No. I’m not talking about an awful date. I’m talking about something I heard on the regular as a kid.
I have hyperhidrosis. And have for as long as I can remember. About 3% of the population have it. Both my hands and feet sweat excessively. We’re talking puddles. Growing up I was much more conscious of my hand sweat, though. Because, well, it’s a bit more public. And I feel like you are constantly in situations when you’re little where holding someone’s hand is a more common and forced. And, well, little kids are pretty honest. So that rejection at a young age, because of something I couldn’t really control, well, that stung. Obviously.
And I did try to control it. There were different prescribed potions, ointments, powders, etc. At one point, this must have been around junior high, I tried these pads that you wet, put on top of a plastic case, and then turned them on. I would hold my hands on these pads for thirty minutes every night while I tried to zap away the sweat via electric current.
Spoiler: it didn’t work.
Throughout all this I somehow managed to do gymnastics until the age of 14. There was a lot of chalk powder involved, I guess. But my dreams of being a world-class violinist didn’t really work out. And arts & crafts were always fraught with worry as I would get everything I worked on wet.
And then I chose to go into finance. A profession where you probably shake hands a million times a day. Approximately. By this time I had a routine down. When someone exclaimed, “Oh well jolly gee, you must be real nervous!” I had learned to shrug it off, laugh a bit, and then just change the subject. I constantly kept a napkin of some sort on me so that I could dry my hands often. I learned what color pants and skirts I could and could not wear. Wipe your soaking wet hands enough on white or khaki pants, and they are not going to retain their original color. You’d think summer was the worst, but often the winters were as because I could not control the sweat in my hands, I would get the worst dry skin and the most uncomfortable rashes. Sweaty hands that were so dry they hurt. Riddle that.
But like anything, you just learn how to adapt, I guess. And I avoided holding hands at all costs.
And then I read an article. In Cosmopolitan. (I know). It was about a surgery that made your hands stop sweating! WHAT. This was what I had been waiting for. ETS or endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy. It is intended as a last resort type measure for hyperhidrosis. And boy did I fit the bill. I was 26 at the time with good health insurance and living in Boston. Not a bad place to have surgery if needed. I found someone at Mass General Hospital who performed this surgery and after a lot of thought and discussion, I went for it.
AND IT WORKED AND IT CHANGED MY LIFE.
It also just so happened that my surgery was scheduled just months before I moved to London. The chance to meet new people and SHAKE HANDS with no embarrassment felt like a dream come true.
The surgery, however, did not make my feet stop sweating. But who cares! Who sees my feet? I can hide those darn things!
Which is what I did. Which is what I had been doing. And I got better adapting as I got older. For years I did try to wear fashionable sandals. It would usually end in tears as I would slide out or get the very worst blisters. Blisters that I could not cover in Band-Aids because the Band-Aids would fall off. So as I got older I just succumbed to more practical sandals that were not angled and/or sandals that were made out of material that would absorb.
Forget fun colors. Those would bleed with my sweat. Forget flip flops. Luckily, as styles changed, many of the more comfortable sandals for me, like Naot and Worishofer, became more fashionable anyways.
And forget being barefoot. That was a nightmare. I would dread going to people’s homes where they ask you to take off your shoes. Fine in the winter when I was most likely to be wearing socks, but in the summer? Ugh. I would try to hide my feet and would be on the lookout for puddles I may leave on the floor, trying to wipe them up with no one noticing.
Frolic in the grass? Ugh. And for anyone who knows me, the beach is my happy place. But even there, whenever I left the beach I needed to do more than brush off my feet. I needed to do a full wash. Even in my own home, where I have great wood floors, I would need to be careful about going down our stairs as to not slip down them.
Massages? Yeah even those I would have to tell the masseuse what the deal was. Usually they got it but I would still lay there just overly conscious about my feet dripping on the table. Never able to truly relax. Often feeling like it was a waste of money.
But the place where it caused me the most discomfort and awkwardness? In bed. When it’s just me, it’s not as big a deal. I wear socks if I can but that usually makes me too hot. But then I just deal with the sweat without them. If it’s just me, who cares if the bed feels all wet at the bottom.
But being intimate with someone? That was a whole different story. I would imagine there are many men I’ve dated who have never even known something was off. Or there are men who have wondered “did someone wet the bed??” But imagine waking up with someone and hanging your feet off the bed because they are dripping and you forgot to bring a pair of socks to put on and you’re already making the sheets a soaking mess. It has always made it very hard for me to be fully comfortable being close to someone physically.
I don’t know. Maybe this sounds silly. Maybe I’m just being vain. Maybe we all have these things. Maybe I need to just suck it up.
And I did. For my whole life. Again adapting, and appreciating we all have these things about ourselves that we just don’t like. I was healthy. I was loved. I just had icky to me feet.
And so you go through life hiding your insecurities. Your imperfections. Covering them up. Pretending they don’t matter. Or even, at times, knowing they don’t matter. That you’re the only one who cares.
And then one night. I got fed up. Laying in bed with my feet sweating and not being able to sleep I went on the trusty google machine. Because there had to be some new over-the-counter procedure (Botox is often used but is expensive and not covered by insurance) to make my feet stop sweating. And that’s when I found it.
Lumbar sympathectomy surgery. And someone at NYU performed it. AND HE WAS IN MY INSURANCE NETWORK.
It seemed like a little present wrapped and handed to me. I could have this surgery. I could have it in New York City. At NYU Langone. It would be covered by my insurance. WHAT WAS I WAITING FOR?
So last week. I had the surgery. It was a lot more invasive than the ETS. And the recovery has been slow-going. And it has been frustrating. And there have been many times where I have felt like this is so vain and stupid and was this worth it?
But you know what? It worked. My feet instantly stopped sweating. Just like my hands after ETS. I laid under piles of blankets in my hospital bed and while the rest of me was super warm and honestly, kind of sweaty, my feet were dry. I had never had that feeling before. I mean. I’ve had dry feet. Give me 50 degree A/C and I’m in heaven. But to be comfortably warm in bed and have dry feet? That was so new to me.
Later that night I explained the issue and the surgery to an inquisitive nurse who had never heard of it (shout out to the NYU nurses and all nurses). She was so curious and asked if she could touch my foot.
As I let her, tears came to my eyes. I realized that in my entire life I had never purposefully let someone touch my foot before. It sounds so silly but when you’re so used to something making you flinch and then all of a sudden, you don’t. Well. Dusty.
And that’s when I realized. This was a big deal. This was, again like my hands, going to change my life. I was going to hold my head a little higher. I was going to stand a little straighter. I was going to walk a little more confidently.
I was going to buy myself the fanciest pair of sandals my money could buy. But only after I got a massage.
[Author’s note: If you’d like to know more, please reach out to ask. I wanted to keep this medical light but I’m always happy to talk more about the procedures, my sweat experiences, etc.
May I also suggest this FANTASTIC article from Bustle, “I Had Hyperhidrosis in My Hands, Feet and Underarms — And it Was a Total Enemy to My Body Image“]