woman cooling herself off resting in an opened freezer

When You're Hot, You're Hot

Last updated: February 2023

"Oh, honey! Why don't you go ahead and put your head in the freezer over there?"

The cashier who said this to me seemed both worried and sympathetic. In front of her was a woman who had sweat running down her face. It was snowing outside, but here she was looking like she had run a marathon. That woman was me.

I was checking out when all of a sudden my body decided it was hot outside and that it was time to react. This resulted in sweat pouring out. It was stinging my eyes. The salty taste of sweat was on my lips. Multiple sclerosis had reared its ugly head, yet again.

What the heck?

For the people in line with me, it was scary to see someone breaking into a sweat when it was freezing outside. For me it was simply one of my symptoms of MS. I think of it as my internal thermostat was wonky. It did not matter what was going on outside. It could be cold. It could be hot. It could be temperate. None of this mattered.

If my body decided I needed to cool off, I would sweat like crazy. My glasses would have droplets falling onto them. This was not some genteel moisture that could be patted away with the touch of a handkerchief or Kleenex. I would look like I had been running for my life.

But I do not feel hot

It was August when I first experienced this multiple sclerosis symptom. I did not notice that I was sweating more than usual. It was an extremely hot summer in Colorado, so I thought that my body was reacting to an unusual streak of high outdoor temperature. I felt the heat, and the sweating was expected. If I was extra sweaty, oh well. I shrugged it off. It was not until the weather cooled off that something seemed off to me. Fall had started. Leaves were falling from the trees and high temperatures were few and far between. Along with it my body seemed to react just fine.

Then one day it happened for all of the world to see.

Sweat pouring out

I was minding my own business when MS decided to show me a new symptom. It was a good day for me. I was able to shop without pain and I was feeling like a "normal" person. During my checkout I felt a bit of sweat popping out from my forehead. Okay, maybe I was more winded than I thought. And I did have on my heavier coat, but then it started. Before I knew it my face was streaked with sweat. It ran down from my forehead into my eyes and mouth as it continued down my neck.

I did not feel hot at all! In fact, I felt fine. My body disagreed with me. As I struggled to wipe the sweat away, the cashier and other customers looked at me with pity and fear. I shook with embarrassment and shame. What was happening to me? It was at this time that the woman checking out my items offered for me to stick my head into one of the store's freezer. It was an offer that I gladly took up.

Sticking my head into a freezer

As I stuck my head into the freezer, I was faced with rows of ice cream and other cold novelties. I needed to get this sweating under control immediately. My eyes were stinging, and I could not see. I needed to get out of the store and away from the people who I thought were judging me negatively. Like them, I was wondering why this lady was dripping in so much sweat that she needed to publicly cool down. I worried that strangers thought I might be some sort of drug addict suffering from the cold sweats of withdrawal.

The sweat was slowing down as the cold air surrounded my face. It felt good. Within a few minutes the hyper sweating had stopped. I grabbed my bags and went home. I was a mess. My carefully-applied makeup was washed away. My shirt collar was soaking wet. During this entire experience I never felt overheated. This was my introduction to a true oddity of my MS.

Managing my sweating

There is no rhyme or reason to my sweating episodes. It was not related to my activities. I could be running errands and struggling physically with no reaction, while doing nothing would result in a pool of sweat. In the same vein, the cold of winter caused me to sweat while temperatures in the mid-90s had me daintily patting my temples. I needed to find a practical solution. And I found it in a flashy fan.

When my friend handed my first fan, he said, "if they are going to look, give them something to look at." The fan was green and shiny with sequins. It looked like something a flamenco dancer might use. It was something to look at alright! The first time I pulled it out I felt uneasy, but with that initial wave of cooling air I knew that I had a simple solution. Battery-operated fans were inconvenient and did not have enough staying power. USB fans powered by my cellphone produced weak air flow. Cooling vests did not come in my size and were outside of my budget. My fancy green fan, and its other colorful cousins, was quick, cheap, and useful. I tuck one in my purse, and I am ready to go.

Accepting what I can and can't control

The most important part of living with a "busted" internal thermostat is accepting that I have no control over it and to stop being ashamed. It is a symptom of my multiple sclerosis as much as my spasticity or cog fog. All I can do is be prepared with my fan and handkerchief. I am a hot woman, just not in the way I expected.

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