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4 Reasons Why Showering Is Hard When You Have a Mental Illness

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I believe I have a “high-functioning” mental illness. I’m able to force myself to shower every two to three days. There are a lot of people I know struggling with mental illness who go a week or more without showering.

This is something I have found the rest of the world has trouble understanding. One I often heard from my own mother was: “Don’t you think you’d feel better if you showered?” My mental answer was always: In some ways, perhaps. In many ways, no.

There are many reasons why showering is difficult for me and others with mental illness, but here’s a short list of the highlights:

1. Standing that long can feel exhausting.

Even if someone is physically in shape, depression and anxiety can lead to a sort of “slump mode” when expending any amount of energy feels undoable and doesn’t seem worth the effort. Think of “Oh, I don’t want to get out of bed to shut the door. I’m comfy here,” only to an extreme, and all the time, and it takes almost all the energy you have. Due to this, it can be hard to shower quickly, which adds to the weight of other items on this list.

2. It’s time alone with thoughts.

This is something I know I try to avoid, as do many other people with mental illness. I distract myself during any “down moments” I may have in the day. I keep myself on my computer or phone or with my nose buried in a book until I’m exhausted enough to fall right to sleep. No time for thoughts allowed! In the shower, there is little that is able to mentally distract a person. Time alone with all of the swirling black thoughts inside — this can be scary for me.

3. It draws attention to my body.

Maybe you have self-harm scars you don’t want to think about. Maybe you have issues with your weight, complexion or the amount of hair that is always on your legs. Whatever the case, many people have issues with their bodies, and the intimate time with your body in the shower can be difficult. It can be hard to take care of something you’re ashamed of, something that can be triggering. Though this can be a time to learn to love your body through taking care of it, getting to that point is often a journey.

4. It only cleans skin deep.

Personally, I can physically feel the black gunk of depression inside. It’s like there’s a tar in my chest and down by back. Showering can clean any dirt away from my skin, but it doesn’t even touch what I really want washed away. I’ll often stand under the water and imagine the nastiness inside being washed away, glob by glob, chunk by chunk, broken piece by broken piece, all going down the drain. I imagine what is left would be pink and raw, but ready to heal with the poison no longer eating away at it. I long to actually feel this sensation. But I can’t.

There are many other reasons why showering may be difficult. Wasting water makes me feel guilty, the shower makes me feel claustrophobic, I hate the feeling of my hair being wet, the admission I’m going to have to put more effort into the day, the list goes on. These four are the most consistent I’ve come across, but everyone’s experience is different. Hopefully this can provide a launching point for a conversation of understanding.

I hope people know that yes, I know showering is a good idea, but this is why it’s hard.

Thinkstock photo via vadimguzhva

Originally published: May 22, 2017
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