Episode 95: We Need to Hold Ourselves Accountable

Something has been in the air this past week! The STI shaming and herpes jokes have been out of control! Since starting Something Positive for Positive People, I’ve made it a point to comment on social media posts that perpetuate stigma just showing those people who aren’t at a place yet to speak up for themselves that they don’t have to stay silent. Commenting on these posts have proven to go a long way. Sometimes I just ask questions about the post, I question people in the comments asking them to consider the impact their statements have and speak on behalf of those who’ve expressed to me they wanted to end their lives because of how people see them according to these kinds of posts.

There’s a rather consistent pattern that happens when I comment on these posts and it goes like this:
1. Someone DMs me a post
2. I read the post
3. I respond to the post asking for elaboration on the truth to it.
4. I scroll the comments and praise the positive, question the negative, and correct the ignorant.
5. I receive praise privately via DM, the page loses followers & I get asked, “How you know so much?”.
6. I plug HANDS - Herpes Activists Networking to Dismantle Stigma, SPFPP, and say I have herpes.
7. I share the post and that I commented and the comments get likes and others support the facts.
8. Right before I get blocked, there’s discussion between the ignorant and educated and I get followers.
9. I get blocked and later hear from followers who check my post that my comments were deleted.
10. I have a meditative meal to recharge

On Tuesday, August 13, 2019 though, it was brought to my attention that a page of medical professionals, primarily nurses by the name @codebluememes on Twitter and Instagram, Tweeted “after you match with someone on a dating app, ask them what meds they’re on . . . nothing like a medication reconciliation to get those red flags flying”. The description/caption on the Instagram post was problematic because it read, “Valacyclovir (herpes medication) and Risperidone (antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia) ( huh. I think I’m gonna pass…” then followed by a bunch of nurse related hashtags. I scrolled through the comments and saw people calling out the person who posted for being a nurse perpetuating stigma. Other profiles with descriptions like “proud nurse”, “ER nurse”, “Registered nurse”, “nursing student” and “saving lives everyday” joined in on the stigma perpetuation. One nurse replied, “Real pro tip here” and another goes, “Herpes eh? Cool cool.” *runs away. There were many more laughing emojis and hahas here with support from this community of nurses and nursing students. Another nurse commented, “I have always said, “If I were to get divorced and had to start dating again, I am asking to see the med list and going through medicine cabinets!” (followed by three side laughing emojis). Another nurse comments, “if it ends in -ir let them go!”.

When I found the page on Instagram it had 1,404 likes and 58 comments. This page at that time had around 37k followers. With content related to nurses, this is problematic. The perpetuation of herpes and mental health stigma isn’t near as concerning as the absence of any of the nurses addressing how problematic this was but one who says, “Would prefer them to be on meds than not - least means they’re treating whatever it is (thinking emoji). That’s the closest we got to a correction from this community primarily tailored to nurses. If this is going unchecked within a community of nurses, what else is? Is there judgment toward people with multiple sexual partners, people who receive a diagnosis from any of these practitioners, what about minorities, LGBT+ members, people who are disabled, what about fat people?

Shortly before I was blocked, someone privately messaged me saying they DM’d the page @codebluememes directly and expressed how this perpetuated stigma and that this isn’t funny. @codebluememes replied with, “I think it is” and then later blocked this person. I managed to send a comment requesting we reconcile the damage done here. The page’s response was a block. I am surprised because I addressed this person by their first name and expected some sort of communication afterward, but nothing.

I moved to Twitter and messaged their account by the same name only to receive the same treatment I got on Instagram, a block. Left with no other choice and a bunch of screenshots, I have to bring this to the attention of the employer of the person behind the page. I received messages from people who not only take the herpes medication but also some of the other medications for mental health stressing how hurtful these comments are coming from those we should have trust in, our medical professionals. Nurses reached out to me and expressed that this isn’t surprising because they deal with this in their workplace as well.

We face enough judgment from people who don’t have the quality of education on medical conditions. Mental health has become something we prioritize care for rather than avoid due to stigma and with herpes we’re getting to a place where the stigma is exposed for what it is. This network of medical professionals created an additional barrier to healthcare because it creates resistance from patients feeling safe to disclose health related info that allows them to receive better treatment. Their fear of judgment for their lifestyle or a decision they made is driven by fear of exactly what’s been verified by @codebluememes.

Many Something Positive for Positive People podcast guests have expressed their health care provider meeting them with the same kind of judgment demonstrated by @codebluememes and the page’s supporters. This leads to a fear of not only accepting partners who are positive with an STI, but also a fear of disclosing STI status. This also extends into not wanting to be tested, therefore possibly missing something that can be treated if caught soon enough.

This @codebluememes situation has just gotten started and is a perfect example of why #weneedabutton to shy away from health care providers who perpetuate stigma and project shame onto patients. The herpes activist network, HANDS is taking further action here to let everyone know how not okay this is.

Episode 95 of spfpp highlights a recent experience someone had with various medical professionals over a few days when they just needed to be tested and treated for an STI after a recent partner expressed that they tested positive for syphilis.