6 Insane Realities When You Sweat Through Your Shoes Daily
For most of us, involuntary bodily actions like hiccups, coughs, and sneezes are quickly forgotten -- or in the case of vomiting, retold endlessly once the hangover fades. But while puking out of an open car window is a hilarious story, vomiting for three uninterrupted hours is probably cause to call 911. The same is true of sweating. If you sweat so much that you have a Dwayne Johnson amount of sheen on you for weeks on end, life gets complicated. And wet.
We talked to Randy, who has hyperhidrosis (uncontrollable sweating) about what it's like to be sweating so much that it feels like the effects of a rejected Willy Wonka punishment candy. He told us ...
Everyday Tasks Become A Slapstick Challenge
I have hyperhidrosis, which means I'm almost always sweating on select parts of my body. For most of my life, this meant my face, feet, and hands -- aka all of the body parts people are most likely to see or touch in daily life. The impact of hyperhidrosis on my social life has been less like a Farrelly brothers movie and more like an angry wizard's curse. Imagine your hands being perpetually wet, so people always assume you've just gotten out of the bathroom. For people like me (3 percent of the world's population), that's an everyday reality.
Also in our reality: Never being hired as a hand model.
My life is like a slapstick comedy with none of the mirth and a shitload of judgment. I can't open many doorknobs because of how soaked my hands are. In college, I took to carrying around one of these rubber jar openers ...
And what better way to impress the sorority girls?
... so I could open the door to my dorm room. I have to wear black clothes; I can't wear whites or lights unless I want everyone to see my sweat stains. And forget about ever taking off my socks, or even sometimes my shoes, because I'd leave wet footprints everywhere and wind up slipping in my own sweat. I've pissed off dozens of people throughout my entire life because I've either refused to shake hands or visibly wiped my hand first. I usually try to play this off as a Monk-ish thing ("Sorry, I'm a little afraid of germs"), but then people judge me on that. It's even worse with anything having to do with writing. I handed in more than a few college exams that were so wet they were starting to roll up. Scantrons were a nightmare; my sweat smudged them so badly that I regularly took tests two or three times.
Which goes over great with your average angry, underpaid professor.
My brother also has hyperhidrosis. He went into game design, but cannot play video games on PlayStation or Nintendo or Xbox. The controller slips out of his hand. His hands are even worse than mine. I can wipe them off and play for a while, but even if he does that, his hands constantly mess him up. He's vowed to only make PC games because he's built up so much hate for controllers.
For me, the real problem is drinking out of cups and bottles. It doesn't matter if they're glass or plastic; I'll sweat enough that they slide out of my grip. My brother would grow out his fingernails a little and use them for extra support. But I never got the hang of that, so I was always the guy at parties awkwardly drinking from cups with one hand underneath. Someone always commented on it. But that leads us to ...
Every Social Situation Is A Potential Disaster
The problem is that, on top of the practical issues, there is a social stigma against sweating. Sweat is gross, it makes you smell bad, and sweating without exertion universally means you're nervous, sick, or under the influence of something. So no, it's not as simple as introducing myself to everyone with, "Don't mind the sweat, it's a medical condition!" We've all been raised on deodorant commercials telling us that sweat is something to be deeply ashamed of, regardless of why it's happening. It's never a compliment when books describe somebody as "clammy" or "greasy."
Try telling a cop "I'm not nervous, it's genetic!" without magically summoning the drug dogs.
So I would always rather say nothing and hope my sweating wouldn't flare up than try to get out in front of it with an explanation. The sweating isn't my fault, but it's kind of like if you get diarrhea on a first date. You're not going to be too eager to talk about it. In fact, "sweating like an anime character" is so embarrassing to most of us that the condition has been linked directly to social anxiety disorder, and two-thirds of all sufferers don't even report it to doctors.
