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13 Ways of Looking at a Sweaty Life: My Half-Century of Struggle with Hyperhidrosis



1. A Tiny, Dreadful Aura. You were born sweating. Your mother has told you that the pediatrician was perplexed by your sweaty baby fists and feet (it was the early 1970s in Texas, and you would soon gain a reputation for perplexing local doctors with your various issues). She’s also told you about the soaked bedding in your crib, and you picture it a as little halo of liquid dread around your body, your tiny nervous system seeping anxiety before you could properly sit up.

2. Hyperhidrosis (Hh) definition (from SweatHelp.org) : In some people, the body’s mechanism for cooling itself is overactive — so overactive that they may sweat four or five times more than is necessary, or normal. When sweating is this extreme it can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, dangerous, and disabling. It often disrupts all aspects of a person’s life, from career choices and recreational activities to relationships, emotional well-being, and self-confidence. This kind of excessive sweating is a serious medical condition. It’s called hyperhidrosis (Hh) and it afflicts millions of people around the world (nearly 5% of the world’s population). But, due to lack of awareness among sufferers and lack of education among medical professionals, most people are never diagnosed or relieved of their symptoms.

3. That’s Incredible! Throughout school, my sweat was a topic of discussion among my peers and their families. A tiny perk of that harrowing fact was that a schoolmate’s physician/father was able to diagnose my problem as Hh when I was about 8.

Also around that time, a segment about Hh ran on the television show “That’s Incredible!

I vividly remember the dark-haired young man profiled, and how the hosts reacted wincingly to his sweaty hands. The segment wrapped up with a video of him having surgery — Endoscopic Thoracic Sympathectomy (ETS) — which involves an incision in the sympathetic nerve, deep in the thorax — the core of the body. I remember feeling a chilling conflict within myself as I watched the scalpel cut into the anesthetized young man’s flesh; the idea of the surgery seemed horrific, and yet it held promise to end a major source of my ongoing agony.

Approach avoidance conflict was already my kink. I lusted for that surgery.

But I was a child, and ETS surgery was cutting edge at the time, thus out of reach for me. Instead, I began taking Robinul Forte, a medication used for treating peptic ulcers in adults, as well as for preventing excessive drooling in children with cerebral palsy. It has a known side effect of slowing or stopping sweat production, so I took it for decades. Who knows what side effects it may have caused in me?

4. Handicapped & Juicy. Though she’s an adult now, every memory of her childhood drips with the same pervasive sweat that seeped into the mosquito bites pocking her body. Along with the physical discomfort came incessant mockery. Little children are often required by adults to hold hands with one another — in her opinion, far too often. Little children are also often cruel.

She came early to dread the “partner up!” order that came so frequently from the reigning adult in charge at daycare or school. She knew what was coming: all the other children would make a huge show of avoiding being her partner. Some cried real tears of terror as they beseeched the teacher, “Please, not her! She’s so juicy, it’s gross!” Sometimes the teacher would say to her, “I’ll be your partner,” but after a few seconds of holding her sweaty little hand, the teacher would decide it would be better for her to work alone.

And she has other memories still that prickle at her spine, neural pathways formed long ago that cause misery still today — a mean little girl named Kimberly waving her away from the lunch table like a gnat. “You can’t sit with us. There’s no handicapped seating here, and we don’t want our pretty things all gross and sweaty like you, anyway.” The other girls giggled behind little fingers bedecked with candy rings, tiny chewed fingernails bearing traces of chipped red nail polish. But she knew their hands were dry, and she imagined them to smell sickeningly sweet, like the cherry lip gloss the popular girls wore.

5. Mama tried. My mother’s been a soldier in trying to find a way to stop my sweating, or at least to make it more bearable. Nothing was ever covered by insurance because hyperhidrosis is deemed “cosmetic.” I’ve always known my affliction was a financial burden form my single mom.

When I was little she invested quite a bit of money in a set of electrified water trays into which I placed my hands and feet for (painful) extended periods of time each day as I watched TV after school.

They didn’t work.

She’s financed my use of every sort of ointment, cream, or gel that’s been invented. She’s paid for Botox shots in my hands and feet, and for acupuncture. Those are just the things that spring to mind.

None of it had a lasting effect.

Then, when I was in my 20s, she paid for me to finally have the expensive ETS surgery I wanted so badly. Twice — as I woke up from the first sweating.

It didn’t really work either time, but at least now I don’t have to wonder if it would have solved my problem. It wouldn’t have. It didn’t.

6. What Do We Know About Hh and Mental Health? (from Sweathelp.org) Here are some examples of the mental health impacts of Hh documented by research:

  • Reported psycho-social ramifications of Hh include decreased confidence, depression, embarrassment, anxiousness, sadness, anger, and feelings of hopelessness.

  • People with Hh tell IHhS about sweat “ruining” life and “controlling” life; feelings of self-harm/suicide, anxiety, isolation, depression, “doom”, shame, and being an “outcast.” Other terms we hear include: isolation, stress, panic, disdain, disgust, and “drowning.”

