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 2019, October 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/03/why-dont-we-want-to-shower-when-were-sick
Author: Natasha Tracy
It's nice to know there isn't necessarily an underlying issue, but mostly those hurdles we put in our life.
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.
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!
Getting a day job has helped - I know if I don't shave and change my clothing people will talk. They probably do. Gotta do better on it.
Showering. I hate the water on my skin. I don't know why. I hate seeing myself naked and the sum total of who I am. For me showering has become like taking my medication, it is something I resent having to do. And I don't really understand why. OCD and showering, it doesn't make sense. But if the energy is not there, then it's easier to shut your eyes and ignore everything than deal with it, and most days shutting your eyes is the only way of surviving.
Not wanting to bathe is typical for those of us with mental illness. No one can say exactly why, but it is. I have gone from seldom bathing to bathing almost (gasp) every day. It took time to get to this point, but that is not something to worry about doing yet. These steps helped me, maybe you will find them or your own varient of them to help you. Please excuse spelling errors. 1) wash a very small load of clothes and a towel. SMALL load only. 2) fold a shirt, bottoms, underwear, socks and a towel and stack them together. 3) put the stack in the bathroom. Every time you use the toilet, gaze at them and imagine how good they will feel on your warm, clean body. Tell yourself, 15min is all it would take to shower. 4) you may need to repeat step 3 for a few days. Imagine a clean, warm body in only 15 min time. 5) the next time you use the toilet, "ambush" yourself and strip down. Hey, you're half undressed all ready, right!? 6) turn on shower to comfortable warm, hop (or wobble) in and quickly wash your hair, under arms, and important parts. Do it in 15 min. time, you don't want to lie to yourself next time. 7) while you are washing, think about how good it feels. Okay, you can lie to yourself about that one. 8) finish, dry, and feel proud of yourself. 9) you need to get dressed eventually, go ahead and do that. Unless you want to brush your hair and teeth butt naked first. 10) go get some rest now. You did it!!
Make a goal to do this every other week, preferably on the same day if you can. Don't make it hard, keep it simple. In, out, and done. As you get used to feeling wonderfully clean and proud of yourself for doing it, you will soon find yourself motivated to add a day, then two. You will begin to FEEL the difference of clean vs icky. But before you get there, just keep doing it. One step at a time, one day at a time
I can relate to everybody. I haven't washed my hair in 4 months. I haven't showered in about 3 months. Sometimes I think I don't want to water to hit my skin either because I'm feeling hypersensitive and start crying. I don't want to cry. I cry in the mornings, because I have morning anxiety. I clean my feet sometimes, but I don't even want to do that. I have to force myself to clean any part of my body. When I think of the shower and how long it will take to clean myself, I think it's going to take too long so I don't take a shower. I feel dirty about myself, so when I don't take a shower I show the world how I am really feeling on the inside. I guess I am crying out for help in a visible way, hoping someone will hear me. I don't feel so alone now that I have read this blog. Somehow, I think I am hiding by not taking a shower. If I take a shower, that means I will have to face the world and start doing "normal" things and "live". If I take a shower, I'm a "hypocrite" because, I think why are you taking a shower? You're dirty. This is how I feel, dirty.
I'm going to borrow some of your words to express myself.
I do feel lucky that I can talk myself into it 99% of the time since it's so hot and humid here, and I do need to shower to make my tiny office tolerable to both myself and my office mate (and he's a guy, which makes it even more awkward). I recognize that there are some folks who simply do not win that internal battle or have given up waging one at all.
Anyhow, I hadn't seen you guys talk about spacing out in the shower, so I wanted to add that. Now to face the shower and leap into bed.
I have a part time job because it forces me to go out. I actually love the job. But I spend half of my week dreading going out to work. The dread starts as soon as I finish my last shift of the week.
I've also always had a problem with being late. Reading all these comments convinces me that I'm late because I put off getting ready until the last possible time. And then it's really <em>later</em> than the last possible minute, and then I'm late.
I'm so very glad I found you guys!!
Then I got on the right cocktail of meds and some CBT under my belt and gradually my life started to improve but I had to constantly push myself to get better. Incrementally it does get better (3 steps forward and 2 steps back) if you just hang in there and don't give up.
I still have a ways to go but things are alot better than they used to be. I have a schedule now that I try to adhere to and I try my best to eat right and get a little exercise
When you are home, you don't need to shower, but to go out in public you do. so if I don't shower I have an excuse to not go anywhere. And when I do have to go somewhere (dr, bank, grocery shopping, work) I wait until the very last minute before I should leave. Then I feel like such a looser because I knew I had to go but put if off. I run like a, pardon the work, crazy person and have to apologize for being late.