It was after a particularly sweaty session of football during recess, but I was the only one who was singled out by our English teacher.
“Cher, sweat only mah, you scared what?” a classmate replied, pointing to my shirt, which was soaked so thoroughly it was practically translucent. Later, he would play the world’s most disgusting game of connect-the-dots with the moles on my back, using his Pilot G-2 pen.
“Human beings don’t sweat. We perspire. Animals sweat,” she asserted, as though completely missing the point.
She could not have been more wrong. To this day, I sweat an inhuman amount every day, rain or shine, hot or cold. If I’m in an air-conditioned room with the temperature any higher than 22 degrees, it’s enough for little beads of perspiration start to cloud my forehead.
Doctors call this “Hyperhidrosis”, a condition where sufferers sweat more than the usual person to regulate their body heat. I call this crippling disease the worst thing anyone can ever suffer from, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Am I overreacting? Sure.
I realise that there are actual life-threatening and debilitating illnesses that pose more danger to us than what is essentially water excreted from our pores. But you know how sticky you feel after being exposed to the elements for hours when you’re at the zoo? That is how I feel whenever I’m not in the cold comfort of my room, where the temperature is regulated to a cosy 16 degrees at all times.
I can already hear you asking, “It’s just sweat, how bad can it be?”
Lunchtime in the office is usually something that everyone looks forward to. You can finally act as though you haven’t been using Whatsapp Web all day, and head out of the cold for some warmth and food.
Walking to the nearest coffee shop is no problem. Trekking an additional 400m to the next one results in me slowly descending into a pool of sweat.
By the time we sit down to eat, I would be too hot and bothered to dig in. The food would look uninteresting, and my appetite, along with any interest in conversations happening between my colleagues, would diminish significantly. Returning to the air-conditioned bosom of my office would be the only thing on my mind.
When that happens, the walk back wouldn’t be much fun either. At this point, my undercut would be covered in so much sweat that it would shimmer more than a neighborhood Ah Lian’s swarovski iPhone case.
Back at the office, it would take me a further hour to cool down before I can start doing my work again.
Once, I walked for 20 minutes with colleagues in pursuit of a taco lunch at Muchachos. By the time we were done with the meal, and I was back in the office, my shirt smelt so musky from stewing in my sweat that I feigned illness just so I could head home. I could tell that my colleagues were too nice to say anything about it.
So no, it doesn’t matter if Hawker Chan and Daniel Boulud’s love child grew up and set up a stall. I will not walk the additional 8 blocks. Unless we are cabbing.
Which brings me to my next point.
A well-pressed shirt and a stylish haircut go a long way in communicating the fact that you made an effort to look good.
Both these things go completely out of the window if I take public transport. When going for job interviews, I always make sure I take a taxi even if I am not pressed for time, to ensure that I look my best. Taking a bus inevitably requires me to walk a short distance, and it’s enough to melt my hair and soil my shirt. With a potential job on the line, there is no way I would take such risks. Understandably, this stretches my finances.
On top of that, I often try to reach the destination half an hour in advance just so I can sit around in the lobby, to regulate my body’s temperature as insurance against my body’s tendency to sweat.
Once, I took the train when I went for an interview in the CBD with a multi-national bank. I was 5 minutes early, but spent at least half an hour sitting in a toilet cubicle, wiping off my sweat and hanging my shirt to dry. I had to text my interviewer and lie to him that I was having a bad case of the runs. Needless to say, he was not impressed, and I did not get the job.
From then on, I’ve made it a point to not spare any expense when it comes to making first impressions. Some things are more valuable than money.
I recall a specific first date which crushed me. I had taken her to East Coast Park, my go-to location for the cool, salty sea breeze which makes it one of the few non air-conditioned places in Singapore where I don’t sweat profusely. Unfortunately, it was a particularly humid night; it had just rained that afternoon.
As you mightimagined, my sweat glands went into overdrive even though we were only taking a leisurely stroll along the beach. Thin layers of perspiration coated my entire body, and the teal linen shirt I wore clung onto my damp back and chest, simulating a paralysing sensation not unlike claustrophobia. Even joggers who ran past us looked less dishevelled than I was.
With my date visibly disturbed by the sheer amount of sweat I was producing, my anxiety started getting the better of me. Every other second, she looked at our interlocked hands, and winced.
“Very hot meh? Why you sweat so much, tonight very cold what, what’s wrong with you?” she eventually groaned, pulling away her hand from mine—a task made easier by the fact that my arm was oilier than an Orang Minyak in heat.
My shirt’s light colour that the patches of sweat on my chest, back, and underarms were so big they eventually merged into one huge patch. The shirt ended up looking four shades darker, almost a light emerald by the time we were getting ready to go home.
The embarrassment was far too much, and incidents like this took a huge toll on my self-confidence. For the rest of that date, I shrunk into my shell and sat in silence before sending her home.
Yet, it was that very same incident which made me realise that while this is a rather embarrassing condition to have, it is one that I am stuck with for the rest of my life. Was I going to let it become a social disability, or was I going to own it?
By default, I am a terribly lazy person who takes almost no initiative. Because of my condition, I have been forced to be just a little bit more conscientious, and to think of the little things.
For starters, I have impeccable personal hygiene. Not because I want to, but because I have to. If I don’t scrub myself with a loofah for 5 minutes when I shower, or if I don’t carry around wet wipes with me, I would have the world’s most intense and persistent case of body odour.
I’ve missed out on great nights out with friends at by leaving early, all because I was ashamed about my friends judging how sweaty I was. Now, even though the thought enters my head, I no longer entertain it.
Also, I’ve found that the people who are comfortable with my perspiration also tend to be the people that I’m closer to. Friends who understand that I am always on the precipice of sweating make concessions, such as giving me the seat in the restaurant where the fan is blowing, or agreeing to meet at air-conditioned malls whenever we have an outing planned.
Furthermore, I learned that this excessive perspiration can be used in my favour.
In previous jobs, people would always assume that I was working harder than my colleagues just because I looked sweatier than them. The optics of looking sweaty was finally on my side for once. It didn’t matter if it was going door-to-door selling ice cream to concerned aunties, or if it was handing out fliers, I knew that people would sympathise with me and offer an olive branch, or at the very least, tissue paper.
Today, it has become something that I manage and live with. After all, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.
Mine might just be a little bit saltier than most.