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When Accepting the Step Back is the Step Forward

I’ve never claimed to be perfect.  Far from it!  I have trouble with anxiety in all sorts of situations:  Work, intimacy, sports, meeting new people, meeting old people (the list goes on) – all different facets of life.  I’m dealing with all of them.  We all are.
 
But there’s one part of my life where I find anxiety particularly bothersome.  Obnoxious, really.  The times when I am actively working on dispelling the anxious ruminations in my head.  Where I am scurrying for relief, fleeing to the mountains of tranquility to escape the lowlands of anxiety. 
 
Think of the time you sat down to meditate and the thoughts just wouldn’t cease.  “Quiet down children, quiet down,” Mr. Garrison’s voice from South Park is there to help you out.  But he’s ineffective.  The children won’t stop chatting.  Here you are, doing the things that you know you are supposed to…but they are not doing their part.  They’re not relaxing you.  In fact, it seems like your anxiety is heightened.  You’re thoughts race, then find a new focal point: Something must be seriously wrong with me if I can’t even relax when I’m trying to relax.  The feeling snowballs, and you’ve sabotaged the entire venture.
 
If it’s not meditation, just insert whatever you do to relax.  Working out, yoga, prayer, whatever it may be.  
 
Yesterday I went for a hike.  To relieve tension.  I went with my dad, who is one of the very closest people to me in my life.  When we parked the car to start the hike, I was already sweating.  I had a sweat-jacket on, so I had a measure of security.  (At least my dad, or others, wouldn’t notice and it wouldn’t be glaringly obvious.)   But the sweat made me uncomfortable, the thoughts creating the sweat, and the sweat then creating more anxiety.  
 
Why couldn’t I just be like the people in the healthy living posters at the doctor’s office?  Meditating in the Himalayas and reaching new-found levels of peace?  Where is my peace of mind?  It’s un-fuckin-attainable.  
 
But getting angry is not productive.  It won’t get me anywhere.  Just like every day when I cannot control excessive sweating.  Some days, I just hate it, and I hate life.  That’s not helpful.  The days I achieve, and the days I persevere are the ones where I own it.  I accept myself, in spite of my faults.  And that is the approach I tried to get to yesterday.  “It’s OK.  You’re working at it.  You’ll get there!”  
 
But I’ll admit today I fell short.  It nagged at me once we were home.  On the hike, I took several sprints.  The running gives me a legitimate reason to sweat.  It also helps me relax.  But the little voice returns: “why can’t you reach the serenity of the people on the Kaiser Permanente posters?  Just chillllllll.”  My agitation builds, and by the end of the night I smoke a small spliff.  Finally some escape.  And relaxation.  And disappointment with myself at being unable to come to terms with the day.
 
Today, I’ve decided I’m OK with what happened yesterday.  I’m disappointed that I resorted to smoking, but I’m embracing compassion for myself.  Sometimes you need two steps back to get one forward.  And sometimes the step forward, is as simple as accepting the steps back.
 
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The Longest Flight of My Life

I am in my early thirties and sweat has consumed my life.  It began when I was twenty.  As I boarded a plane to study abroad, I thought this was a new chapter in my academic career.  I did not know that, upon boarding, I’d be entering a new phase of lifecharacterized by a symptom most people never really even think about (SWEATING) – which has been incessant and ongoing since.

Once on the plane, I noticed I was sweating more than usual.

“Perhaps the plane is too hot,” were my initial thoughts.

Prior to this trip I had sweat.  Everyone has.  I grew up playing sports.  I ran.  I played soccer.  In fact, as a young athlete my dad often wondered why I didn’t sweat MORE when I played.  Funny how things work out.

My first memories of abnormal sweating come from college.  I went to a large university and, for the first time in my life, began noticing sweat marks on my shirt.  The problem, however, never became overwhelming.  Instead, I just thought that the sweat marks were a result of the long walk to class and the heavy backpack I wore.  It seemed logical enough and, aside from a couple remarks from friends that I recall, it was not really an issue in my life.

Getting on that plane changed everything.  To my surprise and discomfort, when we landed and got off the plane, my armpits were all wet!  I threw on a sweatshirt (no pun intended) to hide the my armpits and perhaps my confusion, figuring things would go back to the way they ALWAYS had been now that I was off the plane.  Clearly, that was not in the cards.

I was introduced to my roommate and began meeting the rest of the students on the trip.  The sweating wouldn’t stop.  The entire day.  The next as well.

