Today we’d like to introduce you to Maria Thomas.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Maria. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My sweaty story begins back in second grade. That’s the earliest I remember having an excessive sweating problem. Wiping my palms on my Catholic school uniform. Using my sleeves to hide the sweat dripping from my fingertips. Watching the edges curl up on the Big Chief tablet on which I was practicing my cursive handwriting was a scene for the books. Never wearing sandals because my feet would slip and slide all over them. Looking around to see if other kids had sweaty feet and avoided the same types of shoes I did. Remember jelly shoes? I could only wear mine with socks, and that made me feel like a dork. I didn’t want to stand out.
Sometimes I could feel the sweat creeping up, right before the dam burst and the floodgates started. It was a tingly sort of feeling in my palms and feet. The times I would notice this trigger were when I felt myself slipping on a patch of snow or ice when playing outside or walking into a store from the parking lot and trying not to slip and fall in bad weather. When my feet sweat, I liken it to a jar of Vaseline. Imagine spreading petroleum jelly all over your feet and then trying to walk or put on shoes. Damn near impossible.
It wasn’t until I turned 20 that I learned my excessive sweating had a real name, and that was only after searching online for hours, trying to figure out why I felt like such an outsider. My official diagnosis of hyperhidrosis came at the age of 21 after consulting with a dermatologist, and since then, I’ve tried nearly every known treatment for my condition.
If it weren’t for the International Hyperhidrosis Society, my blog would not exist. When I signed up to be a patient volunteer at their dermatologist training seminar and received 155 (!) Botox injections in my hands, I left there feeling incredibly validated. In that room on that day, for the first time in my life, I didn’t have to apologize for my sweat. I felt empowered to tell my story. In 2011, I launched my blog My Life as a Puddle.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As humans, we are wired for touch. What happens to us psychologically when we feel unworthy of it?
Hyperhidrosis is rooted in shame. Because we can’t control our sweating, we come up with unique ways to hide it. Sweating makes us feel out of control, and many of us turn inward to wrestle with our sweat demons.
It’s definitely been a challenging journey to get where I am today. Here are just a few challenges I’ve faced over the years.
I remember going shopping with my grandma and holding her hand in the store. She had a mole near her thumb that I would play with running my own thumb over the smooth raised bump. But I could only do that for so long before my hand got too sweaty and I would have to let go so I could wipe it off on my pants. Grandma would take me to the park to play on the swings and the merry go round. I remember gripping her hand extra tight as we crossed the street, scared she’d lose her grip on me and I wouldn’t be safe if I slipped out of her hand.
As I got older, I noticed I sweat a lot more while at school. Test-taking was a trigger. Having to learn square dancing with a partner in gym class in 5th grade was an absolute nightmare. Finally, in 7th grade, I asked my mom why I sweat so much, and she took me to our primary care physician. He prescribed Drysol, a clinical strength antiperspirant. I was instructed to apply it at night to my hands and feet and then wrap them in Saran Wrap to help the product absorb. Really?! Good luck with patient compliance on that one. Not once did I ever hear the term “hyperhidrosis” mentioned in the doctor’s appointment.
The older I got, it seemed the worse my hyperhidrosis became. I was placed in more trigger situations, such as team sports. I ran track and field in high school. One of my events was the 4×200 meter relay. As I was waiting for my teammate to approach and hand off the baton, I clenched my track shorts. Right before I took off sprinting, I’d give my palm one last good rub on the fabric then reach back to grab the baton from my teammate. I opted for choir instead of band or orchestra. How was I to play an instrument and watch the sweat run down my arms? I’d be exposed in front of all the other kids.
I didn’t really give much thought to my sweating, at least in the sense that I wasn’t actively looking for a cure or an answer. I just assumed this was normal for me. I never knew it had a name. The sweaty commentary that ran rampant in my head, though, was the loudest at events like prom, homecoming, and marketing club competitions. I remember my senior year of high school, I was afraid to get up and dance at the prom because I’d have nowhere to put my sweaty hands. Instead, I stayed seated for a long time so that I could clutch the underside of the tablecloth to avoid ruining the front of my dress. Two years later, when I was in college, this nifty little thing called Google helped me discover that I was not the only one who had such a sweaty life.