  • 75% of those with excessive sweating say the condition has had negative impacts on their social life, sense of well-being, and emotional and mental health.

  • The prevalence of anxiety and depression is significantly higher in those with Hh than those without Hh (21.3% vs 7.5% and 27.2% vs 9.7%, respectively).

7. I (DON’T) Wanna Hold Your Hand. Ever. Though mandatory hand-holding became less frequent after elementary school, I found that life — both public and private — was full of “touching” expectations that I feared and that filled me with shame. Filling out forms on paper was difficult if not impossible — the ink smeared and the paper tore as I became more and more nervous and thus even sweatier in an endless feedback loop. Holding hands with boys was pretty much out, and that was the cause of much anxiety and sadness. As adults, I think we forget what a big rite of passage holding hands — couples roller-skating and the like — is.

Not surprisingly, as an adult, I’ve grown to loathe handshaking. Articles about conquering social anxiety scold people with “clammy handshakes” and give advice on strong, firm grasps.

The writers don’t even imagine the discomfort their words cause in us, the great sweaty masses, struggling in silence as we do.

It’s constant.

No sweat!” people say cheerfully, and I grimace.

Never let them see you sweat.” Well, if they see me at all, that’s not really possible for me.

Confident, confident, dry & secure. Raise your hand if you’re sure.” I suppose I’m not confident, secure, or sure since I’m certainly not dry.

8. The Footwear Spectacle. You’re a long-term substitute teacher and your students are 8 and 9-year-olds who primarily speak Spanish at home. As you’re reading a book to the students, you notice them whispering and pointing to your feet.

One little boy raises his hand, and asks you earnestly, with concern, “Miss, why are your feet crying?” You look down to see a pool of sweat has dripped from your sandaled feet to the floor. You take the opportunity to teach the class the verb “to sweat.”

9. A Search for Reason. I’ve often tried to force my affliction into some sort of box of meaning — karmic retribution for…what? Holding people underwater? Making workers sweat beyond reason? I don’t know if I believe that’s how karma works.

When I was in community college I made friends with an older student named Brenda who introduced me to the work of Edgar Cayce (“the Sleeping Prophet”), about whom she was fanatical. She and I were in a philosophy class together, and we’d “study” together in her living room, drinking wine as she pontificated on what Cayce would have said about my Hh.

“Clearly a form of stigmata,” she pronounced with the air of a sage.

10. I Get So Emotional.

Have You Ever Heard of Hyperhidrosis?

Have you ever heard of #hyperhidrosis? It means excessive #sweat, and I have it. I've suffered with the condition since…

11. The Drip. The last person I dated was a horrible mistake. Luckily the situation resolved itself quickly when he attempted to ghost me. I say “attempted” because I wouldn’t allow that cowardly behavior — especially since I’d left a vintage green silk robe at his house and he refused to give it back, saying in a text that he didn’t have to because I was “just a crazy lady who drips sweat.

Getting his puny energy out of my life was, on reflection, worth the robe, but anyone who doesn’t see my value, anyone who is so unkind, is certainly to be pitied. It must be an ugly place up in that dome of his.

But he’s right about one thing. I do have “the drip,” as the kids say.

Result from a 6.26.23 Google search for “What is the drip slang for?”

12. Getting Better All the Time. In 2019 I hit the lowest point in a decades-long depression and became determined to end my life, once and for all. The pandemic brought with it a miracle for me, and since 2020 I’ve been deeply focused on my spirituality and on finding true joy and peace in my life.

During that time, I made the discovery that I’m autistic, which has yielded a wealth of formerly missing self-compassion. As importantly, I’ve made a lot of very definitive changes in my lifestyle, and they’ve resulted in changes in my reality that aren’t always easy to trace back to “causes.”

Case in point: I sweat much less than I used to before my recovery.

The trouble (if you can call it that) with making so many sweeping positive lifestyle changes is that it’s nearly impossible to establish a causal relationship — did eliminating caffeine from my diet help? Probably. A lot of other changes probably contributed as well. I think of it like a coaxial cable, where all the changes are wires that are working together for the big-picture effect — a happy, well-regulated me.

I will say that in the last two months (just as the warm weather comes on), my sweating has been less intense. The thing that’s changed in that time is that I’ve started EMDR therapy.

13. Blink Fast. When I began therapy in May of 2023, hyperhidrosis was not one of the reasons. As you may have gathered, I’ve carried trauma with me for a very, very long time, and I’m ready to put it down. So I looked for a therapist with whom I thought I would connect, and I’m very fortunate to have found one.

It was his idea to use EMDR therapy, and I was open to trying anything (within reason, of course). The results have been rather astonishing, and though we’ve never approached the issue of Hh during EMDR, it’s having an effect.

It seems that my nervous system was so haywire, my brain so muddled by traumatic neural connections, that most everything was bound to fail unless it addressed that — my underlying issue of trauma.

Am I cured? Probably not. I reckon I’ll have to remain vigilant my entire life to keep my nervous system regulated — but that’s something I intend to do anyway.

So maybe I’ll spend the next half-century a bit less sweaty and a lot more comfortable.

I have hope.

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