Cold Sores and Me, or, A Fun Problem To Have Is One That People Commonly Mistake For An STD.

Jana: If you’re an avid DWDSTDT reader (oh my god, ok, we see it too, that acronym is TERRIBLE. I’m gonna talk to our marketing intern about it, or in lieu of having a marketing intern I’m just gonna leave it – you guys don’t mind, right? We can talk about it if you do)… anyway, if you are, you may have read my previous post about my allergies. And you may have seen that my list of allergies contained some weird and not-super-explainable things, like chocolate and spicy foods. So, I will now disclose that those foods are to do with a problem entirely SEPARATE from my chronic congestion: my lips. Folks, I’m prone to cold sores. Who isn’t? Ok, some people, but not me.

Between junior year of high school and sophomore year of college, I got some seriously terrible cold sores that resulted in alienation and intense sadness. In high school, I just stayed home from my bakery job and tried to eat foods that I could fit into my mouth in one bite, so that I didn’t have to crack my lips open too much. When the sores struck in college, wiser and more tech-savvy,  I took to the internet. There, I read tips from fellow cold sore sufferers, such as “Go to the movies, so you’ll be distracted from the pain, but no one will be able to see you.” And, “Ice your lips to stop the tingling” (I did this religiously, often falling asleep with ice pressed to my lips and waking up in pools of melted ice). Anyway, I also read that you should avoid chocolate and spicy foods and nuts, and SO I HAVE. And will. Because cold sores are the worst, and it’s awkward when people think you have herpes, specifically if you are dating them, which I’ll get into in more detail some other time.

…. or NOW. Briefly.

First, I’ll show you this picture, in which I DON’T have cold sores. This is to spare you all, as one picture of me with cold sores does exist, and it’s straight disgusting. Here, though, I look as angry as I looked with the cold sores, but my lips are pursed in a way that would have been impossible in cold-sore condition. So, this is a photo of me on a good day, really.

I was once dating a very nice guy. Now, before my first date with this guy, one of my housemates was hanging out on my bed while I got ready. “Maybe you should put that valtrex away,” he said jokingly, referring to the pills that I took daily to stave off cold sore attacks (I kept the bottle next to my bed – I’m all about convenience). I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, regular viewer of television commercials for prescription drugs, that valtrex is commonly used to treat herpes. Now, looking back, I can see that my friend was not joking, but rather trying to protect me from future weird mix-ups. At the time, though, I just responded “I know right?”, and laughed. We moved on, he approved my outfit of black skinny jeans and a black top (I am NOT a risk-taker, fashion-wise), and I went on the date.

Cut to a few weeks later, when the romantic interest in question and I had been on several dates, and he had seen my room, and things had been going well until they sort of stopped going well and he stopped contacting me as much. I assumed the worst, which was that he’d realized he didn’t like me, weird but charming jokes and solid black outfits be damned.

But here’s the REAL story. After a week of light communication, I received an email on a Thursday night. I was so glad to hear from him! I opened the email and read the first few lines: “Jana: I like you, but something is bothering me and I need to talk to you about it. I saw your bottle of valtrex last week, and I know that you have herpes.”

OHH NOOOO. NOO. It’s just that.. I keep the pill bottles there cause I take them in the morning… I would have told you if I… NOOO. I wrote back and, luckily, we had a good laugh over it. Fake herpes scare! No better way to get to know someone. And no, I am not currently dating this person; we stopped dating shortly after the Valtrex/Email Incident. We both thought it was funny, but probably best to move on.

It’s now been a while since I’ve had a cold sore, but I can’t actually in good faith tell you that because I’m too suspicious. So I’m knocking on wood AS I WRITE THIS. I still take valtrex (and keep it in plain sight – one day I’ll own a medicine cabinet but not, honestly, until I win the lottery or an embarrassed spouse buys me one), and I don’t eat chocolate, and sometimes I ice my lips just for old times’ sake. Cold sores! And me. Together in sickness and in health.

Catherine: Oh, memories. I think that the day that Jana showed me the first fateful lines of the e-mail aforementioned was one of the greatest moments in my life. Jana, do you recall how long I laughed in your face? An approximate minute count? No? Nor I. Minutes turned into hours that day, so who knows how long I enjoyed your incredible misfortune.

I would like to mention how, often when Jana and I would get drunk alone in our apartment, the nights would freqently end in a good ol’ Jana ice-lipping. Another time she came to my house, and my brother saw what she was doing on our couch as we watched “Friends” and opened a second double bottle of white wine, and was so blown back that he too could not help but to laugh uncontrollably at her poor, cold-sored, can’t put lipstick on them lips. (Did you mention how you can ONLY put black chapstick on them? I greatly enjoy that as well.)

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12 thoughts on “Cold Sores and Me, or, A Fun Problem To Have Is One That People Commonly Mistake For An STD.

