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 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.
Tracy, N. (2011, March 7). Why Don’t We Want to Shower When We're Sick?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, March 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/03/why-dont-we-want-to-shower-when-were-sick
Author: Natasha Tracy
When I become depressed I get totally apathetic, body included. Body sensations cease to exist. Taking a shower can be painful then, because I can't feel any pleasure either from the warm water washing on my body nor from smelling a scented bath-foam. The only smell I feel all along is of something rotten or stale; I can smell it on my hands, on my arms, in my room, even outside in the streets, but the truth is that that smell lies deep in my nose up to my brain. Shower is a real torture without a body, constantly reminding you you've lost everything, smell, taste, touch and even sight 'cause sight changes also. Damn melancholia! I know I have to shower today, sooner or later, no escape.
I have anorexia nervosa and have recently gained weight. It makes me disgusted when I shower and no longer feel all the bones. This is intolerable to me, a torture. What's worse is that people who love me applaud this horrible weight gain. They don't understand that gaining weight does not mean recovery. It makes me feel entirely alone in this world. I never bother to go out anymore, so why shower? I've lost almost all of my friends because of this disorder, and the ones that stick around are very careful to keep a few steps away from me, and no, it's not because I smell, either.
"I don’t want to shower because I hate my body, my existence". When I saw those words I almost cried with relief. My body is wracked with pain (from chronic Psoriatic Arthropathy) and I live with depression/anxiety. I get care worker visits three times a day, prompting me to eat, shower, get out of bed, take meds, etc.
One elderly care worker suggested I have a good old-fashioned bath instead (I live in an unrenovated Victorian house!) I tried it today and immersing my body in the water felt so much gentler than being hit by shards of water from the shower head.
Many thanks for your article, Natasha, which explains much about how I feel frequently but have never been able to put into words.
I find showers, especially now, when I am so sick, to be an extreme form of sensory overload...does that make sense? It is kind of how you were saying the water is painful, it really really is. I'm glad others understand finally.
Why Shower when you feel like you have nothing to live for? Why shower when you know you won't see anyone? Why shower when no one cares about you? I shower when I have dr's appts, usually. That is my life. I am very sick and have no family or friends by my side. So, why bother? Just hoping it will all go away soon.
I go to an OCPD site (which my bf has) and it had this site on it. Saw the not showering article and had to read. I have felt this way for quite awhile. And I always thought..hmmm..am I lazy? It does feel like sooo much work to me at times. I have depression. I can go days without. I do clean with a washcloth, which seems sooo much simpler. Feel like if people really knew they would look at me like I was a pig. People dont understand. I find it funny though...I can lay here in bed reading the internet forever, but a shower...is too much. I literally have to force myself. I hate feeling this way!
Not just this article but the comments have made me realise things about myself that I didn't before.
I thought the whole not-being-able-to-brush-my-teeth thing was just me and shameful. I don't have bipolar - I have borderline personality disorder (which is on the spectrum of bipolar) and I find I can now find a connection between the two- if I hit an up mood I'll find the energy to shower and the purpose to brush my teeth (unless I am on an extreme up and can't stay still at all) and when I hit a low or a lot of lows (which is quite often) I just forego it all for many reasons you listed above and more. Thank you for writing this article- I feel so much less alone!!!
Such has been my existence over the past 8 months or so. I can relate.. I have also been lax about brushing my teeth. It just seems like it takes too much energy and exposes me somehow. Good Grief...such struggles seem to multiply. I do well for a while, then I over do... and relapse. How do I keep progressing and know how much I can expect from myself? I am trying to run my own business. It almost feels like I am going to have to apply for disability in the not so distant future. :( How sad and scary. I mean... Showering and brushing our teeth is one of the basic basics, right? And if I dont have the energy and/or strength to do that, then what??? :::sigh::: Not really asking for answers, here... just realizing that I have the questions, really.
To the last three commenters -
No, you're not alone and you're not freaks. Thanks for your comments.
I really can't put into words how this article has just made me feel... I have never been able to explain this issue to my family or friends. They think I am lazy or gross, but really, I'm just having a hard time being there. I always thought I was just a freak. I will be emailing this. Thank you so much.
When I fall into depression, my hygeine goes out the window. Several years ago I literally stayed in bed for 5 weeks, only getting up to go to the bathroom. One night while laying in the bed staring at the wall I became aware of a terrible odor. It took me about 5 minutes to realize it was me that was smelling so bad. That prompted me to get in the shower.
