My Life as Sweaty Betty

First Person

My Life as Sweaty Betty

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar

O

ne day, I came home to find my dad standing proudly next to an odd arrangement of items: two huge steel thalis filled with salty water, connected by red and black wires to two nine-volt batteries. He gleefully informed me that my mother wasn’t home, and so did I want to try being electrocuted? For science.

Well, for medicine, to be exact. I have congenitally sweaty palms and feet – a condition called hyperhidrosis – and one of the cures for this is, believe it or not, applying mild electric shocks to your skin. The treatment is called iontophoresis or in English, casual electrocution.
But my dad was clearly two steps ahead of me.

While Googling cures for sweaty palms, he found a dude on Quora asking what the correct voltage for an iontophoresis machine is. The man, an engineer, was making the device himself instead of going to the doctor.

The circuit closed, and I experienced the gentle jolt of electrocution.

Which my dad obviously processed as a direct challenge to his own engineering degree and three hours later, I had my own homemade iontophoresis machine, whether I wanted it or not. I had the grand honour of being the first guinea pig for this alarmingly rudimentary-looking contraption. This is how Victor Frankenstein’s Creature must have felt.

I dipped a finger into one of the plates and felt nothing. My dad, in a state of high excitement by now, bellowed, “CLOSE THE CIRCUIT!” and I dipped my other hand into the second plate. The circuit closed, and I experienced the gentle jolt of electrocution.

***

All my smartphones die premature deaths, and the keys of my keyboards are coated in salt. My books are sodden, and when I clap, people run for cover. Oceans bow before my might. Most things I touch die a damp and soggy little death, because little rivulets course down my wrists.

Hyperhidrosis is a weird kind of illness. It’s enough of a condition to have an important sounding name, but it just isn’t debilitating enough for people to feel sorry for you.

It’s also the kind of thing people feel just fine joking about. A senior at school christened me Sir-Sweats-A-Lot, which addressed my stubborn flat chested-ness and sweaty hands in one fell swoop. Looking at the spidery, sweaty mess of my exam sheet, one schoolteacher joked that I should move to Rajasthan – you know, they have a water shortage there.

One guy abruptly stopped in the middle of an intimate moment, tersely informing me that sweat contains traces of urea.

I usually bare my teeth at such poor jokes, giving them a half-smile of gratification. I mean, what else is there to do but to laugh and cry at these people? Can’t teach them the manners their mums should have.

But these jokes have made my sweaty skin a bit thicker than it otherwise would have been.

Despite my growing lizard skin, I’ve often been crazy insecure when it comes to having sex. I feel the need to make some lame joke to test the waters beforehand – like, “I have congenitally sweaty palms, we’re in for a pretty wet and wild time”. But it isn’t always so slick. One guy abruptly stopped in the middle of an intimate moment, tersely informing me that sweat contains traces of urea. Thereby, making it urine. He got kicked to the curb faster than he could say slip-or-slide.

There are no cures for being a Class-A imbecile when dealing with someone’s illness, but there are some cures for hyperhidrosis: I’ve tried a few of them. One is a bunch of powders and creams that make your hands feel like you didn’t wash them after eating a samosa. The others are botox injections, surgery and iontophoresis. The injections can hurt, and they say botox increases your chances of getting cancer. The surgery involves snipping two of your nerves and apparently has a side-effect called Remedial Sweating – you may not sweat out of your hands and feet anymore, but you could instead start sweating from somewhere else… most commonly your buttocks or thighs. Like my life isn’t fucked-up enough without sweating out of my damn ass.

My eternally adorable dad put the contraption together and sprung it on me.

Naturally, when I first heard about iontophoresis I’d discarded outright the idea of being voluntarily electrocuted. I had pretty much given up on finding a cure that would work for me, content to bitch and whine about it to whoever would listen. Until, of course, my eternally adorable dad put the contraption together and sprung it on me.

I never did manage to finish the full course though. For iontophoresis to be successful, you have to follow a strict regimen where you go through the process for twenty itchy, buzzy minutes on every alternate day, or on all prime number days, or some other such complicated timetable. I pretended to forget about it because it was just too much effort, and soon enough, I actually did.

Because this is what hyperhidrosis is: An inconvenience and a (forgettable) insecurity rather, but it’s taught me a lot about the world and the people in it. I learnt early that most deviations from the norm are taken quite badly, whether expressed through insensitive reactions or humourless jokes, and that it’s up to me to react to people in a sensible and consistent way.

But most of all, it has taught me that most people don’t care about your insecurities. If they do, they’re probably not worth your time anyway.

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