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The Truth About Depression and Personal Hygiene

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There are many things about depression that are hard to face; many truths that are swept under the rug for many reasons. One truth I believe isn’t addressed enough is hygiene — personal hygiene. With how much our culture focuses on appearances, any thought of admitting bad hygiene habits is embarrassing. Not just embarrassing, mortifying, and not a feeling you want when you’re already in the deep dark hole that is depression.

This topic is hard to talk about and even harder to live with, but it’s part of the struggle that comes with mental illness. When you’re depressed it’s hard to do anything, there are so many mental blocks. In the case of personal hygiene, smelly blocks that weigh my body down. I feel gross, I know I’d feel better, I know it’s a problem, but when it comes to solving it I just stop. I say to myself, today I’m going to shower, I’m going to brush my teeth and feel squeaky clean. Most days I say that to myself, I’m lying. While I know I’ll be more comfortable not smelling like a rotten fruit, the physical action gives me a feeling close to panic.

I’m not talking about missing a shower or two — I’m talking about going a solid month without a bathing, more than a week without brushing my teeth, even longer without brushing my hair.It gets so tangled after I just keep wrapping it into a bun over and over when it gets loose.  Wearing the same clothes over and over unless I’m forced to leave the house. It makes leaving the house even harder because I walk around completely self-conscious that the perfume, lotion, and deodorant I coated myself with hasn’t covered up my scent. I know I’m not the only one who has faced this particular block, however I didn’t know that until recently. I never talked about it, and many people also don’t talk about it, so it’s extremely isolating.

Of all the things I’ve avoided talking about with the therapists and doctors I’ve had, personal hygiene is a big one. In personal relationships, I’d rather lie and go to great lengths to cover it up. Partly because I don’t like admitting the problem to myself to begin with, admitting it to someone else seems impossible. Will they think I’m disgusting? Will they call me disgusting? Will they never call me again? How can anyone understand? All kinds of questions and anxieties surround this issue like a smoggy cloud. These anxieties force silence, and silence is so isolating, so lonely. Once I learned that other people with mental illness have this behavior of poor personal hygiene, I felt a certain relief.

As healthy and adjusted as I’ve become with mental health treatment, this is still something I struggle with. I think I’ll always struggle with it on some level, even if I find the right motivation to change these bad habits long term. Intimacy can be a good motivation, along with health and employment. It’s hard to cover up around family, friends and co-workers. It’s even harder with intimacy. Dating and relationships can be difficult to begin with, and having trouble keeping clean and smelling fresh can put up a giant wall between partners, especially if there isn’t the understanding it’s a symptom.

I’d love to say it’s not a problem I have anymore — that I shower and wash my hair every week and I’m not afraid to visit the dentist because they always know the truth. My habits have improved and I hope they will continue to improve. Even the best external motivations are not a cure because it’s part of an illness. I want other people who struggle with personal hygiene to know you aren’t alone. Breathe a sigh of relief that it isn’t just you — it’s many of us. It’s a truth I wish I had learned years ago. I’d like to think that if more people talked about it, there would be more room for understanding and compassion. Understanding and compassion allows someone to get the help they need. It’s a struggle — not laziness, not lifestyle, not a choice. It’s depression, and depression stinks.

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Thinkstock photo via Antonuk

Originally published: May 24, 2017
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