Mental Health Blogs

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.

CSP031

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.

This entry was posted in Being Crazy, Coping, Depression, How Others See Bipolar, Hypomania, Impact of Bipolar, Understanding Mental Illness and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Rhonda says:

    R u kidding me. U people r telling my life story. Its as though you are spying on me. In addition I am getting older losing what little looks I had. What’s the point knowing I have no where to go and if I did know one would find me attractive anyway. Doing nothing for such a long time has made it hard to do anything. It hurts! Lifting my hands to wash my hair made my hands tingle. Drying my hair was even harder. It felt like a waste of clean cloths to get dressed. Just added to the laundry. What a cycle. I have since started studying the bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses at my house and is worth the effort to get cleaned up for the time they share with me teaching me about the bible. It is still very hard. I spend a lot of time crying when they r here. I am thankful for their fellowship at my house. They don’t judge me. At times they even cry with me.They recognize my bipolar as real and r sincere in wanting to help me. I am new on this sight and am happy to have found it thanks to all of you.

  2. Sabina says:

    Dear Natasha
    I have experienced some elements of this. A shower kind of wakes you up to the world, and that’s exactly what you want to hide from. Your ability to express and explain things totally fascinates me. I am an abstract thinker and find it difficult to put the things I know into words. I often read things and think: ‘That’s exactly what I want to say’. Love this and will follow you.

  3. rachel says:

    I have this right now and don’t really understand why,when well I can maintain a good hygiene routine.
    I had not thought about it being a painful experience but as I read a light went on , so thank you yet again

  4. strugglingme says:

    can totally relate! im often too tired to deal with everything that comes with taking a shower. and its cold when i take my clothes off no matter if i have a space heater in there with me or not. i cant ever get the temperture right so im always either being attacked by freezing or scalding water…or so it seems to me. i love being clean and smelling good. but alot is to be said for some soap and a wet washcloth.

  5. judy says:

    I can definitely relate to the first half. When showering ceases, it is usually associated with a deepening depression. Everything is just sooo exhausting. My limbs feel like lead.

  6. Jan says:

    When depressed, the shower feels like thousands of needles trying to penetrate my skin. The act of washing my hair and body, then drying them and then having to blow-dry my hair is absolutely exhausting. The whole process takes 35 minutes when well. Can you imagine how awfully long and exhausting the process is when moving your body feels like you are drowning in a pool of clay?

  7. Maxcine says:

    FINALLY! you put it into words for me! Thank you I love your blog it helps so much to understand what I have been dealing with for over thirty years.

  8. j says:

    showers/having wet skin make me feel utterly disgusting. i also have had bad joints since my teen years, so any use of my legs is super-painful. drying off– *really* feeling dry– can’t happen quickly enough, which leads to irritability or outright explosions, me storming out of the shower every night, grumbling, “why do we effin have to shower?! i effin HATE showers; i feel so gross!”, etc. when i’m feeling my worst, it doesn’t occur to me to shower, either– unless i plan to have sex. knowing that i’m dirty only makes me feel worse about myself, but there is just no reasoning with my brain. it’s on self-destruct mode, and there’s no “off” switch. :(

  9. bfoofoo says:

    Because I have nowhere to go

    I guess I tend to shower/do my hair/makeup if I’m going somewhere. What’s the point of showering if I’m going to spend the day in bed with my laptop?

    Showering/hair/makeup is also called getting ready. It’s kind of hard to “get ready” when you don’t have anything to do. I do wash my face/brush my teeth though.

    Here’s hoping tomorrow is better. I do plan to take a shower at some point.

