I always try to pick just the right moment to tell people. That moment is sometime between realizing that they are one of those who will need to know, and the point when they figure it out on their own. Although I frequently share intimate details of my life, in writing, and with my bank teller, or a new acquaintance, there is one thing that I hold back until the last minute.
I have hyperhidrosis, which is believed to be a disorder of the parasympathetic nervous system. What this means is that I sweat excessively, mostly from my hands and feet, although everyone who has this condition is affected a little differently.
The paragraph above is usually what I tell people who are about to give me a professional massage or a pedicure. I’m still nervous every time I say it, but I’ve learned that these are the conversations most likely to go according to plan. These people are professionals.
Whenever I start dating someone new, I begin thinking about when I should tell them. My goal is always to do it before we hold hands for the first time, to minimize the shock, and the revulsion. Although no one has ever reacted badly at first (one boyfriend told me he liked knowing when my anxiety was heightened, so that he could attempt to soothe me), I cannot count the number of times that my beau of the moment has removed his hand from mine, wiping his palm on his pant leg. My sweat stands between me and the intimacy I crave, sometimes.
I was in single digits when I started to notice this phenomenon. My reading confirms that this is fairly standard for those who suffer without another underlying condition to explain the symptoms away. As a nine-year-old, I knew that a pencil was likely to slip through my fingers if I wasn’t paying attention, I couldn’t wear sandals, and that hardback books were my best bet at the library (I was once charged for water damage).
In my teens, I went the way of drugs. At the time, my only option was to put a highly concentrated antiperspirant on my hands and feet, wrap them in saran wrap, and cover them with socks and gloves overnight. The antiperspirant burned and dried out my skin, but the sweat got through. After too long, I stopped.
I used to plead with God to take away this condition, frustration twisting deep in my stomach. It seemed like such a small thing for God to do. But it hasn’t changed.
I have learned to live with my extra sweat. I shy away from synthetic fabrics and an abundance of cinnamon. I bought a mat made for hot yoga so I don’t slip. I wipe my hands discreetly before meeting someone new in a handshake. I am patient when I explain the water damage on my phone to the guy at the Apple Store.
Sometimes, my senses overpower me and I squirm. In those moments, I want nothing more than to run my hands under ice cold water while wearing a pair of absorbent socks. My boyfriends are not always the ones who pulled away, sometimes I was the one who couldn’t stand the humidity anymore.
I know that my sweating is outside of my control, something that came to me unbidden. Still, I can’t help but wrestle with shame when holding it up to the light. My sweaty hands are connected to me, a part of me, just like my heart and my lungs.
I have learned that when something doesn’t make sense to me, my best bet is to sit with it, even pour it a cup of tea. In these interactions, I have to force myself to be civil. I cannot say: “why are you here?” so instead I say: “tell me about yourself.” I ask: “could you possibly be living water?”
I believe that our bodies are intentional, that they are the best lens for us to experience the world. I believe that it matters that I am five foot two and a half, that my knees contain tendons that like to hang loose, and that my hands and feet sweat more than most.
My sweaty hands and feet have taught me to be patient with myself, and with others. They have taught me to take myself less seriously. There might be more, I need to schedule another time for tea. Along the way I have also learned that healing doesn’t always take the form I hope for. Some days it looks like sidling up to Jesus and slipping my hand in His, not worried about rejection. He already knows all my stories.