“Is it like hot, or humid or something in this country?” I asked my roommate.

“No more so than home…But I’m from Florida ,” was his answer.

So it wasn’t the plane.  And it wasn’t this country.   What the F*#@ was going on?  I was blindsided by this turn of events, and all alone in a foreign country.  For three days I was incessantly sweating and scurrying to hide my newfound “Scarlet Letter.”

Eventually, I approached one of the trip organizers.  He was from that country.  Nope, it wasn’t the country.  And it wasn’t the plane.  “Maybe you should see a psychologist,” he suggested.

I stayed there for the duration of the trip.  It was five months that lasted forty-five years.  It was marred by confusion, suffering, pretending nothing was wrong to all these strangers while panicking and panicking and panicking inside.

I did not confide in anyone on the trip with me.  This was too personal, and they weren’t close enough friends.  I imagine many of them thought I was antisocial for avoiding parties and gatherings.  When I did socialize (and I forced myself to do so often), all I could think about was hiding my sweat and I’m sure I came off disinterested or simply like a dick to many of the people I met at the time.  Others probably thought I was just a weirdo who always wore a jacket, whether warranted or not.

My memories of the trip are vivid.  I don’t remember the sights.  Lord knows, I saw many-a-gorgeous church.  I went to some of the most prestigious museums in the world.  But they don’t stick out.  What sticks out is an image of me, lying on the cold marble floor of my apartment in the middle of the night, bawling with confusion and talking about this problem with my dad in the States – half a world away – where it was the middle of the day, and where I had left my youthful ignorance behind.

“Should I go home, or stay?”  It was a big decision.  My dad thought I should “tough it out,” and that’s exactly what I did.  But we talked more or less every day.  And every conversation we’d discuss my ailment.  And most conversations I’d tear up or cry, outright like a baby.

He sent over a special deodorant from the U.S.  A hail mary!  It worked!!  Praise be God!  For three days…then my armpits turned a bright pinkish red and stung like they’d been wet-towel whipped.  As much as I appreciated not sweating, I couldn’t keep using that deodorant.

And so I battled on.  Confused and suffering but proud of myself for not giving up.  I bought new shirts and overcoats and hoped against hope that this trip was the cause of the sweating.  That when I returned to the States, I’d return to normal.  But I’m still waiting.

My Sweat Is Caused By My Anxiety – And Vice Versa – NOT Hyperhidrosis

Any time I’ve told someone of my issue, they’ve wondered “how do you know you don’t just sweat a lot?”  In other words, maybe this is strictly a physiological problem.  A physiological problem would mean that I sweat all the time.  But I don’t.

I don’t sweat when I sleep.  I don’t sweat when I workout (I might, but it’s hard to tell because sweating is a NORMAL part of exercise).  Most tellingly, I don’t sweat when I drink or smoke weed (when I’m drunk or high).  In other words, when my MIND has been altered, at long last the symptom ceases.  That is the ONLY time I feel I have control over this ailment.

If this condition was physiological, I’d sweat at all times more or less evenly.  But I don’t.  When I am stressed, I sweat more.  Much more.  When I have a social event or a performance my sweating ramps up.  When I think about a stressful situation that I will be in, my sweating increases.  This tells me one thing – my sweating comes from my thoughts.

But since this has become a major issue in my life, my thoughts also come from my sweating.  Its sorta a chicken and the egg problem.  But once I have drenched a shirt because I’m overexcited in the morning, or in anticipation of something stressful, I get in my head.  I wonder what’s wrong with me?  I wonder if this condition will ever stop?  And my anxiety THEN shoots through the roof.  And because my shirt is all wet, I can’t get away.  The thoughts return in full force over and over because I physically feel the uncomfortable wetness under my arms throughout the whole day.  It’s like Chinese water torture.

So anxiety causes my sweating.  No, wait, sweating causes my anxiety.  Sure, my trip abroad precipitated my sweating problem, but clearly the sweating originates in my thoughts, as discussed above…Truth be told, anxiety probably exacerbated my sweating and sweating then exacerbated my anxiety, which then exacerbated my sweating, which then exacerbated my anxiety a vicious and horrible cycle.

But it doesn’t matter which precipitates the other because I have been unable to stop the sweating and I’ve been unable to stop the anxiety.  They cause each other and snowball into a goddam avalanche.  Regardless, I know one hundred percent that this is NOT exclusively a physiological problem, this is more then mere hyperhidrosis.

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