  10. Diane Osgood says:

    I left my husband while manic and it ended in divorce. I moved to another town to distance myself from my old life. My family pretty much disowned me and I lost any kind of support system I had. My family doesn’t understand bipolar or how it affects my life, as if anyone would choose to live like I do. Once the manic phase wore off, I went into a deep depression that lasted for years. I tried many therapists and psych doctors. I was misdiagnosed for years. I didn’t shower because I had no where to go other than doctors appts., drugstore or for food. I thought if I didn’t have to leave the house there was no sense in showering. I was almost an automatic daily thought. A very small part of my brain told me not to give up and I finally found the right doctor and therapist. I’m doing well on my current meds, but have been unable to try to reach out to old friends or make new friends to create a support system. I also have a multitude of physical problems which makes it harder to function. I live in a rural area which makes it even harder to make new friends or create a support system. My daughter and my son have stood by me in the toughest of times, but they work and have families of their own. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to vent. I love your blog.

  11. judy says:

    Diane – so sorry to hear of your experience. It is all too familiar. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to understand if they haven’t gone through it themselves. It is exhausting.

    I wish you well.

  12. Legina says:

    I had been experiencing this for years. Then I was diagnosed bipolar. Since the diagnosis, I still find this crazy, but I find myself still doing it. I remember in a therapy session mentioning it to my therapist and she was like that was new information to her. She had never heard of that before. I’m thinking, ok I know I am not the ONLY one, but I didn’t what to ask or who to ask. Now, I share this information wherever I can. Hopefully, the ones with the advance college degrees will learn a thing or to.

  13. Pauline says:

    I used to love showers. Now, it takes real effort to do so, especially when I’m in a depression or manic episode. I feel sick most of the time. I force myself to take a shower every 2-3 days, even when my hair is stringy after one day. I’d rather stay in bed, but I work part time and have to get dressed. My fiance is my lifeline. I have no family except for my daughter, who is 1200 miles away and has her own family to deal with. Today I’m in a depressed state, and can’t think of anything, let alone a shower. I am bipolar 1.

  14. Jay says:

    Diane, Thanks for posting your experience. I’m going through that same experience with me wife, who was a friend from many years ago before we married recently. Didn’t realize her depression was going to be forever, and would happen with me. Tried to get help for her using methods and advice from the behavioral health medical system, and she got mad and ran away. She is doing just what you have done, and I continue to reach out to her, ask her to come home, remind her I love her.

    Bfoofoo…. reading your post is just what I’ve seen and heard from my wife too. The frustrating thing is that as informed loved ones, we want to help, and we recognize there are a variety of reactions out there, and its an informational “mine field” when as a spouse or family member we try to get professional guidance to help our loved one.

  15. sandracobban says:

    Right on again,Natasha.
    When manic it’s such a BIG deal!takes like
    An eternity.
    Yes I experience almost feelings like shards of glass fr the water.

    Plus,depressed I’m just too tired to even go to the bathroom let alone….
    Takes all your energy,doesn’t seem important.
    Plus hate my body now after the gain from the meds…

    Ironically,I loathe showers only take them in hospital.
    Baths I just love…soak for ages lots of herbal bubbles…but depressed don’t bathe,but the OCD makes me not wait too long …besides it helps my pain & meds for it work faster.
    I believe hot baths help prolong relaxation particularly herbal,my fave is chamomile.
    Very lovely/ gentle on skin….it’s a coping mechanism for me…
    I almost always achieve some relaxation from a bath.
    Right now feel sleepy,recently emerged from the tub.
    I don’t push it when depressed.
    I know I will come around in few days,usually…….as I always feel better so continuously
    tell myself that.

  16. arae says:

    As I sit here I know it is time to shower but just can not seem to get motivated enough to do so….EVERYTHING that I have read here is so me. I do not want to shower! It is so overwhelming.. My husband works so hard everyday and I cannot seem to do the smallest of task.. “sigh” My therapist has given me a to do list to get motivated and I am to get up, take a shower, fix my hair and face and go some where to walk for about 30 min a day to get a routine going…yeah right! Have not started this as of yet.. My husband gets mad. I cant say I don’t blame him I mean what the heck! I am bipolar and SICK OF IT!

