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The Social Cost of Hyperhidrosis From Taking OCD Medication

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I take a medication that makes me sweat significantly more than is socially acceptable. This is not much of a problem medically, so long as I stay adequately hydrated. But socially? Things can get quite tricky.

In 2017 I was diagnosed with OCD and began the tedious journey of finding a medication that could help convince me that balancing dining forks on picture frames in the mental health ward wasn’t, in fact, going to cure me of the urge to hurt the people I love the most. We found a few medications that significantly reduced my intrusive thoughts, and I can now happily say I no longer fantasize about harvesting my parents’ organs or punching elderly ladies as they cross the street. But this freedom comes at a cost.

Hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating is a fairly common side effect of what is, for me, a life-saving drug. While the social cost of dripping wet hugs, sweaty crotches, and smelly armpits isn’t a deal-breaker or a reason to risk swapping this medication, it certainly plays on my mind.

Daily life for me can only be described as “moist and salty.” I understand that sounds disgusting, but that is only because it is. All moments of my day are defined by sweat patches. The mornings are mild, until I have to stand in line or run errands. Then it’s as if carrying a bag of corn chips and salsa to the check-out were a triathlon and I had just completed the ocean swim. I shower at night, only to dejectedly towel myself dry knowing full well that the oppressive heat of the Australian summer will make me sweaty once more. A Sisyphean task. However, the futility of my pursuit of dryness is nothing compared to the social weight.

I see the looks people give me. I feel the damp pat on my shoulder and the discreet wiping of their hands on their pants. I hear the jokes about hiding a big secret or sweating like a pig in a sauna. I laugh at these jokes, and I play my part in making other people feel more comfortable with my bodily fluids. But as the sweat drips down from my spine and down my bum crack, I can’t help but feel a bit like an unhygienic freak. And sure, the people who don’t care about my sweaty upper lip are the kinds of people I would want to hang around anyway, but it would be nice to cuddle close to a date in the cinemas during a scary movie or hug a friend without leaving residue.

But what’s the lesson here, Jade? What’s the positive takeaway we can all glean from your unsanitary sweatiness? Perhaps that some sacrifices must be made for synthetic sanity. Maybe that I see my sweat as a daily reminder of how mentally free my mind is now and how much fuller my life is without the obsessive ruminations of OCD. Or maybe, I’m seeking validation and solidarity from other sweaty apes out there who also have to warn people against touching them as if they were some biblical leper deemed unclean by society. Or maybe? There isn’t a lesson and this is merely a reminder to hydrate yourself and drink up!

Getty image by Doucefleur.

Originally published: January 5, 2022
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