Once again I have been in a depression and it has been a struggle to shower. When I do get in the shower I struggle to even wash my hair. I just want to get in and get out and crawl back in the bed.
So glad to know that so many others share my "secret".
I thought I was the only one. It is such a relief to know I'm not alone. Thank you for this.
I've often wondered why I hesitate to shower each night, but I do. Now I know why. I thought it was just the unending effort and lack of energy and well, it is, sort of. But you are right that it makes me realize how out of touch I am with the 'real' world and somehow serves to allow me to feel exposed to the 'real' world at the same time. Like the "real' world knows all my secrets and won't like me. It's not true though, you know? It's ok to shower each night. It's just water.
Well now...obviously I need to hear more from other people with bipolar because I had no idea how common my resistance to showering really is! I thought it was my little ugly secret. I tell my partner I don't shower every day because it dries out my skin too much. I'm self-conscious about the not showering but I still have a hard time getting it done most of the time.
A lot of the time it's because it seems like a monumental task. First the shower and then the process of moisturizing head to toe because of my dry skin, then the long time it takes to dry my thick hair. Afterwards I feel like I need to go back to bed.
But there's more to it. My depression makes me feel very disconnected from life, disassociated from what's going on around me, and like Natasha said, the feel of the water on my skin is so physically strong and 'real' it serves to make me upsettingly aware of how out of touch I am and deepens my sense of disconnection. I don't know if I expressed that well. What I mean to say is that it deepens my sense that I'm here physically, but detached from the 'real' world, on the outside looking in.
When I'm numb emotionally I prefer to ignore my physical self as well. It is a sad thing to me to have Life but to be without ambition. Being physically aware only draws my focus to my lack of desire, and that seems to deepen my (temporary) despair.
Thank you for posting this topic. It helps to have a place to put these words. It makes me feel more human. Less despairing.
Tt seems to me sometimes that showering is just another thing I have to do. When I feel like that I do a wash in the basin. I never realized that others had issues with this too!
Wow thanks so much for this article on NOT showering. I so identify and was shocked but so glad to see an article about it. My problem i have with not showering is my questioning is it just me with my depression or am i just being lazy.....the other thing i have been doing also in the past couple years is not brushing my teeth...unless i have to go to an appointment or something official event...Brushing my teeth was always something i did EVERY day even if only once a day, and now i just keep praying i do not have any real problems from not looking after them:(!
Wow thanks for this article Natash
Although I have know this for YEARS about myself, it never dawned on me that my hubby does the same thing. He was diagnosed as being depressed he was never put on many medication.
Funny thing is I just gave my dog a hair cut and still havn't showered in 4 days.
Thank you! I'm sharing this with my support group! F.A.M.E. (family association for mental health everywhere)
What a great post! The topic is one I've discussed and become aware of in regard to being a sign of the onset of depression. I loved the many comments too, all so varied. Who'd have thunk something as simple as a shower would strike such a chord, but that it did!
of course.... showering is such a drag. Finally found an article that feels the way I do about showering. :)
Hey, if you're motivated to shower then I say good for you. I think sitting around grubby would easily make a person feel worse so I understand, but it's just getting yourself to actually do the showing bit that seems tricky.
By the way, dry shampoo and baby wipes are great tips. Thanks :)
I'm glad we could make you feel less crazy. That's what we're here for, to remind you, you're not alone.
I am completely opposite....always have been. I suffer with bipolar type II and while the mania is long gone from meds depression still knocks me on my ass.
If I don't bathe I feel WORSE. I cant stand the feeling. The hair washing....that can be pushed to twice a week...thank god for dry shampoo. It's all I can do to figure out how to get in and out of the bath sometimes; lather some soap on.
I might suggest people push themselves....or, buy some 'baby wipes'. Soap in a package. Bath in bed? better then nothing!
Oh my gosh. Reading this (and the comments) I'm just in shock because while I've been depressed for many years and I've had my ups and downs, this is something I never talk about. It's embarrassing and even though I know I'm not the only one, hearing (or reading) the details from others who go through this actually makes me feel less crazy. Thank you ALL!
I avoid showering and bathing when I'm depressed. The shower is assaulting; the idea of water pelting seems painful, physically so. The idea of how cold I will be if I take my clothes off - and I'm usually freezing no matter how many clothes I wear - makes me shudder and avoid it. The bath is different. It feels too indulgent or just not clean enough. Scrub the tub first? Are you kidding? Too much work. I know I don't "need" a shower/bath each day, but I normally enjoy them. When I'm depressed, I have to force myself to take them.