  17. phenomenal thoughts says:

    In my case,I’m a empath (if it makes you feel better to just plainly refer to me as a empathetic person you may,I know the truth along with my friends and loved ones) I live with a person with narcissistic personality disorder,every single day for the last 4 years he’s told me how I’m not good enough,and how everything I do is wrong,I know I need to leave asap but lets just say(with out getting to personal that I can’t leave)it’s done something messed up to me,I began not being able to find it in me to shower,without over exaggerating,in the last year,I’ve showered maybe 15-20 times,I don’t know if its because I hate my self or because its been embedded in my head that I’m worthless,I just don’t know

  18. Olivia Herman says:

    Hi Natasha, first time reading your blog I got here by Binging Bi-polar and intelligence. I found your blog I read that blog and happened to see the other subjects like not taking a shower. Well I read that blog and said to myself omg thats me! I have Bi-polar disorder. Notice I didn’t say AM Bi-polar. I find that just reinforces your attitude that you are a sick puppy. I have problems taking a shower, after reading your blog I know why. It is painful for 1, I don’t have the energy 2 I dont care 3. If I don’t have to go anywhere or if I know no one will be coming over, I say later then 3 days go by then later its been a week. Usually something comes and I have to get in there. What makes me mad is I should have gotten in there along time ago.
    I had Major Back Surgery a year ago. I have Fibromyalgia, Arthrtis, in other words Chronic Pain. If I lay in bed I have racing thoughts about what I want to get done. I feel guilty and beat myself up self-loathing comes to mind. I am Mentally and Physically exhausted. I am under Psych care take my meds which make me fat, and have annoying side effects, always wanting to give me a pill for the other pill I’m taking.I feel like I’m drowning and space is closing in on me, and someone wants me to get in a tiny shower and just get it done. Easier said than done. I am so glad I found this place. Thanks Natasha and all who find this place.

  19. Deborah Polard says:

    The title of this blog caught my attention because I’ve experienced so many of the symptoms that others have to cope with too. It is exhausting!

    When I’m in a depressive phase, the thought of showering is so distasteful that I have gone a week or two without one. My body becomes dirty and more than a little smelly. I try to combat that with sponge baths. My face comes first. Then I care for the more personal parts of my body. Afterward, I apply a strong deodorant, spritz myself with a favored fragrance and attempt to find clean underwear. (Having clean clothes is a bonus!) Thankfully, I’ve discovered a decent dry shampoo.

    Sounds like a lot of work, no? To me it is better than removing all my clothes and exposing my hideously naked and vulnerable body to the frigid air. It’s better than going through the hair washes, the conditioning, the styling etc., and then standing sopping wet and freezing to death on my cruddy bathroom floor. The long length mirror screams at me and reinforces my BDD.

    Yes, a fresh shower can ultimately make you feel better. It’s the choice that makes sense. No excuse! I’ve got loads of towels and a blue terry bathrobe.

    If I’m going to church that day, I’ll reason with myself and drag myself into the shower. If not, I’ll skip another day. As long as I don’t repel others or make them gag, the world needs to accept me as I am! (BPII depression, BDD, OCD, borderline PD)

    But on a good day, I can become indestructible!!!

  20. judy hall says:

    I can’t tell you how glad I am to see this post. I a terrible time showering, shampooing my hair or any sort of personal grooming most of the time. Teeth brushing and flossing are the only things I do and I have developed an OCD issue with that. I’ve always thought I must be a real “slug” because I didn’t pay attention to my self-care. I believe I’m in a “who cares?” mode a lot of the time and other times feel like I just don’t have the energy. I hate this behavior and myself for engaging in it, but it seems that no amount of desire, planning or self-contempt can change my ability or thought about this. Thank you my friends, for allowing me to find that I am NOT the only one who battles with this.

  21. Cary says:

    I have difficulty with caring for myself as well. When I go into a severe depression -which I am in right now- I have little desire to live or do anything at all. After getting on Abilify I gained 60 pounds in a year. So I have two reasons why I find myself too paralyzed to shower: I hate seeing and touching my body and I get so depressed I can’t get out of bed.

