Why Don’t We Want to Shower When We're Sick?
Monday, March 7 2011 Natasha Tracy
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 showering.
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 body -- my 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?
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.