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.


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.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

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

  1. AndiEM says:

    I can’t stop my thoughts when I’m sick. They go so fast and furiously that it feels like climbing a mountain for me to shower. All of these points are things that I can relate with. When I’m that sick and in the shower I always end up arguing with myself, lying in the tub sobbing or battling with myself not to cut. Its a triggery place for me. I have really short hair now so I don’t need to shower if I’m feeling really sick.

  2. Debi says:

    I avoided showers at the height of a manic state as it seemed to be the place I would have full blown anxiety attacks….I would cry to the point of hyperventilating, unable to stop crying and i would find it so hard to breathe, however no one knew as the sound of water and loud music would drowned most of my vocal anguish …………….tho a good cry is always great therapy this total loss of mind and body control scared me so much…..and when at my lowest I would just not have the energy to put myself through something as simple and necessary as self care……

  3. marilyn says:

    I am so happy to find more information on it, after my 3 breakdowns in three or so years ten years later I still hate to take a shower I can only make myself do it every other day and start dreading the next shower the moment I step from the one I have just taken

  4. Jennifer says:

    I can no longer shower with hot water. I would get panic attacks. I just shower with warm water now.

  5. MMM says:

    WOW! I’ve never seen this topic discussed! I ran across it from Natasha Tracy’s bipolar burble blog. (Love ya Natasha!) I think that’s why so many chimed in because we recognized it in ourselves and/or loved ones and always wondered WHY we do this. It seems like such a small thing, but yet, we struggle. And it’s next to impossible to explain why we can’t do it.

    Before bipolar disorder came in and wrecked my life, I was OCD about looking my very best everyday. I would spend from about 1- 1 1/2hrs daily on my routine. EVERYDAY without fail. I’d get up way early to ensure that it was done before I would go to work, or anywhere else, or nowhere. I’d heard the phrase somewhere in my life and it stuck, “You only have one time to make good first impression”. It was my mantra. I did not want to be caught “not ready” for that opportunity.

    Then my major breakdown happened. I started not reaching goals at work which in turn, caused me to get laid off after 12 years of perfect performance. After that I became increasingly anxious and irritable. Diagnosis? Severe manic episode due to bipolar disorder. That was my first trip to the hospital.

    Since then (this was over 5 years ago), I just don’t care. For a lot of the reasons you have all described: I pulled away from absolutely everyone I know or they turned their backs on me, I felt hopeless and severely depressed, I felt unclean (because of past trauma) and EVERY SINGLE LITTLE THING exhausted me. And when I do shower, I usually don’t wash my hair because that is just too much and I just wear the same icky hat everyday. And like some of you said too, I have absolutely no place to go so why bother?

    My husband HATES this. For a long time, he refused to even try to understand. It was just laziness. I just wanted to scream, “If this were the case, then why do I feel so guilty for NOT doing it”? I would sit there all damned day on my couch and try to psych myself up to do it. And I’d feel worse and worse about myself as the day went on, and then still not do it. That’s REALLY hard to explain to someone who has no information about mental illness at all. So he would resent me so much that I could physically FEEL his barbs. He has gotten better, but it’s still a battle. Whether I’m depressed or manic or both. I’m a rapid cycler and am not fully stable so I feel out of control and/or deathly depressed.

    Anyway, I seriously rambled. Sorry about that. But yes, I can totally relate with everyone here.

  6. Deirdre Oliver says:

    Sounds pretty normal to me. Who says we have to shower every day? Or ever? Why is it bad to just give yourself a once over when you start to itch, or when people say you smell bad? (Anyway, judicious use of deodorants takes care of that. Or live somewhere where everyone smells the same). Maybe a visit to a river, lake, dam or beach is a better option anyway. After all, a walk in the fresh air, exercise and the contemplation of nature can distract from the dwelling/ruminations of how awful it all is, is a therapeutic tool that beats a shower any day. If we can force ourselves out of bed go to the toilet we can do anything, like maybe going outside on a sunny day and standing under a sprinkler, clothes and all. That way, you get less smelly and itchy and wash your clothes at the same time (another horrible thought when you’re down). Remember the French thought it was disgusting to bathe every day, and the Americans though it was disgusting to NOT bathe everyday, so we can adjust our beliefs ans expectations to suit ourselves, no right or wrong, just, whatever we need at the time. We really shouldn’t use not having a shower to beat ourselves up and neither should anyone else. There’s enough around that’s worth feeling guilty about already. RELAX – stand in the rain!
    (And don’t dare say I wouldn’t understand – 13 years of drugs and Electroshock says “Oh, yes I do”)

  7. Laura says:

    When I’m manic & also when I’m depressed I tend to go to bed really late (a good sign that I’m manic or depressed!) and just can’t be bothered having a shower so late at night (it also wakes up my husband) I always have one in the morning though. When I’m on top of things I’ll even have a shower as soon as I’m home from work… it does feel good and refreshes and revitalizes me too.

  8. Marianne says:

    MMM, I can totally relate! I got to this post by a search for “Symptoms don’t want to shower or leave the house.”

    I’ve been on antidepressants for many years and I don’t FEEL depressed but I’m isolating — I avoid leaving the house because interaction with other people is a chore. For the past several years I shower and brush my teeth only when absolutely necessary to avoid embarrassment.

    UGH –– I’m just so tired of being so tired!

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