But perhaps you know it better by its common name… a cold sore. Those insidious little bastards that can absolutely demolish person’s self esteem with a teeny, tiny little tingle.
In medical jargon, cold sores are actually called herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) and should not be confused with its close sibling, herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2) which is the type that you get on your junk from bumping uglies. They are related, but not the same. A lot of ill-informed people do not realize that they are different. For example, typically, someone with HSV-1 will not pass along the virus sexually unless they are using their mouth to do some…stuff on their sexual partner’s…stuff (including just regular old smooching) while they are in the middle of an outbreak. But if they aren’t in the middle of an outbreak, they can do all the stuff-on-stuff that they want without passing it onto their partner. HSV-2, however, is generally only transmitted sexually, I believe. Now, that doesn’t make HSV-1 “better” than HSV-2, they are just different and having either isn’t a picnic. While only 20% of sexually active adults are diagnosed with HSV-2, 90% of the population has been exposed to and carries the HSV-1 virus, but apparently only about 20% ever experience an outbreak.
I am, unfortunately, one of those who fall within in that 20% that experienced HSV-1 outbreaks. I don’t have HSV-2 so the rest of this post is solely devoted to HSV-1 shenanigans.
I am currently in the middle of an outbreak (hence this post). And I have been cursed with mark of the devil for as long as I can remember which leads me to believe that it was passed along to me by a parent or someone else when I was a kid. Generally, I have about one, maybe two, outbreaks a year which isn’t bad considering I have known people who have been hexed at least once every couple of months. And my outbreaks only occur either right after I have had a cold or if I am really stressed out and/or run down because I haven’t been sleeping or eating properly. I suspect my current outbreak is due to the latter.
On an intellectual and medical level, dealing with the virus and an outbreak is pretty easy. It has five standard stages and is usually gone within a week to ten days. There can be a little pain, but nothing too traumatizing.
But on an emotional level, forget it. Having an outbreak can be is devastating to a person, well, if my experience is any indication. As a person who struggles with extremely low self-image issues*, having one of these nasties crawl onto my face for over a week can inspire levels of irrational humiliation and dread that I can not even express. It’s like a sucker punch to your ego. You feel like everyone is staring at your demon’s mark (sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t) and you just want to hide away in your house, under some blankets with copious amounts of snacks and Tom Hardy flicks, until the bastard vacates the premises of your face.
Part of it relates to self-esteem and ridiculous societal norms about beauty, but some of it also is due to the social stigma associated with having the virus. As mentioned above, a lot of people don’t understand the herpes simplex virus and often get it confused with other things. They think it means that the infected are “dirty”, or have “loose morals”, or have “numerous” sexual partners, or have “questionable” sexual predilections or a number of other ridiculous things. All of those things can certainly be true or they can’t, but either way, likely, it has nothing to do with being infected with the virus. Instead its easier to stigmatize an entire group of people – which is weird cuz, you know, society NEVER does that. Ever. [facepalm]
Cold sores (and the herpes simplex virus in general both type 1 and 2) are a social taboo that no one likes to talk about. Its discussed in hushed whispers if it is discussed at all. I don’t even remember learning about herpes in school during sex ed or health class. Or better still, the language is changed so it appears like you don’t have the virus. I can not count the times that I have heard it referred to as a “fever blister” or “canker sore” (which totally not the same thing) or “a lesion”. It’s a goddamn cold sore. Its not pretty, its not awesome, but that’s what it is. Calling it something else to placate some sort of social norm is dumb.
All I know, is that for me, when I see someone with the mark, I can’t help feeling a kinship with that person. I completely know what they are going through. I understand the brutal negative self-talk that must be going through their head for a week or so. I usually wanna tell them how awesome they are and maybe give them a hug. Its kind of a weird, little unspoken club. No one wants to be a member of the club, but membership means we can be a little more sympathetic to members when we see them on the street.
And to anyone who doesn’t understand and has never had an outbreak, maybe be a little bit kinder to that person and stop staring at their fucking lip already.
*Yeah, yeah, its a thing. Now, my insides are fucking amazing, but often sometimes I don’t feel my outsides are. It’s difficult to reconcil them sometimes. So it translates to lack of confidence and self-image issues. It’s a thing that I’m working on. No big.