Perhaps one of the most defining things that I’ve had to contend with throughout my life is a strange skin condition called Hyperhidrosis.
Hyperhidrosis (HH) is a term used to describe extreme sweating and in my particular case it applies to my palms, armpits and feet.
A small percentage of the world’s population suffer from it in varying degrees and leads people to feel discomfort, embarrassment, social anxiety and not surprisingly, it can lead to depression.
Any of my close friends will tell you that I’m on the extreme end of the condition and when triggered, the most obvious of my symptoms come from the palms of my hands, an area that’s impossible to cover up. If they’re not just extremely wet, they’ll literally be dripping which offers a whole set of challenges to adapt to.
For example, writing on paper can be impossible when the whole thing turns into a soggy mess, holding or even just shaking someone’s hand requires a disclaimer or apology, touch screens are rendered useless (don’t even get me started with thumb print recognition), while playing guitar invites a huge amount of corrosion and therefore maintenance, not to mention the incurred expenses of needing to change strings regularly.
The little rag that permanently hangs off of the back of my jeans, is my easy-to-reach cloth for me to wipe my hands on, both in every day life and on stage.
In a live performance environment, my hands can literally be dripping which can be quite distracting when you’re filming something or playing somewhere small and intimate. In the studio, we even had to tailor the schedule around the effects of Hyperhidrosis in my palms. For example, on instruments like bass and acoustic guitar, it was critical the strings didn’t lose their tone whilst recording took place so we’d have to track them when I was confident the sweats were at bay, rather than at times that may have actually made more sense practically. Martin was very understanding when he first saw the extent of it all.
As mentioned, it isn’t just my hands that are affected. My armpits and feet also join the party and hugely contribute to a severe lowering of body temperature compared to that of someone who doesn’t suffer from HH. Consequently, this makes it difficult when living in a country with changing seasons as at certain times of the year, you feel unbearably cold despite it not actually being that bad in reality. It’s like coming out of the sea on a cold morning in a poorly insulated wetsuit that doesn’t have the ability to dry and then being forced to wear it for the rest of the day.
All of the clothes I choose to wear are carefully thought about, from the material to the colours. Black jumpers for example are really good at wicking away moisture and not revealing the embarrassing extent of my sweating. Merino wool socks do the same although not when trapped in a shoe which invariably takes a beating.
HH is still a relativity unknown condition and hasn’t had much funding or research put into it because it varies so much from person to person but one brief look online will tell you how much it affects people, particularly psychologically.
From my perspective it’s just another layer I’ve learnt to deal with on a cake of personal, professional and financial struggle however occasionally, when it gets out of hand, it’s presence can really get on top of me and negatively influence all aspects of day to day life.
It’s impossible to feel relaxed. You try to rationalise things, knowing full-well there are worse things to suffer and contend with in this world yet you can’t help but allow the condition to dictate what sort of mood, let alone week, you might have. It drove me to a few pretty low points during the making of the album and at times I felt really sorry for Katie who not only had to listen to my frustrations as an artist and songwriter but also my trials with HH. I sounded like a broken record and I resented myself for it.
When I was a kid, after it was clearly impacting my ability to write on paper, I was told by a doctor it would subside as I got older. When I got a bit older, I was told it was likely to be a psychological thing.
While there’s probably something to be said about the various ramifications that come with subtle varieties of psychological issues and conditions, I also believe that that my perspiratory system has a mind of its own, independent of everything else and that there’s nothing I can really do but adapt to it. Simply put, this just means having extra changes of clothes at the ready, access to a nearby shower to help reset things or to have enough mental fortitude to brace myself for the ensuing discomfort.
Frustratingly, I’m still yet to pinpoint what exactly triggers it and have tried most of the treatments available aside from surgery which risks some very permanent side effects.
The whole thing has left an emphasis on trying to achieve a level of balance across all aspects of my life when I can and admittedly the problem does come and go, however there’s still no significant patterns that have emerged in any of my observations over the 32 years I’ve spent on this planet.