me he wasn't worried about my STD. Through his background in healthcare, he knew my condition was manageable. We were smart about sex and used condoms.
I also took medicine to decrease the odds of David contracting herpes. Even though we continue to be cautious, we still have a normal, happy relationship and sex life. Ultimately, David's strong feelings for me trumped any concern he had about my STD. I was worth it to him, infected or not.
Extremely successful, beautiful and prominent people who have herpes or a different STD contact me regularly and tell me they are too ashamed to date. I’ve had women tell me they haven’t dated in years and successful businessmen tell me they don’t feel deserving of a girlfriend because the STD makes them feel dirty. When I hear these comments, my heart breaks.
There was a time when I worried I wouldn’t be able to find love because of my disease. When I stopped letting my disease define me and learned to truly love myself, my best friend walked into my life.
When you’re content with who you are, the right person will magically appear. Now, when I walk into my bathroom and stare at the mirror above my sink, I see happy photos and love letters from the wonderful man in my life.