Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a fan of hot weather. Not to be any more disgusting than I have to, but I sweat. A lot. Yes, I’m fat, and yes, I have an armoire full of black shirts, pants, and shorts, but there’s something else going on, too.
I remember one New Year’s Eve when I was in high school. I was driving friends home from a party (I was always the designated driver). Some of them lived out in the country, so there I was, squinting through thick clouds of blowing snow. It was so cold (below -33C) and so windy that my car wasn’t warming up, and to keep the breath of five people (four yelling and joking around) from fogging up the windows, I ran the defroster on full blast. It felt like my eyes were going to freeze in their sockets. I was cold – very cold, and nervous – very nervous. Despite the cold, I could feel sweat running down my chest in little icy rivulets. Once I finally dropped off my last passenger and made it home, I took off my jacket and was surprised to find my shirt was soaked with sweat.
Fast-forward to my first year of university. My vector mechanics final exam. I knew I was unprepared but had crammed as much as I could into my brain over the previous day. I made my way into the gym and sat down on one of those crappy metal folding chairs, staring at a very thick pile of exam pages turned face down. The TAs supervising the exam called out, telling us we could start and we had three hours. I flipped my exam over.
At the top, it said “IMMUNOLOGY”.
In hindsight, I probably would’ve done better on the immunology exam than I did on the vector mechanics exam, but at the time, I thought I was going to throw up. My skin felt prickly everywhere and I started to sweat like crazy. It only took maybe 30 seconds for me to get mildly scolded by a TA and moved to a table with the correct exam, but it really knocked me for a loop. As I tried to concentrate on the exam, I had to keep wiping my forehead and I could feel the sweat running down my chest, back, and sides.
Three hours later, they announced the end of the exam. I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I stood up, felt something kind of weird, looked down, and sat right back down, fiddling with my pencils and staring at my watch until almost everyone else had left. Turns out I had sweat so much that I’d soaked right through my shirt and jeans and there was a puddle on the chair. I got up again, cleaned it up as best as I could, dropped my exam off at the front table, and ran as fast as I could to get back to my room so I could change. It was humiliating.
A few years later I was dating J and her parents came into town. They took us out for dinner and as we sat around talking, I said something (I don’t remember what anymore) that I was worried that sounded wrong or dumb. Nobody said anything or acted any different, but I felt that familiar prickly sensation and I started getting the sweats. I had to excuse myself from the table four or five times so I could go to the washroom and run cold water over my face and hands, and use the hand dryer to dry the sweat out of my hair.
So yeah, I’ve got a history of the flop sweats, although they used to only show up when I was in some kind of high-pressure situation. Since I got sick, though, I get a good flop sweat going for almost any reason. Getting ready to go for a walk? Flop sweat. FA coming over? Flop sweat. My parents coming into town? Flop sweat. Dr C appointment? Sitting in the truck? Setting something up? Measuring something important? Threading my sewing machine? Getting into a cab? Installing a new app on my phone? Walking through the hardware store? Taking a shower before going out or someone coming over? Waiting for a package on the day it’s supposed to be delivered?
Something that really gets me about this whole thing is that I may only be a little anxious about something in the first place and just get a little sweaty, but then I start worrying about the fact that I’m visibly sweating and what are they going to think when they see this and why is this happening… I sweat because I’m sweating! It’s stupid and annoying and embarrassing.
A little while ago I decided to try and figure out if there was anything I could do to lessen the frequency or magnitude of sweaty armpits. Two things came to mind for me to try that could possibly make a big difference: flop sweat when I’m getting ready to go out or have someone over, and lessening the visibility of the sweat after it happens.
For the first thing, I needed to figure out why just taking a shower would get me nervous. I thought about it for a while and realized that one (or more) of four songs play in my head:
The theme from the Commodore 64 game Zarjaz. Speed it up to about 50 percent faster than usual. This is the one that gets stuck in my head the most. I have no idea why – I haven’t played Zarjaz since 1992 or so.
“Rockin’ Robin” – the original Bobby Day version, but about 25 percent faster than it’s supposed to go.
The theme from the Commodore 64 game Commando, bumped up 50%. Again, no idea why. I remember the music from a lot of C64 games, but this and Zarjaz are the only two that get stuck in my head. What I would give to get Hover Bovver stuck in my head sometime.
“The Circus Bee”, by Henry Fillmore. I was in a band that played this back in… 1992? 1993? It’s already pretty fast, but bump it up 25% and that’s more like what plays in my head. It’s a great song, but at the wrong time it definitely contributes to my anxiety.
I like uptempo music, but for whatever reason, those four songs play extra fast, get stuck in my head, and make me nervous. The good news is, all I had to do was play another song loud enough that it drowned out anything I was thinking and my brain fixated on the song that was coming from OUTSIDE my head. So far, it’s been “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO. It’s a great song, uptempo and happy, and it’s one of those songs where so many things are going on that I don’t think I will get tired of it for a long, long time. It’s been over a month now and it’s been pretty consistent with keeping me from going back to those four songs and getting nervous.
As for hiding the sweats when they happen, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do. I’ve been wearing black clothes pretty much exclusively for the last 18 years or so because they don’t show sweat as much as, say, a red shirt would. Nowadays, though, that’s not enough. It could be because my confidence and self-esteem vary from ‘nonexistent’ to ‘maybe tomorrow’, it could be because I have the kind of complexion where someone can look at me and tell if I’m lying or embarrassed or any number of emotions, it could be that I’m disgusted and embarrassed at the idea of being the only person sweating in an air-conditioned room.
Since I got sick, I’ve carried a handkerchief around with me whenever I go out, just in case I need to dab (or swab) my forehead, neck, or even if I have to squeeze some extra sweat out of my hair (I’m sorry, I know it’s gross). Sometimes, the hankie doubles as a fidget toy and I fold and unfold it over and over. Most of my worry in this department is about beads of sweat forming on my forehead or the top of my head and running down my face.
My experiment for this problem? A hat. I have a big floppy one that I wear outside when I’m doing yard work but I needed something a little less… silly. J bought me a baseball cap a while ago and, while I’ve never really been a baseball cap person, I find that wearing it while I’m out (and sometimes when people come over) helps tremendously when it comes to ye olde flop sweate. Not only does it hide any sweat that shows up on my forehead, it also absorbs and keeps the sweat from going anywhere. It doesn’t do anything about sweat getting into the hair at the back of my head, but with the other things minimized, I feel a lot less uncomfortable so I sweat a lot less and my hair stays dry.
Jeebus… I’ve gone on about this for two and a half pages. I guess the takeaway from this is that there are aspects of my behaviour that I seem to be able to do something about, and it doesn’t take a huge investment of time or effort. Being able to break out of that loop where I’m nervous about getting all sweaty and gross, then I start sweating, then I get more nervous, then I sweat more… breaking out of that loop helps me in a few ways. Sure, I’m still going to get nervous and sweat like crazy when I’m at the dentist, but at least I won’t have had sweaty pits two minutes after I got out of the shower, and I won’t have to worry about people seeing me sweat in the waiting room.
So yeah… I’ve figured out how to lower the number of times I have to change shirts during the day. I know it sounds silly, but every bit helps.