I don't have a job, but I still try to shower on a daily basis. I hate feeling dirty. It is also very important for women to keep clean "down there" because your lady bits will smell bad...sorry if that's TMI.
Anyway, there are times when I simply don't have the energy to shower. I skipped my bath yesterday because I'm sick. I didn't tell my husband because he can be somewhat critical and he actually said I was "gross" because I occasionally skip showers. Sometimes he isn't always helpful or understanding.
My hygiene is generally very good, but if I have no plans to do anything or if I'm feeling more depressed than I normally do, I might skip one day.
I only wash my hair once a week because I'm African-American with very curly hair. It doesn't need to be washed on a daily basis.
Hannah, I too cut myself in the past (last one was over a year ago). I went too far and I have lasting noticeable box cutter scars on my both my arms that look very uh self-deliberate. My body is major reminder of how I was never normal growing up and how I will never experience some of the pleasant things that most people get to easily do on daily basis but take for granted. Head to toe with scars from surgeries and years of bad habits that abused my surface, I have completely sabotaged myself after working so hard on pulling myself up because I don't know if feeling normal or simply having the things I want will make me happy anyway. Like you I wear hats.... Its almost my signature and i happen to like them (fashionable newsies style hats/caps are my thing). In the beginning no one appeared to disapprove... But now people make fun of it.... How I should let my hair down but my hair is horribly thin and any compliments on it would sound like pity. This is really the only place online that I found that actually screamed at me that I'm not the only who does it. Only 30 and yet I feel like a bitter crazy old person.... Not woman but person... Don't feel like a woman or feel like anything really... If I were a man at least I don't think I would be so hung up on it all. Just don't think like I have much to look forward too... Don't want to be this way forever.... I want to be out there enjoying myself... BUT Enough said. I'm still happy that I can be heard and that I can listen to others who wish to be heard themselves.
I avoid showering when I'm depressed/anxious/mixed too. I completely understand the last point about it being painful..that's something that's really difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced the world itself being painful, so thanks for that!
I also avoid showering because the shower is where I cut myself. I don't want to have to stand there and be confronted head on with my scars. it's overwhelming and tempting. Seeing my scars, being warm, wet, closed into a small space, and in pain makes me crumple up into a ball on the floor of the tub and break down.
It's too much sometimes and I would rather wear a hat over my greasy hair and pile on the deodorant.
I appreciate this article so much! It's things like this that make me feel so alone and "crazy" that it's nice to know I'm not the only one! Its also nice to know people out there understand stupid things I experience like not being able to shower!
I have the same issue. Don't get me wrong I can't stand the idea of people knowing this and I should do something about before they find out and are repulsed by it. I can't stand to be dirty (visually and emotionally) and I certainly don't like to stink (I love perfumes). But it's almost like my issue with showering overpowers my loathing of being dirty and smelling the results of that dirtiness. I cant stand to see my naked body, especially most through a mirrors point of view. I know I lack patience. But like my love of perfumes, I don't want to appear filthy and unhygienic. I do suffer from major depression with a case of borderline personality disorder. I don't like waiting for my body and hair to dry. Having to risk seeing my naked body and then go through the hassle of putting clothes on (I'm a girl so putting on shorts will not suffice as appearing dressed... Bra, panties, top). Then I have to style my hair which I have major issue with because on top of having fine hair I also suffer from alopecia (hair loss disorder) and I have nervous condition that has me obsessing with plucking my eyebrows when I'm stressed and then I can't stand to feel the eyebrow stubble. So above drying off everything, I have to condition my hair to avoid the appearance of baldness and furthering damaging what hair I have left, I can't just blowdry or even towel-dry my hair. Then my eyebrows... Thankfully I have gotten good at drawing on realistic eyebrows but it's tedious thing and can't just be thrown on easily. Plus I frustrate easily over this and plus once again I can't avoid the mirror and it's just constant reminder of my flaws. I use to feel confident when I wore wigs because I have one of those faces that can really stand out and pop with elaborate hairstyle especially with bangs, something my fine and aloepecia-riddled hair just wont allow. But with wigs I worry that people will know that I'm wearing one and plus I know a few close people that don't necessarily condemn the use of the wig but they don't necessarily fully condone it either. Total self-made complex I have going on. I wouldn't wish what my brain does to me on anybody. I want to understand it better and prevent it from marring up my future as much as it has marred up my past and plagues my present.
I really appreciate your reply Natasha, thank you.
While I don't normally buckle in the shower, I can understand that urge. I would agree that sometimes the effort to stand seems like too much.
"Most everything I do is in an effort not to think."
