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

Self-care, like showering, is difficult for people with a mental illness. Why don't the mentally ill want to do something that feels good like showering?

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?

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

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

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

  1. It’s nice to know ow I’m not the only one, I had a feeling, but until you see other people discuss it. You feel alone. As I write this, I am avoiding the shower myself. Life hasn’t been too hard on me, but I’ve got clinical depression and I wouldn’t doubt if I have bipolar issues to boot. Showering is such a process that when I’m sad, or feeling low, its the last thing on my mind. Not the cleansing part, but what comes after. Needing to dress, wet hair (I’ve got loots of hair), being cold. There is just more effort into showering then I’d like to give. Whereas on happy days, I’ll waltz upstairs to the shower and hoping like it’s nobody’s business and get dressed.
    It’s nice to know there isn’t necessarily an underlying issue, but mostly those hurdles we put in our life.

  2. I have schizoaffective disorder with major depression and more often than not, it just doesn’t occur to me to shower. It’s not even a conscious decision to not shower, it just doesn’t cross my mind that I should. And then, of course, there are times when life is just too much. I just want to lay in bed and imagine oblivion and it takes so much energy just to get sit up that I’m left with a decision; play with my niece and nephews, or shower… showering isn’t even really on the table anymore unless I’m having a good day, which only happens roughly every two weeks. Thank you so much for this post. It’s nice to know that I’m not completely alone in this and that maybe this isn’t one of the things that contributes to my being an awful person. Thank you!

  3. Thanks so much for your blog on this subject, you put into words what I’ve been feeling for years now and didn’t know how to express the feelings

  4. I thought that not showering, shaving, brushing my teeth, not changing my clothes Was only me. I don’t crave sensations. When hypomania it’s just the opposite!

  5. I’m so glad I found this post it made me feel not so alone , and weird…For the past 2 or 3 years on and off I generally only shower once a week twice if I’m feeling good and using baby wipes and deodorants and body sprays to stay decent smelling, and only brushing my teeth every 2-3 days (which has caused very bad decay/ breaking in half even )I feel like a terrible disgusting person for it all the time . Most of the time I just completely space on it. And when I do remember I usually dread these “normal” activities. I was diagnosed with bipolar depression with manic episodes, anxiety, and a.d.d when I was 14 I’m almost 22 now and life has always seemed like a burden. I try really hard but I tend to jump job to job during my really bad episodes every 4-9 months…. Especially higher stress jobs I last less time employed. It’s really been getting bad lately. I honestly didn’t know my mental health was causing this I always criticize myself thinking Im just lazy and gross.

  6. Hey Moses, I guess you don’t get the whole point of this page, nor do you want to understand what its about. Depression, and many other mental illnesses are debilitating in many ways. One of which may be person hygiene. It is definitely not about self-pity. You, are indeed ignorant and should be thankful that showers are no big deal.

  7. I stopped bathing regularly on 9/11. It wasn’t because I was horrified about it, I had recently been diagnosed with BP2 and had just gotten a decent medication regimen. It started with me not brushing my teeth regularly. Then I went to showing every 3-4 days just because I was married. My marriage (2nd) was horrible. My husband was mentally, emotionally and verbally abusive to my children and I wanted out, but thought I couldn’t afford it. After my 1st husband told me my kids were terrified of my husband I moved out (trial separation). It took about a month for him to want a divorce. I found out he had already replaced me within a few weeks. I ended up having a mid level mental breakdown after something bad happened and checked myself into a facility for 6 days. I think I showered once while I was there. After that, the showers decreased and now in 2017 I’ve gone months without bathing. I put it off and tell myself I’ll do it later. I occasionally use baby wipes for the important parts. I cover my hair with caps on if I have to go out in public. My next door neighbor’s son (he was around 7 at the time) asked if I bathed every day. Obviously, he overheard his parents talking about it. I avoided it by saying, “If I didn’t shower everyday I would smell bad”. Now, I’m friends with his mother and I think she just doesn’t mention it because she knows I’m mentally out of whack. Who knows, maybe she thinks if she says something I’ll flip out? I RARELY go out. I had a big kidney stone and had to be hospitalized to have it broken into pieces. On the day the stent was inserted I must have smelled really, really bad. When the stent shifted and I had to have it re positioned a nurse came in and gave me bathing supplies. I was mortified and made sure I bathed before the next procedure. As of today, I bathed about 2 months ago. I read about exfoliating my scalp to get the built up dirt out of it. I read about a skin exfoliation of baking soda, cinnamon and coconut oil. So, at least when I do shower I’m getting most of the dirt off. When I used to interact with more neighbors, one of them said I wasn’t washing my face and that’s why it was peeling. I made a point of washing it, then going over to show that it was still peeling. (Of course, it was because there was at least another layer of dirt that I hadn’t gotten off). Diabetes 2 gave me a systemic fungal infection and I’ve had thrust for 10 years that I can’t get rid of and I break out with yeast bumps. I notice my skin shedding white pieces and just scratch them off. I scratch the scaly stuff off of my scalp regularly, then get irritated when it seems to come back 24 hours later. So, I’m now mostly isolated and just don’t care. I don’t want to be bothered by the normal expectations of other people, so I avoid all but two of them. It’s weird and I’m SO glad I found this post.

  8. I always shower when I’m sick. I even showered the day after major surgery. I feel that I’m moving toward better health when I do. People who don’t, frankly, seem to be self-pitying. Unless you are an invalid, take a shower.

  9. I am so glad this subject is included in the discussion. I think I once brought it up to a therapist, very reluctantly, to find out if my aversion to hygiene was to be expected and he/she totally ignored my comment, which made me feel even worse about it. Of course, my negative, depressed brain reminds me constantly that it’s b/c I’m lazy and I’m a disgusting person. And in that state of mind, what is the point of doing it? I don’t plan on getting close to anyone. I don’t leave my house unless I absolutely have to. Who is going to know or care?
    But analyzing it from a more positive state…..(funny how we always have two opposing opinions to every subject)……It’s the effort part, for me. The dread of it makes me procrastinate, and the more I procrastinate, the greater the dread. One of those vicious circles. When I’m normal, hypo or manic, I can enjoy it. Or at least feel accomplished afterwards. But when depressed, take a shower may as well mean climb a mountain. It’s just that monumental of a task. And when I do finally struggle through the whole ordeal and it’s over, I don’t feel any better. I’m still a dirty person in my mind and there’s a total lack of pride over the accomplishment (which you talk about in another very well written blog here).
    Anyway, I’m feeling quite normal and clean at this moment as my hair is still wet from my luxurious bath. You caught me on a good day/week. Thanks so much for the article. It makes me feel much more normal in my abnormal brain.

  10. 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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