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Taking a Daily Shower Uses Too Many 'Spoons' When You Have Bipolar Disorder


It is fairly widely known that people with bipolar disorder and depression can have trouble taking a daily shower. It’s not that we don’t know what’s involved in taking a shower or why it would be good for us to do so. It’s just that showering uses up a tremendous number of spoons.

Here’s what showering looks like according to Andrew Solomon, author of the now-classic “The Noonday Demon”:

“I ran through the individual steps in my mind: You sit up, turn and put your feet on the floor, stand, walk to the bathroom, open the bathroom door, go to the edge of the tub…I divided it into 14 steps as onerous as the Stations of the Cross.”

I performed a similar exercise in one of my blog posts and here’s my version:

“First I have to find a clean towel and a bar of soap, get undressed without seeing myself in the mirror, fiddle with the water temperature, wash and shampoo, dry off, find clean underwear and that’s not even thinking about drying my hair and figuring out what I can wear! Oh, my God, I’ve used up all my spoons just thinking about it! I should just eat Cocoa Puffs and go back to bed.”

Now let me say, first of all, I don’t really like showers. I grew up taking baths and have never enjoyed the sensation of water spraying in my face. But with my bad back and bad knee, getting up from sitting in a bathtub is nearly impossible these days.

To most people, showering is a single act that requires the expenditure of a single spoon. Take a shower, that’s it. But for those of us with invisible illnesses, each separate step may require its own spoon. Take something as simple as finding a towel, for instance. Go to the linen closet, grab a towel and voilà! Only a fraction of a spoon, if that.

But surely you don’t think I have had the spoons to fold and put away my laundry. It is all there in a jumble on top of the dryer. (Who needs a wrinkle-free towel anyway?) I have to root around to find one and maybe twice if a cat has thrown up on the first one I pick. (They love sitting on my clean laundry.)

If I have to go to a business meeting, I force myself to use some of those spoons showering and getting dressed and acting respectable. But I will pay for it later, collapsing after the meeting in need of a mega-nap.

Now here’s a little secret I’ll tell you. Most people believe you gain spoons by going out of the house – walking in the fresh air, meeting friends for lunch, shopping, going for a drive. But the fact is, according to Spoon Theory, you get a certain number of spoons every day when you wake up. You cannot gain, buy, beg, borrow or steal any more, not even by breathing fresh air. You can only spend them.

Given the mathematics of spoons, I don’t spend a single one I don’t absolutely have to. Not going out? No shower. Have to go out for a loaf of bread or a drive-through meal? Wash up in the sink. If I need a shower between outings, my husband reminds me and helps by, for example, rummaging on the dryer for a clean towel and clean clothes or a clean nightshirt.

I need those spoons for doing my work at home in my smelly pajamas more than I do for the ordeal of showering.

Follow this journey on Bipolar Me.

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Thinkstock photo via Choreograph.