Yeah. I understand that. I've been known to juggle my thoughts. All the things I don't want to think about get thrown up in the air over and over again in an attempt not to think about them.
Don't worry, your structure is fine. You're being real. Which I appreciate.
If you think you have a mental illness you absolutely should get help. You don't have to take medication if that's not what you want, but there are many forms of help out there for you to help you feel better. You don't have to deal with this alone.
See these resources: http://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referr…
I, too, struggle to get in the shower. I guess for many reasons people have listed. Anyone else find it hard to stay standing in the shower? The floor of the shower has always grossed me out but I can't help but just want to buckle under the effort, if that at all makes sense.
I usually shower when it's eaten at my brain enough for me to get in there, and usually it takes a long while for that to happen. Mostly I'm busy doing..nothing. Most everything I do is in an effort not to think.
When I'm in go-mode and thinking is the greatest and I want to -do- everything, I feel like showering is a waste of time and it can be done later at a more 'logical' time.
I usually wind up in the shower when I really want to feel clean hair.
Sorry none of this was structured very well. My thoughts aren't structured very well right now..
I'm fairly certain I have bi-polar but have never been diagnosed with the illness.
what about the possibility that not wanting to get wet has to do with hormonal shifts . . . I mean, some days I don't mind taking a shower, but certain days I would rather be a total greaseball rather than have water touch my skin!!
great insight....Sometimes just gotta have something to like a water prof t.v or phone to take care a call or two... he he
Thanks so much for your ideas. I'm going to pass them along via Twitter and Facebook.
For those of us who can't be bothered to shower when manic--try this:
Take a bath,not a shower--but use it to multi-task.
I have given myself a pedicure/manicure in the bath,read a book,listened to music,sketched,written poetry,done stretching exercises,talked on the phone (which most of the time I HATE to do)
all while sitting in the tub.
That way I don't feel like I'm "wasting" my time in there...
Just be careful shaving!!!
Either don't do it or FORCE yourself to do it at a normal "human" speed.
It can be so hard to make myself shower when I'm depressed;but of course,the irony is that when I look & smell better,I DO feel better.
But again--a bath seems to work better because I can just sit there.
A shower just requires too much energy.
Makeup can really lift your spirits when you're depressed;just don't be so hard on yourself--whatever you do,don't apply it in harsh bathroom lights!
Just sit on your bed in soft natural light & do it as a FAVOR to yourself.
I keep lotion,etc. by my bed;if I smell nice things,it cheers me up.
You know what else? I think posting stuff like this & giving each other coping tips is really great therapy.
Thank you for this blog!
You are where many people are or have been. You are not alone in that place.
" I pray for a miracle drug for bi-polar, because I just survive."
I know the feeling. I know it very well. Unfortunately, miracles aren't terribly common.
All I can tell you is to try to be open with your doctor and see if there is anything they can recommend. Or get a referral to a new doctor, perhaps more of a specialist, and see if they have any ideas.
Sometimes doctors don't understand how bad off a person is. Sometimes you have to make it extremely clear for them. And doctors are only human, sometimes they run out of ideas but someone else may have helped someone just like you.
" The future scares me and I’m afraid for my family."
I get that. I do. All you can do is the best you can do. Get and follow treatment. Get therapy. Get family therapy. Try to incorporate as many positive things into your life as possible. Try to change something. Try something small. Any good change is a step in the right direction.
Don't give up on yourself. There are more options, I promise you.
Hi, these stories are great. There's people like me. When I'm depressed I can verily do anything. All kinds of cleaning are out of the question. I can verily get up and eat. I have went from 175 lbs. to 215.bs. I feel fat and uglyl. Food has no taste, so I just keep eating. I know I need to eat better and exercise but it takes alot of energy to make myself do this. I got fired a couple of years ago, because when I'm manic I am mean and hateful to people. I don't like this about me. I like the energy but I have bad consequences with my mouth and my spending. I pray for a miracle drug for bi-polar, because I just survive. The future scares me and I'm afraid for my family.
Thanks for this post. I regularly have self-care issues (showering, toothbrushing, cleaning my living space, etc) and they usually coincide with a depressive cycle. For me it's a combination of things: apathy (when I'm depressed it takes a lot to make me give a damn about anything, especially regarding myself), exhaustion, anxiety, and an overall feeling of disorganization. I tend to get very scattered when I'm depressed; everything is overwhelming and it's too much to ask me to get out of the house on time, let alone get out of the house clean and put together (it's amazing that I haven't been fired from my job yet - I don't think I've been on time more than two or three instances for a few months). Every simple task takes an enormous amount of extra effort to do because I'm so disorganized - my short-term memory vanishes, motivation disappears, and maintaining linear, logical thought processes becomes a herculean task.