  1. streetpizza says:

    Dear Jana,

    As a girl with herpes of the not so fun vagina kind, I can tell you that it helps me to know cold sores ARE in fact an STD. It expands my pool of her-peers into a more forgiving statistic. I have HSV1, which is primarily the oral strain, which can transfer from mouth to junk and back again. THEREFORE, as a cold sore carrier, you are in fact possession of an STD. Huh? we say…

    HSV1 can go junk to mouth, and so can HSV2. The most common way for me to transfer the oral strain-on-my-junk-herpes is through receiving oral sex, as the virus prefers the mouth. I no longer let dudes give me oral sex because it is the most likely way they will contract my virus, as mine has chosen my who-ha as its site of residence. Yours is the kissing transfer, but can migrate elsewhere if it’s feeling feisty, as my virus apparently did.

    Because of this cross-site viral transfer potential, I’m holding out that I will someday find someone who gets cold sores, and we will fall in love, because then I can have sex like the good ol days, the condomless/fearless days (the ones that in fact got me in this sticky mess in the first place).

    I don’t mean this to sound harsh, but man this virus is a pain in the asshole for everyone. You need not separate us STD-ers from you; instead, we need to bond together. Screw the labels, flaunt the Valtrex. I’m sorry you have it, and I’m sorry for the stigmatization. I just met a lady who has chronic herpes on her back. Seriously, world. What DID we do to deserve this?

    I have an even more intense list of foods to cut out with the amino acid argenine in them…that’s the virus fueler, as I’m sure you know. Coffee, sugar, alcohol, wheat, citrus…the list is endless!! ahhh

    Knowledge is stronger than this, health is stronger than this. We are beautiful young ladies and I refuse to be owned by living in the nonsenses of a virally ignorant world. To change! Hurrah!!

    Love from afar!

  2. janacath says:

    Dear Streetpizza,

    First of all, I love your name. What’s better than street pizza? Nothing, except for occasionally street falafel. No, nothing.

    Second of all, thank you for reading and responding! I didn’t in any way mean to stigmatize those with herpes of the even-less-awesome kind. I do know that it’s all the same deal, really, and I don’t think anyone should get dirty looks for displaying their valtrex, or even picking it up at the pharmacy (which has also happened to me).

    I am certain that you will find your cold sore-prone dream person and that you will fall in love! Hooray to you for being awesome and powerful. Let’s bond together and flaunt the valtrex and bring the change!

    Love from near! Or afar, depending on where you are (sounds like afar). Regardless, I am sending love.


  3. Beth says:

    Jana – I too am a girl plagued with the ole lip herp. My nana gets them something fierce, and I am convinced that she used to kiss me as a baby while she had them, thereby infecting me for life. FUCK YOU NANA!!

    Anyway, I can relate to every damn thing you have written. Years ago, back when I had just met my now-fiance on the internet (jesus that sounds so much worse than it was, I promise), I was about to fly out to California to meet him for the first time. I was at my best friend’s house the night before and I felt a familiar tingle in the upper lip quadrant. Like a real idiot, I hadn’t packed any of my prescriptions and it was too late to go to the pharmacy. Panicked, I turned to the internet and desperately started Googling home remedies. Please tell me you have looked into home remedies for cold sores. Because it doesn’t take long in an obscure cold sore forum before you come across: ear wax.

    … And that is the story of how I slept with ear wax smeared on my lips a mere 24 hours before the most important first kiss of my life.

    It worked, though. The cold sore never came.

    And that dedication you have to black chapstick? My equivalent is Vaseline. I insist on carrying around a giant tub of it everywhere I go and I won’t let anything else touch my lips.

    Love your writing and blog!


    • janacath says:

      Ha, Beth! That is a great story, and I think you should seriously consider telling it at your wedding.

      Thanks for reading, and solidarity, cold sore sister!


  4. Emily says:

    Not to be rude, but although you insist that your cold sores are not cause by the herpes virus, that is the only thing that causes cold sores. Usually oral herpes is caused by type 1, HSV-1, but can also be caused by HSV-2, although that is most common in the genital area. You should speak to your doctor for further information. There is no such thing as a cold sore that is not caused by the herpes virus.

    • janacath says:

      Hi Emily, thank you for reading! I don’t honestly know that much about the herpes virus, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise – I just know that I started getting cold sores before I was sexually active, and that my mother had them before me. But, I trust that you know more than I do about it!

      • Emily says:

        Then it is possible (or likely, even) that you contracted the virus from your mother. You may have shared a drink or eating utensil with her during a time in which she was shedding the virus that causes cold sores- herpes. It is common for parents or other relatives to spread the virus to children through an act of affection such as a kiss. A friend of mine shared a can of Coca-cola with a girl that had a herpetic lesion (cold sore), & now she, too, gets them.

  5. Will Noble says:

    good blog 🙂 if more info is need on labial herpes(cold sores)

  6. RealKennySoto says:

    I love that you call water “melted ice”

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