Sure, we all sweat. But for most of us, sweating means getting damp under the arms during a fast walk, or working up a red face during a workout.
For some people though, sweating is a whole lot more than that; it's something they have to think about a thousand times a day, every single day.
Raleigh Dale, from Nashville, Tennessee, is one of an estimated 15.3 million people in the US who suffer from hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating (in Canada that number is more like 950K). Usually affecting the armpits, feet and hands (although some people experience it specifically on their head and neck), the condition can be hugely disruptive. Raleigh has to consider everything from practical concerns like being able to grip a steering wheel to whether she can shake hands when meeting someone for the first time. Although there are treatment options (Raleigh's tried several), at the moment there is no cure, and so she's learned to accept it as part of her life, one humorous Instagram post at a time.
Here, Raleigh explains the impact of hyperhidrosis on everything from the clothes she wears to her dating life and how Instagram has helped her connect with other sufferers online.
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pics rarely do them justice but my hands are sweaty AF this morning !! 💦 damn it made driving to therapy unpleasant. my hands always get a little fired up like this before therapy but they were on some next level shit this morning. . . . . #hyperhidrosis #hyperhidrosistreatment #hyperhidrosisawareness #palmarhyperhidrosis #shesweats #shesweatsfr #sweatypalms #sweatyhandsandfeet #sweatyhands #sweatygirls
"Symptoms first began interrupting my life around puberty, ages 12 and 13. When I stopped contributing in class for fear of raising my hand, exposing the rings under my armpits, I knew it was something beyond an everyday body’s response to an active lifestyle.
My hands, feet and armpits are primarily affected, and each [part] comes with its own woes. Having disastrously sweaty feet means sandals are never an option, even in the peak of summer. Trainers to the pool? Count on it. [Sweaty feet] means that all the time spent in football boots on playing fields was a fast track to an enduring case of athlete’s foot, one I still contend with today. Shopping for school dances was tedious and fraught with concern over my body, the event, and whether a particular dress would show the pit sweat that would inevitably pool. Would I be able to keep heels on my feet if I couldn’t (literally) strap myself to them?
It was years before I was diagnosed. My condition was written off by the adults in my life, filed under common puberty complaints. I began withdrawing, ashamed of the way my body betrayed me in everyday situations, and this, too, was chalked up to puberty. I felt incredibly dismissed and deeply ashamed. I felt dirty, like my excessive sweating was somehow a reflection of my personal hygiene, my character. More than countless other factors, it contributed to a profound lack of confidence growing up.
After being diagnosed, I felt relieved – naturally. Having a diagnosis legitimised me and my experience, making the whole thing a little more palatable (and a lot more Google-able).
I grew up in rural east Tennessee and I don't think the word 'hyperhidrosis' was lingering near the tip of anyone's tongue, medical community or not. It was *just* beginning to be taken seriously by the people in my life, [and was] finally considered more than a byproduct of puberty or an active lifestyle. [As a result] I wasn't surprised to find the resources incredibly limited at the time, even in doctors' offices. Fortunately, that's super different now and far more people are recognizing hyperhidrosis as a legitimate medical issue.
As far as treatment goes, based on my experience, it looks different on everyone and at varying stages of life. I have tried oral medications and every antiperspirant in the book, clinical strength and otherwise. I have lain under fluorescent lights in doctors' offices, awaiting 50 shots under each arm in a bid to stop the sweating. I haven’t tried them all but in my younger years I certainly considered every treatment on the table.
Sometimes it’s difficult to articulate the ways in which my life is affected daily by hyperhidrosis. Because it’s my normal, my everyday experience, accommodating this condition has become second nature; I hardly know life any different. But every outfit is dictated by it. Will this shirt hide pit stains? Are these shoes breathable or will I be forced to reach for the Tinactin as soon as I’m home? Will sweat stains be visible on the fabric of these shoes? How I wear my hair is dictated by it. If my hands are particularly sweaty that day, I’ll have to wear it up because touching it while down will make it greasy and unsightly. Hyperhidrosis affects how safe I feel behind the wheel of my car. Sometimes sweaty palms compromise a steady grip. It affects how effectively I’m able to use my phone or the trackpad of my computer, things I need to maintain relationships and my career. Often, my hands are too sweaty for touch screens to register my touch. It affects so many aspects of my day-to-day life that it can be difficult to condense.
It affects dating and relationships in every way imaginable – and even those you cannot [imagine]. Your sense of worth is so impacted by this condition that the issue goes beyond. It affects your relationship to yourself and then, inherently, your relationship to others.
Anything even remotely anxiety-inducing can be a trigger. It can be a completely innocuous text from a friend, an intense moment in a TV show I’ve seen countless times. It can be heavy traffic on a day I didn’t budget the time for or the anticipation of having to shake the hand of someone new. While my symptoms are exacerbated in the summer, they’re ever-present in all seasons.
I started joking about hyperhidrosis on my Instagram account because humour has always been one of my go-to coping mechanisms – for better or for worse! For years, I pulled out all the stops to hide my condition but approaching it with humour has given me the opportunity to talk about it with candour and transparency. It feels incredibly refreshing and affirming. Before I began speaking openly about hyperhidrosis in my life and online, I had no idea how many people were affected by the condition. I’d seen numbers, sure, but knowing that Jessica in Delaware also struggles is far more comforting to a worried mind than a cold statistic. Connecting with other people who have this condition has made me feel so much less 'other'.
If excessive sweating is affecting your quality of life, trust yourself, advocate for yourself. Find a doctor and a community that listens to you, supports you. It is a legitimate medical condition, and you’re not alone. Also, you should follow me on Instagram so we can talk shit and find the humour in it together."