    -Bipolar II and former anorexic

  22. Robyn says:

    I have the same issue when I’m moderately to severely depressed. It just seems like too much to do when my brain is already completely overloaded and overwhelmed.

  23. Danny says:

    Fabulous! I tweeted it to #mhsm #mentalhealth … A while ago now, I reported to my partner that “showering is painful” and that “water stings,” but I had no basis for believing it had anything to do with bipolar disorder… Of course it does! Thank you for explaining that to me!

  24. Holirock says:

    My son is 22 and can go months without showering or changing his clothes. Needless to say his order becomes hard to tolerate and it gets to the point I have to insist he wash up and change his clothes. I am wondering if there is a more effective way to encourage at least minimal hygiene?

  25. Bron says:

    Omg im a little worried now about this not showering thing. I have been like this for many yrs where I only shower when I have to leave the house mostly which tends to be about 3 times a week. Im seeing a lot of my patterns in my children though 3 of my 4 children hate to shower or wash but 1 of them dont mind having a bath. Im worried this is a trait of bipolar disorder in my children to. I also do a DBT course where a lot of people with mental illness have shared they hate to shower to. Seems to be a very common pattern I am seeing. Its very sad that we think we dont have to bother having a shower or even that we are not worth the worry about looking or smelling nice.

  26. Katy says:

    I am relieved to see this topic. I thought this was just me, and have feared telling anyone. There is no one to tell, anyway. Sometimes I’m so totally immobilized that I cannot summon the energy to do anything relating to personal care. Also I have severe arthritis, which makes it painful to do most anything. I live alone, I have a dog who is my family, I take good care of her. Other than her I have no one. So why bother doing anything for myself. I just don’t care.

  27. Kathy says:

    I thought I was the only one! Strangely, sometimes it’s easier to take a bath – seems like I can hide under the water.

  28. Beth says:

    I just saw this article, I feel so ashamed to say I only shower 1 or 2 times a week bur I do wash off a bit for work. I don’t know why, because after I shower I feel regenerated. I just don’t have the drive, energy, or that certain something that makes me get up my rear and do things. I get overwhelmed with all my problems in life and what I should be doing but am not. I guess I think I don’t deserve to be better, have better, or do better, As a child I was sexually abused by a Aunts husband, and things I remember him saying are, don tell people won’t believe you and they will say you are a dirty girl! I also resented when people said my hair was dirty blonde…..I am sensitive as a child, but now the wall I have built up keeps every one out, even those I love. I struggle to do things with family and friends!!! Who I truly love. My husband at the time had the nerve to ask the doctor when I will get over this problem, now he is my X.

  29. Candice Graham says:

    “Candy says I’ve come to hate my body
    and all that it requires in this world
    Candy says I’d like to know completely
    what others so discretely talk about.

    Candy says I hate the quiet places
    that cause the smallest taste of what will be
    Candy says I hate the big decisions
    that cause endless revisions in my mind

    I’m gonna watch the blue birds fly over my shoulder
    I’m gonna watch them pass me by
    Maybe when I’m older
    What do you think I’d see
    If I could walk away from me”

    “Candy says – The Velvet Underground

  30. kristen76 says:

    I thought I was also the only one. It’s frustrating. I get so much anxiety when it actually is time for me to shower. I feel so alone with this disease.

  31. Doctor Love says:

    Thank you. Im glad you can speak this for many of us that cant describe this plight. The water feeling like needles, the disgust with our body, the feeling that its pointless ate things I can completely relate to. But I have to say the biggest problem with showering is the “straw that broke the camels back” routine. It is thay EVERYTHING is too much. Jusy knowing I must refill the hummingbird feeder can ovetwhelm me. I bought a wig to throw on if my hair looks bad, I bought fine tipped permanent markers to use for lipstick and eyeliner because I dont want yo worry about anything. I believe Im having a nervous breakdown.

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