It's funny to me that you say showering decreases during hypomanic periods as well. When I'm swinging towards (hypo)mania I can't get enough of showering! I think it's got something to do with the fact that when I'm up, positive sensations are exaggerated and taking a shower is literally an intense experience. Plus I use it as an opportunity to practice my obviously Grammy-worthy singing. But I understand how showering does not fit into the hypomanic schedule of being awesome 110% of the time.
(Nothing like a super long ramble as my first comment on this blog! I guess I should also say hello, too: Hi!)
Well thank-you. I like to think it's reality and grit that draws people to the writing.
"... every little detail about why I am a disaster."
Yes, except you know you're not a disaster, right? Naked of otherwise. True, I don't know you, but I'm guessing you've got a couple of arms and legs in pretty much the same spots as everyone else. Nose. Mouth. See? Just like me. Just like Angelina Jolie. You're not a disaster any more than anyone else. (My guess is you knew that, but it's just a friendly reminder.)
"The one good thing about mr hyper-critical, he’s totally predictable. The better my life is going, the quieter his voice is."
Now, that sounds like a great idea. Good life. Quiet voice. Everybody's happy.
I like your style of writing. Trying to get through the posturing with words, so you can say the gut level reality about whatever topic you're on at the moment.
I avoid the shower when I am depressed certainly for the first two reasons you gave, but digging deeper it's because I feel vulnerable. There's this hyper-critical "me" that lives in my head. He's like someone watching a play [my life] just off stage and as far as I can conclude, his only purpose is to point out every little detail about why I am a disaster. So when I am naked, it's "fun time" for him because there is just so much material to work with for coming up with mean jabs. I'm already hurting so much, and not up to dealing with more.
The one good thing about mr hyper-critical, he's totally predictable. The better my life is going, the quieter his voice is.
I'm glad you found it insightful. We could all use a dose of that once in a while. :)
Hi Danielle, it's great to learn to recognize this in yourself. It's one of those concrete signals that can be easily tracked if you just think about it.
You should definitely be evaluated by a professional. You don't need to be suicidal to have a major depression. And possibly that is a good sign that you have a shorter ways to go to get healthy.
Talk to a professional and I strongly recommend getting counselling. There could be many reasons behind why you're experiencing this and a counselor can help you figure that out.
What you're experiencing is pretty common, I'm afraid. I'm really good about implementing my own structure (I've talked about it here a number of times) as I work from home, but it certainly isn't a piece of cake. And scheduling showers, well that's beyond even my organization.
One suggestion I've heard is to volunteer. It doesn't require any money, you'll meet people and possibly feel better about yourself, knowing how much you can give to others.
Check these people out: http://patientcorps.org/
They specialize in just that.
Yes, not eating is common and is often a point of control. I do it too. I don't really like to emphasize it though because it can encourage eating disorder which are extremely dangerous.
I'm glad you're pondering though. That's what I'm here for.
Yes, I suppose it could be a symptom. Any every-type-self-care activity is usually lost to illness. It's interesting how many people have responded to this one though, it seems almost universal.
I get that being wet makes it easier to wipe the tears away, but that might not be the best aspect to focus on.
Honestly? I write when I'm in the shower. In my head, naturally, but I find picking a subject can keep my mind focused long enough (usually) to shower.
Yeah, I avoid the shower when I'm in a depressive too. For me it's a combination - self-hate (I'm heavy), energy (dear god, I pulled myself out of the bed and I need to shower too? Not gonna happen, I'd rather eat. Wait, it all tastes like cardboard right now... no, still not gonna shower), and priorities... showering feels good when I'm getting depressed, but once I'm there? it's not going to help. I need to spend my energy on the things that will help, if I'm even capable of recognizing them once the depression has hit and I've sunk.
The matter of personal hygiene to sick people is problematic, but when is the question to mentally ill individual the issue become more stressful. As for mood disorders I can say that the maintenance of personal hygiene is concentrate right two extreme direction: total negligence in depressive state to over shower in manic episode of illness. The individual variance of that habit determinate the concrete manner of proceeding of sick person. However, I agree with your four elementary reasons Ms. Tracy, which exerted to avoid regular showing of affective sick person. In any case, it is possible to be delusive ideas, that constrain the sickly person to avoid, eventually, perilous shower. The last ones are very concealed and should be considered seriously in stubborn cases.