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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.

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

Author: Natasha Tracy

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206 thoughts on “Why Don’t We Want to Shower When We're Sick?”

  1. I’m also a shower avoider when depressed, it’s one of the first things that make me realise I’m on a downer again. I’ve never really thought about it, but I think for me it’s the flatness, the lack of caring any more, I’m hating myself anyway so I can’t be bothered to take care of myself. My teeth are rotten to the core as a result.

  2. I’m in the throws of a big depression. I have barely gotten out of bed in two weeks much LESS shower. I know it’s ridiculous. But even doing the littlest things SUCK. My family is so un-supportive and my friends don’t get it.

  3. i often go days (3-5) without bathing because I forget to… no other reason why quite often… and when i do i’m surprised because it’s such a pleasureable thing to do

  4. Hmm–interesting. It seems like one of those things listed as “symptom” without any consideration of asking why so good of you to address this.

  5. I think I fall into the too busy to stop camps. Even when I am depressed, I look at showering as taking too long and too much effort. I have to remind myself of the benefits and/or just pick a time and that is what I am doing at that given moment. Sigh. Why is something so small so hard?

    Thanks for your great post and for taking comments so we can share here.

  6. Oh my .. of course .. how come I have never put that together .. I too avoid showering when in a depressed mode .. and probably in a hypermanic mode as well .. in one I am too tired to move, in the other I just don’t have the time to shower …

  7. Hi Carly,

    Many people have been there. Depression is a debilitating illness and right now you’re feeling debilitated. It does suck. It’s not ridiculous.

    Hopefully, you can very slowly, one millimeter at a time, approach some kind of activity outside of bed. Showering might be too big a goal, but little, tiny, baby steps and little, tiny, baby goals are something all of us can achieve.

    It’s unfortunate that the people around you don’t get it, but many of us out here do. And we’re with your baby steps. And we celebrate your baby goals.

    Drop by and comment any time. I hope something here helps.

    – Natasha

  8. Hi MMC,

    Yes, I don’t suppose a lot of thought is put into the question. Seems trivial to many. But clearly it isn’t with the response of these comments.

    I think it’s about insight. I have this idea that if we can understand the pattern we have more control over it. It’s not magic, but I like to think that looking inwards helps.

    Sometimes we trip (I can possibly influence) that light bulb moment where things make sense. And I think that’s empowering for everyone.

    – Natasha

  9. Hi Janae,

    “Sigh. Why is something so small so hard?”

    That is a big question. I’ve asked myself that many times.

    But as I suppose time is relative, so is “something small.” When we think of things we find hard as “small” we’re really devaluing what it takes for an individual to accomplish them. We’re kind of beating ourselves up about it.

    It’s hard. But it’s not small. It just depends on who you are.

    – Natasha

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