My encounters with this go back to early childhood. When I was in Little League, we had a rule against wearing batting gloves, but I got an exemption after the bat slipped out of my hands. In fact, I was told I should wear them while fielding as well, since it helped me grip the ball. But dating is where it really ramped up to "wizard curse" levels of awful. No matter how much deodorant I put on, I'd still smell like sweat at some point in any date lasting more than a few hours. I had dates that would start out well, but after she noticed the smell, or that my sweat was starting to stain the tablecloth, it would be over. In one case, the date ended before the entree was served.
Ordering your meal with a side of hand towels is a good way to find yourself suddenly dining alone.
It also harmed my career opportunities. There was one interview I had for an internship at an engineering firm that I bombed because of my sweating. My hand was dripping wet and they sprung a handshake on me. I couldn't wipe, so I shook. Before the handshake, he'd called his secretary up to bring me an ID badge to sign. But once we shook, his expression changed immediately. The audible "squish" sound did not help. As I left, I saw him dry his hands off with a golf towel and reach for the phone. When I got up to the secretary's desk, she was already on the phone ... and staring at me. After a moment, she said, "You can't sign the forms today. We still have other candidates" in the friendliest voice she could muster. I didn't get the internship.
"Go ahead and keep the pen. And the clipboard."
The Sweat Comes And Goes, But Anything Can Trigger It
The good news about hyperhidrosis is that you're only ridiculously sweaty most of the time, not all the time. You do get breaks. For me, those are glorious times, during which I make sure to do everything that would otherwise be hindered by sweat. For example, I used to write out bunches of checks during my sweat-less times and leave the dollar amount empty. I'd also read heavily, so as not to warp my books (now I have an e-reader). Today, I use those sweat-free intervals as an excuse to wear white -- the most decadent joy of all.
"At last, I can juggle knives without a care in the world!"
But the sweat always comes back on its own in a day or two. I do everything I can to forestall that moment. Obviously, getting too hot opens the floodgates, so I avoid thick clothes, too many bed sheets, and hot showers. But any action my body takes can also start it off: coughs, burps, and sneezes have all kick-started sweat attacks. I avoid exercising during my "dry days" because any excessive movement can start it up.
But the most difficult triggers to avoid are my emotions. Laughing has caused me to start sweating, as has crying. Once I was at a meeting for engineering students at my college. They wanted me to give a speech on behalf of the juniors for a fundraiser. I'd stopped sweating the night before, so I thought I'd been lucky. But then the sophomore rep gave a really funny speech and I laughed ... which started me sweating. By the time I got on stage, I was as wet as Ophelia.
Don't worry, that's not a sex joke. Just a suicide joke.
Classmates later told me that everyone was staring at me because I looked all watery and reflective, like I'd just stepped out of a pool and onto the stage. At the reception, no one talked about my speech, but everyone called me "the wet-looking guy." My best friend followed me around all night and told those who had a chuckle at my appearance that it was a serious medical condition and that I was offended. I never saw their reactions, but the junior class made twice in donations what the other classes made combined, so this may have been the one time when "super-sweaty disease" was an advantage.
The worst time of the year for me, ironically, is winter, because I still have crazy sweating attacks in bitter cold ... and then I'm all wet while it's freezing outside. I was lucky enough to go to a college in a warm city, but on days where it got cold, I got colder than everyone else. If you don't understand why, try running out into a winter day after a shower. If it's cold enough outside, ice can form (though it has to be colder than anything I've experienced -- it is salt water, after all).
And Then There's The Dehydration Problem
Dehydration is a serious issue for the seriously sweaty individual. I go through water about two to three times faster than a normal person. I always have a water bottle on me; on flights, I have to bring a CamelBak. As soon as I'm past security, I beeline to the nearest fountain and fill it for the flight. I've gotten looks and I've had to talk my way onto planes, but it's either this or I start to die of thirst.
Though producing a boarding pass that looks like it fell in a pond does help lend some credibility.
I learned this the hard way. I once ignored my doctor's warnings and went with friends on a trip to Grand Teton. We pooled what we thought would be enough water to last us several days ... and I went through half of it on an eight-hour hike. We had to turn around, and we ran out on our way back. By the time we got to a visitor's area, I was so lightheaded and pale from lack of water that I drank straight out of a rain barrel. I'd stopped sweating at that point, which in that case was a sign that I was seriously in trouble (fortunately, we found water a few minutes later).
