Newsflash! Stress Causes Herpes Outbreaks

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Yeah, I know, this isn’t exactly news, certainly not for anyone who’s been living with herpes for any amount of time. I get herpes so often though, that I’ve generally stopped associating my outbreaks with anything in particular. But this past weekend was a doozy and my body did that thing where it reminded me of how everything is connected. Which, I’ll admit, is very cool, even if the outcome kind of sucks sometimes.

I’ve been attending this amazing program called the Sexual Health Educator Certification through Options for Sexual Health in Vancouver. I’ve been going back and forth to BC for long weekends to complete the program and still have a few trips to go. Traveling, in and of itself, doesn’t have to be stressful, but traveling some distance for a quick trip and a whole lotta learning, is something that I find pretty tiring. Learning how to become a better sex educator is a dream come true, but also a very challenging process. We get a chance each weekend to practice teach, on camera, for our fellow students. We pretend that they’re a group of grade 8’s or 10’s or 2’s and then we deliver our session with learning outcomes in mind. This past weekend, me and my team were teaching the importance of getting tested for STI’s to a group of ‘grade 8’s’. Amazing, right? But my body and brain freaked out at the thought of being watched by all these professional educators (some of whom are actually teaching kids of this age), my incredibly talented and intimidating instructor and that video camera rolling. We were presenting on Sunday, so on Friday night I did some preliminary research and by Saturday night, I had my portion written and my cue cards ready. Both nights I was quietly fretting about my performance. I rehearsed in front of a mirror (and felt ridiculous), and I studied extra info about STI’s in case of questions, so my brain thought I was pretty prepared. My gut, however, was not happy. My whole body was in a cold sweat every time I thought of my presentation and I just couldn’t shake it. To put this into context, I have delivered probably 400 talks to a wide variety of audiences, from tiny in home presentations where everyone is in a party mood, to conferences for health professionals and everything in between, I love talking about sex and I’m pretty comfortable speaking to groups of whatever make up and size. I spend most of my days talking to folks in the shop too, and have been for 17 years. This is my topic, I love talking about everything related to sex, this is what I love to do. So the idea that I’m under so much duress about this short presentation, is just as uncomfortable as the presentation itself. So, you probably know where this is going. I woke up on Sunday morning with herpes. And not just your garden variety, man that hurts but I’ll get through it kind of herpes, this was the mother load. My little virus friend who’s been living with me for almost 30 years took this opportunity to come out in full force. I haven’t had an outbreak like this for so many years that I don’t remember the last time. I’ve got parallels of blisters running up and down either side of my labia and a whole vulva that’s participating by being swollen too. Everyone wants in on this little viral party, it would seem. So I gave my presentation with swollen glands, a headache and the vulva of doom, and once I start talking, I got flustered a couple of times in front of everyone, and then I started to cry. 400 presentations under my belt and on number 401, I start to cry. I’m crying because I got flustered, because I’m in pain, because my body is yelling at me for getting so worked up and over-tired, cause I don’t feel qualified or particularly talented. I’m crying cause I feel awful. They stop the video, I pull myself together in the bathroom, my lovely and intimidating instructor gives me a sweet pep talk and then I try again. It works, I forget some important points, but it’s fine and it’s done. I spend the rest of the day listening to others speak and my body goes into full viral bloom. This outbreak starts coming to a head, I feel nauseous, my head is pounding, I’m full blown sick and all because stress allowed the herpes virus to make it’s way down my nerve pathways and explode through my skin.

It’s two days after my presentation and I’m trying not to wear pants or underpants. I’m considering only peeing in the bath tub, and I’ve asked my girlfriend to blow on my sores for some relief. I’m giving my body what it needs to recover; lots of kale, vitamin c, sleep and skirts. Nobody can eliminate stress from their lives, but sometimes a good kick in the pants about how our bodies are fighting to stay ahead of the stress is a good reminder to keep some perspective and cut ourselves some slack.


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