Stress is a killer. Stress will make you do stupid things, say even stupider things, make lousy decisions, and lose sleep. But did you know it will also make you ugly?
Now that I have your attention, listen up.
Last week, I noticed a weird lump behind my ear, that hurt like heck. So I ignored it, because that's what I do when things bother me. The next day, I awakened to three more weird painful lumps, which made turning my head and swallowing quite difficult. So I ignored it, because surely it was nothing and I was being a big baby. (Are we seeing a pattern yet?) Finally, my friend Anne noticed that my hand kept flying up to my neck and my head while we were talking to one another, and asked me what the heck was wrong with me. And I, of course, was taken aback -- because nothing was wrong with me. Nothing is ever wrong with me. Ever.
Are you ready to smack me yet? Me, too, in retrospect.
So, because my friends love me and freak out on me when I refuse to be sensible and take care of myself, Anne had her daughter Christi, a physician assistant, look me over. Christi felt around on my neck and said "yikes" a few times, and then looked at the huge bug-bite on my temple and made a funny face and suggested that I might want to call my doc the next day.
When I walked into my doc's office the next morning, she had me hop up on her table and she laughed a litte under her breath as she slipped into a pair of rubber gloves. "Nice bedside manner," I quipped at the internist who feels like an old friend. "Do you laugh at all your patients?"
She shook her head and went straight to poking around on my oozing bug-bite thing. "Only you, Jena girl... So, you been a little stressed-out lately, huh?"
"Who says?" I asked quickly, wheels turning in my head as to who could have been talking to her. (Oh yeah... did I mention that stress can also lead to paranoia?)
"Your body, that's who says!" she poked around a bit more, then threw the gloves into a bin and felt my lumpy neck with her warm play-doh hands. "Nice... very nice..."
"Your lymph nodes are like golfballs."
"I know," I said. "Gross, huh?"
"Yeah," she agreed. "Super gross. You have Herpes."
"Herpes Zoster," she said, "Not simplex. It's different. What's all the stress about?"
"There's a connection?" I asked, still reeling at the word 'herpes.'
"Ohhhh, yeah," the doc said. "Your immune system is shot. Stress will do that to you."
I hung my head, feeling like a little bit of a dork. And a tad guilty, too. How, after thirty-two years on the planet, have I not learned by now to better manage stress? Or to at least admit to myself that I'm not above its influence? And when, oh when, will I learn to tell myself the truth once in a while, instead of ignoring my every need like some sort of stubborn martyr?
Herpes Zoster is Shingles, by the way -- a viral infection of the nerve endings. I have a head of scaly, stinging red lesions and nerves that feel like they're being tased with stun guns. It's Day Six now, and I am starting to look a lot better, but I was downright homely for a while there. Which brings us back to my thesis: Stress can make you ugly.
So chill when you can, kids. Don't sweat the small stuff. Try not to freak out... and if you do, at least admit it to yourself, so you can try to change. As for me, now that I've allowed stress to make me ugly (temporarily, I hope), I think I'll try a little harder to listen to the words of the master: "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." (Matthew 6:34, MSG)
I'll just have to consider it part of my beauty regimen.