Back in December 2020, Andrea Paquette, President and Co-Founder of the Stigma-Free Society, held a live event interview with Vai Patri, singer, songwriter, and advocate for HSV and Borderline Personality Disorder. Today, Vai shares with us some more about her experiences and core messages as an artist and advocate.
Who are you? Tell us a bit about your experience with stigma and mental health.
I’m Vai Patri. I’m a singer, producer, songwriter, actress, and upcoming podcast host. Two and a half years ago, I was in a toxic relationship when I contracted HSV. I immediately thought the worst. I was reeling from playing all the uneducated jokes on TV and stupid remarks made by college frat boys about herpes over and over in my head. I couldn’t stop telling myself I was no longer beautiful, no longer worthy, and that I was damaged goods. At the time, I was recovering from an eating disorder and other mental health issues. The emotions I felt when diagnosed brought all my insecurities to the forefront; it felt like I’d taken two steps forward and ten back.
I find that I share that emotion in common with many of the people I speak to. I had convinced myself to stay with my ex, who truly wasn’t right for me. I had also convinced myself that no one would ever want me, see me for me, or love me because of HSV. As a result of being bullied by people I thought were my friends, feeling trapped, and all the rest, I attempted to take my life. I was put in the psych ward. Then I got out. And then I changed my entire perspective, and in doing so, my life.
I’ve come quite far from those premonitions. I’m confident, ferocious, and adamant that this DOES NOT DEFINE YOU. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.
- The perpetuating incorrect and uneducated stigma that exists around HSV is far more difficult to deal with than the actual condition.
- Despite what you’ve heard, yes I’ll say it again, THIS DOES NOT DEFINE WHO YOU ARE.
- HSV will not stop you from having a sex life, having kids, finding love, falling in love, or being short of anything that you are.
- Disclosure gets easier.
- Believe me when I tell you this experience can make you stronger. I’m proof.
Why are you a Stigma-Free champion?
I will answer this honestly: the stigma that surrounds HSV affected my mental health to the point where I tried to take my life. I’m not alone. I will fight tooth and nail to eradicate the incorrect stigma that exists around STD’s and many other conditions in my upcoming podcast, “Not One Thing (defines you”). As I gain momentum, I will fight to change the education system, which fails to give people the tools and information they need to combat real life experiences.
My family has since stopped speaking to me as a result of my activism; I fight to change mindsets like theirs. The work that the Stigma-Free Society is doing is essential.
How have you used your experiences to make a difference?
Personally, and I don’t know if you can relate – when I endure trauma, I want something GOOD to come out of it. I want to turn a horrible experience into something positive. When I was diagnosed, I began reaching out to other people with the condition on anonymous forms. I quickly realized that relatability and sharing experiences was an antidote ; when you feel so many crazy emotions colliding in your head, knowing that you are rational for your emotions and not insane for feeling them is the anecdote.
I put out a Youtube video on HSV two years ago and I never expected for it to generate the reaction it did – it made me realize how important it is to speak out and how powerful storytelling is. I’ve started a support group on IG, I try to talk to as many people as I can, and I’ll continue to figure out ways to challenge the way sexual education is taught in school.
My upcoming podcast “Not One Thing” (as in not one thing defines you – a motto that got me through my experience) will explore not only HSV, but other conditions such as BPD which I was later diagnosed with, C-PTSD, HIV, sex addiction and more.
Why do you think it’s important to talk about mental health and stigma?
It can save a life. It saved my life.
In one sentence, what is your message to the Stigma-Free community?
NEVER STOP FIGHTING.
Thanks for taking the time to share with us, Vai!