“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. “Blorft” is an adjective I just made up that means ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.’ I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.”― Tina Fey, Bossypants
When I used to hear the word shingles the image that would come to mind was a really old lady with white curly hair curled up under a blanket next to a fire and the year was 1810 and she was the grandmother from Little Red Riding Hood for some reason. But that image drastically changed in April of 2010 when I, then a 26 year old, reasonably healthy young woman came down with a case of shingles. There are a lot of reasons people can get shingles, number one being that I had had chicken pox when I was seven which meant the virus that caused that had been lying formant in my nerve cells for the last 19 years (disturbing much?), but a big reason for my onslaught was stress.
Though most of you also probably only associate shingles with old people as well, you should know that young people can get it too. The virus that caused chickenpox can become reactivated after a long period, sometimes decades. The biggest reasons for this are increasing age and a weakened immune system, which explains why the disease is most commonly seen in older people. However, plenty of younger people come down with shingles when their immunity is low. People of any age who are severely immunosuppressed (anyone undergoing radiation or chemotherapy treatments for cancer, those who are HIV-positive or who have had a transplant operation) also have an elevated risk of the disease. But one of the reasons young people may have low immunity is because they are stressed. Doctors say stress is the main trigger for singles. Our bodies make stress hormones in response to stressful situations that can suppress the immune system. Your body cannot fight off the virus effectively when you are not fully prepared to fight it. For example, you are more vulnerable to illness when you are in a stressful emotional state, such as anxiety or depression.
Let me be clear that this is not going to be some vendetta against my former employer, saying that they worked me so hard that my body broke out with a case of herpes zoster (yup shingles is part of the herpes strain. Note that if you do ever get shingles don’t open up the medication in front of your friends or in public because it says herpes in very bright, bold lettering.) My immune system was probably already weak because I let stress get the best of me which is why I was more vulnerable to this condition.
I have never handled stress well. As a child I was horribly anxious and that only got worse as I entered the teenage years and had to deal with the academic stress of my very competitive prep school. I was a happy girl but let’s just say there was a lot of crying, chronic finger biting and working myself to the point of exhaustion that people asked if I was sick all the time. College was actually a little bit easier because the stress surrounding an exam was more spread out and high school was all about getting into a good college, so I could finally relax (a little) now. It was really when I started working as a young adult that the stress took on a whole different color as now your ability to eat and have shelter depended on your performance at work.
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