Personal hygiene is not always the issue that comes to mind when people think of mental illness. But it can be a very prominent complication to those of us who struggle with being sick.
For the first 16 years of my life, I took a shower every day. Brushed my teeth, washed my hair, shaved on a regular basis once I started shaving. It wasn’t something I thought about much, it was just something I did. It seemed normal, like something everyone did, something that would never be difficult to maintain. But then I got sick.
My showers became less frequent. Seeing myself in a mirror brought on a panic attack at not recognizing myself or bursts of anger from recognizing myself too much, so I avoided the bathroom as much as I possibly could. I felt so unlike myself that looking in a mirror made me want to smash it with my bare hands, and since I didn’t trust myself not to do that, I avoided them altogether.
After the initial psychotic episode that threw me onto a variety of medications and put me out of school, I started being able to take showers again for a couple of years. It was more tiresome than before, maybe, but it was easy enough. But shortly after starting college, I went off of my medication without consulting anyone about it, and my abilities to maintain hygiene plummeted.
For the last 3 years or so, it’s been very difficult for me to care for myself. It’s embarrassing at times, when I unexpectedly have to go out, and I see my unwashed hair. Not something everyone would notice, but my hair isn’t the kind that takes kindly to a few days without being washed, even if I brush it religiously. I usually cover it up as much as I can with a beanie on those days.
I have been improving the last couple weeks, as my doctor and I seem to have found a solid pill cocktail for me to regain the ability to function, but the norm is maybe 2 showers per week.
I have always been a stickler for hygiene routines – if I can’t do all of it, I don’t want to do any of it. So it’s not only lack of showers, but lack of things like washing my face, brushing my teeth, usage of deodorant or other improvements. As I’ve been sick since around the time girls my age would start dabbling in makeup, I never cared enough about my appearance or others’ opinions to look at it myself. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and I’m lucky enough to not have a particular need to improve or enhance my appearance. But to this day I don’t know how to put on my own makeup, and I know that it’s never too late to learn, but the idea of it is so overwhelming and tiring after everything else that I struggle with it. That’s one of the least disheartening aspects of my lack of self-care, but it is still there nonetheless.
People don’t often address how hard it is to maintain hygiene when you’re chronically sick, whether it’s a physical disease or a mental illness or anything else. To most people, a shower feels good and cleansing. To me, it is tiring and makes me feel drained. And I know that I’m not alone there.
Significant changes in hygiene routines in those around you can indicate some type of mental stress or the beginnings of a developing illness even. Most people care, whether it’s for themselves or for others. For me, it was the showers. I have been getting better, but they’re still exhausting to keep up with. It’s a less talked about part of a lot of mental illnesses, and many are ashamed to admit they struggle with it. Well, you are not alone.