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Why Don’t We Want to Shower When We’re Sick?

I know this seems like an odd question, but I was considering it this morning (in my shower). It is a common problem for people with a mental illness. I have a tendency to avoid showering (really) and I know of others with a mental illness have gone weeks without showing.

So, if all we’re talking about is standing in some warm water, why don’t we want to shower?

I think there is a tetrad of reasons, experienced according to mood: fatigue, crazy, self-hatred and pain.

Too Tired to Shower

If you’ve been seriously ill, mentally or physically, you know energy is in short supply. Sometimes it takes the effort of a thousand men just to open your eyes and get out of bed in the morning. Every muscle flex, joint bend, or even a thought is overwhelmingly exhausting.

And if you only have enough energy to accomplish two small goals that day, you might pick eating and paying the power bill. Both of these things are more important than showering. (And of course, you might not be lucky enough to have even that much energy.)

Too Crazy to Shower

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Hypomania (mania) is the fastest time on planet earth. Nothing holds my attention long enough to do it and I’m vastly annoyed at how slowly everything moves. I end up finding myself watching TV while doing yoga and writing the first scene of a book in my head. And then I look at the clock. Five minutes have gone by, but in my brain they’ve felt like 60.

And due to my extreme inattention and annoyance at single-threaded slowness, a shower sounds like the most boring thing in the world. Ever. It wouldn’t even occur to me to bother with one.

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Too Hateful to Shower

Those first two I think are obvious, but I think this one is more subconscious and insidious. I sometimes find I don’t want to shower because I hate my bodymy existence) and therefore don’t want to be naked – rather a requirement for taking a shower. It’s not a conscious lack of self-care, or purposeful denial of pleasure, or low self-esteem, or any other therapy-esque interpretation you’re likely to find. It’s just that me, my body, feels really grimy and I don’t want any further proof of its existence. I want to pretend it’s not there. It hurts less to pretend it, myself, doesn’t exist. (I suspect this is an aspect of dissociation. I’m a dissociator from way back.)

But Showers Feel Good

Ah, spoken like a normal person. No, they really don’t. I mean, sometimes they do, sure. Warm water, citrus bodywash, what’s not to like?

It’s complicated.

When I’m in pain I want to put up additional barriers between me and the world. Some subconscious part of me is thinking extra clothes and blankets over my head will save me from my brain. Being naked removes barriers. And I can’t have that.

And I’m not exactly sure how to explain it other than to say the water is painful. It feels like an attack. It feels like I’m in so much pain already that a breeze grazing my skin makes me want to cry.

And I’m really, really trying hard not to think about that pain. That’s the stuff of death. So the last thing I need is to have shards of water splitting through my skin. I don’t want to shower; I’m in enough pain already.

Check out Natasha Tracy’s book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar and connect with her on FacebookGoogle+ or Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

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201 Responses to Why Don’t We Want to Shower When We’re Sick?

  1. Catnip & Chaos says:

    Thank you all for your honesty and courage posting on this topic. It has helped me think deeply and consider several factors that never came to my mind before.

    You see, I’m the spouse of someone who has been demonstrating this kind of behavior for three or more months now. I was debilitated three years ago in a housefire, losing all ten digits and by burning like a piece of bacon. Yet I have been blessed enough to avoid major body image issues.

    My husband too is disabled after falling two stories onto his head in 2005 during Army urban warfare training. He broke every bone in his back, both wrists,and suffers from a closed head injury. He tends to isolate himself when we argue. Less when we disagree but nevertheless he withdraws to the other room and vegetates. In front of the TV with movies he’s already seen, he’ll promise me that he’ll take a shower “in a little bit. ” Yet I wake up alone and he’s on the couch, dirty. This is frequently happening.

    So far, I have read about you guys being late. But my husband will put off, or procrastinate, more than just a shower; he’s reluctant to have conversations about his body and hygiene, or to accept reasons he should shower.

    This has had some impact on our sex-life. Also on his health. And adversely affects our communication. But these reasons are not enough to get him to bathe! Being disabled too, it’s hard to accept. This article, and your posts have helped me understand that he’s struggling and my impatience, frustration, insistence, attitude, and hardened manner are making him isolate further.

    Thanks again. If anyone has any ideas to share w me on these ideas, please do!

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