I was 36 years old before I had my first pedicure. My best friend dragged me to the salon and made me do it to get me outside of my comfort zone. When the person massaging my feet leaned over to grab the bottle of nail polish, she gently rested her hand on the top of my foot. I almost cried over such a simple gesture, because for all those years I thought a pedicure was something I could never do. I was ashamed to be touched and worried they’d discover my secret.
In an effort to clamp down on the never-ending sweaty commentary that runs rampant in my head, I developed a few life hacks for the biggest day of my life—my wedding. I was excited for my bridal debut, yet also anxious that I’d ruin my satin dress. I wore boring white ballet flats with no-show socks because I was afraid I’d break an ankle if I wore slippery high-heeled shoes. This is why people with hyperhidrosis feel like they can’t buy nice clothing and shoes. We may ruin them with sweat stains, so why bother?
And what about my wedding bouquet? About a month before my big day, I spotted a surgical towel in the exam room of my doctor’s office; it just happened to be the exact color of my wedding flowers. As I soaked through the paper on the exam table during my appointment, I bashfully asked my doctor if I could have the towel. Thank God for my crafty mother-in-law. She hand-sewed it around the handle of my bouquet. When I handed it off to my man of honor to recite my vows, it was still drenched in sweat.
A few years later, many of my friends were having babies. Driving to the hospital, my palms gripping the fabric-covered steering wheel, I tried to think of ways I could hide my sweating while still being able to hold these little bundles of joy. I was absolutely petrified that I would get them soaking wet, or worse, lose my grip and drop them. But my friends didn’t care about my sweat. They just gave me a kitchen towel to hold when I needed it.
I also have an autoimmune disease called ulcerative colitis. One year over Easter weekend, I was hospitalized because of it. When my doctor told me I had exhausted all other treatment options and would have to self-inject a biologic medication, my first thought was,
How can I stab a needle into myself with sweaty hands? If my hands were to slip, I could lose a precious dose of this life-saving medication.
So not only is hyperhidrosis socially, mentally and emotionally debilitating, it’s a downright safety issue for me.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’m a patient leader and advocate. I work full time in communications. My side hustle is my blog called “My Life as a Puddle.” I create hyperhidrosis hope and awareness one drop at a time and help people feel better about the skin they’re in. I also do freelance copywriting, editing and social media for clients.
What sets me apart is my authenticity and warrior heart. I’ve been called “The OG of Hyperhidrosis.” I tell the stories no one wants to talk about. The shame and embarrassment people with hyperhidrosis may feel can cause many to hide their sweaty secret and fear being exposed. I shine a light on this condition and am not afraid to say what needs to be said. Through my sweaty stories, others realize they are not alone. When we use our voices, we become stronger and more confident no matter what our diagnosis (or lack thereof) may be.
Most of the advocacy work I do is unpaid, and I pay for the costs associated with running my website and social media out of my own pocket. I have been fortunate, however, to pitch companies and earn paid influencer work such as helping pharmaceutical companies recruit for hyperhidrosis clinical trials or helping public companies sell over-the-counter items to reduce sweat. I’ve also done commercial video work and patient testimonials for continuing medical education activities.
I also was one of just 50 women selected nationwide to be one of the inaugural #OMagInsiders – brand ambassadors for O, The Oprah Magazine. I’ve also traveled with Women For One as a featured Truthteller for their Truthteller Tour.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Sitting in my mom’s lap as she read me The Berenstain Bears Books. She would do different voices for each member of the bear family.
- Website: https://mylifeasapuddle.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mylifeasapuddle/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mylifeasapuddle/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/MyLifeAsAPuddle