My intense sweating also causes vitamin deficiencies. Sweating takes a lot of vitamin B and C out of you. One summer I was falling down a lot, and after a series of tests, I was found to be critically low on B12 -- my body had sweated it all out. The standard dosage of B12 pills is usually one a day. I have to double or triple that during the summer. The same went for a few other vitamins, because I was literally sweating my health out of me.
There Are Treatments, But None Are Simple (Or Cheap)
I was 25 when finally I decided to get treatment. My specialist recommended getting Botox injections in my hands, feet, and head, since he didn't know how my body would react to anything else. I sent in all the necessary paperwork to my insurance company and they acted immediately: I got a rejection within nine hours. When I called, I was sternly told that they don't pay for cosmetic surgery, despite the fact this was very much a medical issue for me. I didn't want Botox to hide the first signs of aging from my wealthy, shallow football-player husband.
"Please allow me to send you a big jar of appeal."
It turns out that Botox is useful for a variety of legitimate medical issues, including muscle spasms, migraines, and overactive bladders. But even the insurance companies who will let you take it for one of these are notoriously stingy. After Botox was out, I tried an Aluminum-chloride-heavy deodorant. It's $6 at Walmart. After a few weeks, I found that my body reacted badly to it (I got rashes all over my hands and feet). And now my insurance company knew I had hyperhidrosis, so they stuck me on a special "frequent sweater" plan (insurance companies actually do this to sufferers), and that meant I needed to be tested again for hyperhidrosis. Apparently, they suspected that all the sweat was due to my hidden marathon addiction.
"We couldn't honor your original diagnosis because the paperwork was all wet and salty, for some reason."
At this point, I had enough. I didn't want to try any more creams or lotions, and I didn't even want Botox anymore. I wanted a surgeon to knife around in my bits and fix this bullshit. Some surgeries remove the sweat glands, but I had a sympathectomy, which meant my nerves which induced sweating were cut. Even before my surgery, I had to prove to my insurance company that it would help my quality of life. My bosses sent a letter explaining how my excessive sweating could be a hindrance. I went around to people I knew and asked them to share how they thought sweating made my life worse. It was debasing, but I wanted this, so I sucked it up and sent in letters until my insurance company finally said yes.
The Treatments Aren't Cures
So I had the surgery. And it worked! My hands are no longer perpetual salt water machines. My head and feet are also sweat-free. I can grip cups and shake hands and go barefoot all I please. But I still have hyperhidrosis. They don't know how to fix that. And they can't shut off all my sweat glands, because the medical term for that is "murder" (you need to sweat to avoid overheating and heatstroke). So that means that post-surgery, my other sweat glands have doubled down on productivity. Namely, the apocrine glands -- aka my torso and my junk.
So basically all the worst areas for a sunburn.
On a hot day, I really don't look forward to taking off my pants. Pants seal in the smell, and taking them off after a day of marinating is ... not pleasant. On hot days, even my clothing can't hold in the rolling waves of ball sweat smell. I now take three showers a day to ensure I'm fit to be in human company. It's such a problem that it's stopped me from running. The side effects of this surgery are bad enough that nearly a quarter of people who went through my operation wish that they never did it.
Personally, I prefer sweating inwardly to outwardly, even though it means living with 1,000 percent more ball sweat than any man should have. My life has greatly improved overall. You don't know how amazing it is to write something without fear of soaking the paper. Picking up a dumbbell without being afraid of dropping it still feels weird. Never having to wear a sweatband again in my life brings me joy in ways people who wear them for style will never understand. If the only people who suffer are those in close proximity when I remove my pants, that's a tradeoff we'll have to live with.
Evan V. Symon is an interviewer, writer and interview finder guy here at Cracked. Have an awesome job/experience you'd like to share? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and fame and/or fortune will soon be yours!
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