Life lessons from a cold sore
If you follow me on social media you may have seen me talk a bit about my cold sore on my Instagram stories last week. I finally said something after my friend commented on my lip. While it was scary finally saying something, it was also incredibly freeing and creativity hit me later that day with an idea to write about it. Hopefully this normalizes them a little more for you!
It starts with a tingling sensation, right there. Something feels off.
As I run to the mirror I mutter, not now, please not now.
Yet there it is. Slightly irritated skin on my bottom lip, it almost looks like a pimple. Except this pimple is going to transform into a painfully ugly sore. It’s going to hurt and look disgusting, and I know I’m going to spend the next 5-14 days obsessing over it. Constantly checking it, trying not to play with it, while trying to speed up the healing process with bandaids and ointments.
Cold sores, or fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both virus types can cause sores around the mouth (herpes labialis) and on the genitals (genital herpes).
The herpes simplex virus usually enters the body through a break in the skin around or inside the mouth. It is usually spread when a person touches a cold sore or touches infected fluid—such as from sharing eating utensils or razors, kissing an infected person, or touching that person's saliva. A parent who has a cold sore often spreads the infection to his or her child in this way. A person can spread the virus to someone else if they contact the affected area even when sores are not present. Cold sores can also be spread to other areas of the body. (Information from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw31977)
It usually comes on during times of stress, cold weather, menstrual cycle, or with a low immune system (cold or flu). So I start racking my brain.
Have I been stressed?
Initially, I brushed it off. I haven’t been more stressed than normal, I don’t think. Sure, we’ve been going through a global pandemic, a civil rights movement, tons of introspection and self development, as well as growing my business, starting a new business, being a mom with a child home all the time, wife, and caretaker. I’ve also been incredibly tired, craving and eating more sugar. My allergies have been off the chart. Annnnnd I’m getting my period.
Okay, maybe I’m a little stressed, but I thought I was managing it okay.
Sometimes, I’m lucky and can stop a cold sore before it manifests into its nasty painful blisters, most times, I’m not so lucky. Thankfully, I found these magic bandaids that not only protect my lip, but also seem to speed up the healing process; so I put one on and go about my day.
By the end of the day it’s clear it won’t go away anytime soon. I try not to think about it, try not to stress about it (because stress doesn’t help anything), and replace my bandaid before bed.
On day 3 I realize that I’m almost out of bandaids. No big deal right? I’ll just go pick some up and everything will be fine.
The first pharmacy I check doesn’t have any. I try not to panic and pick up some ointment, just in case.
The second pharmacy doesn’t have any either. Panic starts to rise, but I keep calm.
The third pharmacy doesn’t have any and I can’t find them anywhere online.
The thing that everyone knows about cold sores is that they’re ugly as fuck. They look nasty. What might not be as common knowledge is that they hurt, a lot. They burn, they ache, it’s painful to eat and drink. They scab over and feel incredibly uncomfortable, then the scab opens and they hurt again. Your lip feels huge and swollen, and it’s all you can think about. I also notice that my TMJ (which is essentially lock jaw) flares up and my whole face hurts.
Personally, I’m constantly aware of when I have a coldsore. I’m aware when I touch my face/lips and wash my hands multiple times a day. I’m constantly reminding my family not to drink out of my water bottle. I can’t kiss my husband or my son, because heaven forbid I ever pass on this terrible virus onto them. I’m aware of how ugly they look, at the same time how painful they can be too cover up. I used to be incredibly embarrassed being out in public because it feels like it’s all anyone will see when they look at me; which is confirmed when people ask me what’s going on with my lip.
The thing is, I didn’t ask for this. I’m not even sure when I was first infected with one, it just showed up one day years ago, and I’ve been dealing with them a couple times a year ever since. I’m tired of hiding or feeling ashamed about parts of myself. So, I’m not hiding it anymore. I don’t care anymore. If you think it’s gross, I don’t blame you, but it’s a thing that a lot of people suffer through.
When I started writing this, I was angry and frustrated. Then I started thinking about it from the perspective of my body and cold sore.
I started wondering what my cold sore is trying to tell me.
It’s telling me to slow down, to breathe. It’s telling me to nourish myself, to fill my cup first. It’s reminding me that the world has been hurting and I’ve been taking on a lot of the pain. I’ve been absorbing everything that’s going on in the world and my home life, without a proper outlet. I’ve been moving through a lot of unknowns, feelings, and discomfort, and it’s time to take care of myself.
So, instead of hating my cold sore, I’m practicing loving it, just like I’ve been practicing accepting and loving myself, inside and out. I actually stood in front of the mirror and said I love you to my cold sore. Thankfully, it healed quickly and I’m back to normal.
I’m not hiding anymore.
PS- do you suffer from cold sores? How do they make you feel?