For the last two months I’ve been trying to decide whether to admit that I came down with a case of shingles during my fall book tour. We’ve talked about the roller-coaster ride that is sometimes the lot of an author, so you deserve to know.
Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by a virus in the body. Almost half the cases occur in people 60 and older. It’s believed that stress can contribute to an outbreak.
When I embarked on my publicity campaign for It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me, I knew I’d sometimes be leaving my comfort zone behind. Many of the things I did—and have written about in this blog—were new. However, I was no stranger to new challenges, or to stress; my career as an editor had included plenty of both. The idea of speaking to crowds wasn’t new, nor was it intimidating. I certainly hadn’t broken out in shingles as a result. So, what happened?
One morning in November, just before my Atlanta trip, I woke up itching. Two little bite-like areas had appeared on my midsection. They looked like chigger bites, so I put clear nail polish over them. Then, because I’d been in bed, I thought, “Bedbugs!” They’re a hot traveler topic these days, so I stripped my bed and sprayed the mattress with Lysol, but found nothing.
By the time I was ready to leave Atlanta for home, my two itchy “bites” had developed into what appeared to be a raging case of hives. The rash began over the right side of my rib cage and wrapped all the way around onto my back. I was a mess. I was beginning to suspect shingles, and my doctor confirmed it the next day. Even though I received treatment, the condition lasted for weeks, taking my focus and energy. I did very little writing.
I think the shingles were related to the book tour—not the times when I had a blast, speaking to groups and meeting people who said they loved my book. Not the times there were actual lines for my autograph. It was the other events, the ones that are the “downside” of the author’s roller-coaster ride, the ones attended by only one or two people, or—this is the worst—seats filled by bookstore employees because no one else came. It happens, you know, and you still have to perform. That was what did it, in my opinion.
It made me hesitant to go back out on the road, but I went. Last week I had a very successful trip to South Carolina, where I spoke at a college. Slowly I’m returning to my routine, so I hope you didn’t give up on me.
If you’re concerned about shingles, there is a vaccine. It won’t do me any good, but you might want to check into it, especially if you’re of a certain age.