Cold sores: the gift that keeps on giving

All I have for Christmas so far is a cold sore. Two-and-a-half years ago, the night before my wedding day, I did a deal with God/Mother Nature/whoever decides these things. My offering: if s/he could spare me from cold sore agony for a few days (think of the photos!), I wouldn’t whinge when the virus next took hold.

Stuff that, I’m reneging. The night before Christmas is neither a fair nor reasonable time for herpes to strike. As soon as I woke up this morning I knew a cold sore was on the way, although there was no telltale tingle, so no chance of warding it off as I did six months ago when the upper right-hand corner of my mouth developed that giveaway ache. That time, I was straight in there with tea tree oil topped with a Compeed patch. The relief when the pain and swelling faded away was palpable. I’ve rarely felt happier.

Today, the subtlest swelling foretold what was to come as I scrutinised my mouth in my magnifying mirror, hoping I was imagining it (but painfully aware I wasn’t).

I’m doing my best to get a grip this time. People close to me have cancer and other scary, life-threatening conditions that make my wailing seem embarrassingly self-indulgent. I know this. I think I also know why it’s struck today. I’ve spent the past week getting up early to drive one of my teenagers to the local sports centre for a course. Not a single journey passed without incident: the dark, rainy mornings created perfect conditions for car crashes and one 30-minute journey turned into a two-hour crawl past the wreckage of strangers' lives. Stressful? Not half.

Meanwhile, my husband has had the cold/4am cough from hell. No-one in our house has had much sleep this week. Then there’s been all the build-up to Christmas. Women, mothers specifically, tend to bear the brunt of the preparations and I’m no exception. I enjoy it - sort of - but I can’t deny that it’s just more to organise when I never have much spare time. Plus, I’m going through the peri-menopause, which means my body is behaving strangely. Night sweats. Headaches. Mood swings. Weight gain. Then loss. There’s no doubt I’m under the weather. I'm not a medical expert but I'm clearly far more susceptible to ailments of all kinds when I'm more stressed, tired and hormonally challenged than usual, my sapped immune system providing the ideal breeding ground for misery.

This afternoon, when I wasn’t scouring the early-closing shops for an electronic virus zapper or pasting the side of my lips with white gunk, I spent some time on the internet to see how other cold sore sufferers cope with the affliction. Hooray, I’m not alone in finding this a physical and emotional challenge. It hurts. REALLY hurts. Okay, so it’s only a tiny part of my body. But I use my mouth to talk, eat, smile and kiss and none of those pleasures is very pleasurable right now.

It’s curiously reassuring to discover that everyone who shares this dastardly virus - at least those who bother to comment about it online - has the same reaction. We all want to pull on a balaclava, draw the curtains, dim the lights and disengage with other people. For just a fortnight or so, until the blisters subside and our lips no longer have that trouty crust. A cold sore can make you feel so low.

No chance of lying low now, though: it's Christmas! Looking on the bright side (that'll be the left-hand side of my face, ideally in profile), I was planning to spend most of tomorrow with my head in the oven anyway. Ho ho ho.

I find it weird how they have

I find it weird how they have a habit of striking whenever I'm stressed, which frustratingly is also often when I want to look and feel my best (weddings, important work meetings, parties). I feel your pain, but I've discovered the only way to get through it is to smile and look people in the eye.

Update: my unwanted Christmas

Update: my unwanted Christmas gift is subsiding. If anyone has found a miracle cure (or, ideally, a way to prevent them), I'm all ears.

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