My Experience Only. YMMV.

Girl is choosing cosmetics in bathroomIt is fairly widely known that people with bipolar disorder and/or depression 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 simply 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 fourteen steps as onerous as the Stations of the Cross.

I performed a similar exercise in one of my blog posts (Brain vs. Brain: http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-iF) 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, that 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. (Please don’t ask me why anyone would want to sit in dirty water. Everyone says that when I say I prefer baths. I have a nice long soak, steeping in the clean water like a big teabag, and only then wash up and get right out. Used to, I mean.)

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 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 (does anyone do that anymore?). But the fact is that, 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 that 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 facilitates 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.

Comments on: "What Is It With Showers Anyway?" (15)

  1. This is hilarious. Forget bi-polar, let’s get right to OCD. I hate showers. I’ve got an antique short tub just so I can have a bath. Even my brother loves it. But why they don’t know. When I worked on the rigs, not a rig but that rig, my sister’s husband always bathed before me. He left it soiled and grimy for me. Ah well, I’d clean it out and when I was done I’d clean it again for my sister who married a pig. But since that experience I’d rather not be clean at all than to take a shower. I was young then and always showered till that time and have hated showers ever since. I’ll shower if I have to but God be told.

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  2. I totally relate to this post! I’m putting off taking a shower right now, LOL!

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  3. Jan this is great!

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  4. This was entertaining. I have sensory processing disorder and, for me, the shower is comforting, like a nice massage with water. I love showers. I would shower all day long, except for the fact that the nonstop shower is a monumental waste of water. Also, I like singing in the shower and pretending to be an opera diva!

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  5. Once I’m in the shower, no problem. But it is such an effort thinking about and doing all the steps to get to the point that I’m standing under the water. When I was younger, it was not a problem even though my mood symptoms were as bad as they are now.

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    • I know. The shower feels good once I’m in it, but getting there wears me out.

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    • I was obsessed with being clean and wanting to smell good and washed and washed but over time I hated to process… so many steps and things to do… different soaps, shampoo, conditioner, wash clothes, puff-puffs, callouses to pumice, ears to do, back brushing, q-tips, brushing teeth and hair arranging, cleaning up after it is all done, don’t forget deodorant and lotions, perfume and what to wear. … but have been diagnosed Bi-Polar and just found out that my inability to bathe and shower are commonplace… I wash and rinse all the stinky parts when I have to and try to stay clean as possible … but many more things are difficult for me as well … I struggle with more that just showers …. it seems I have a distaste for things that have to do with water, like dishes and laundry too … Shopping is even worse!!!

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  6. Wow — I really liked this post. I never knew about the spoon theory but it totally makes sense. I have been sick this week and EVERYTHING is taking so much energy. I have laundry half done today. I managed to get a shower but I didn’t yesterday. My kids have started asking when am I going to the supermarket (I can’t postpone much longer because they’re closing in just over an hour). This week and at lots of other times I feel like everything is an ordeal…and omg…I am thinking about the spoons again…sometimes we are literally out of spoons because they get dirtied faster than the rest of our dishes, glasses, and silverware. I am *sure* that means something!

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  7. Add together autism, fibromyalgia, CFS/ME, neuropathy, bioplar, and it’s a wonder I’m only this crazy. A sometimes situation – I can’t stand the way my skin feels without a shower, the shower stream hurts, I can’t stand the way my skin feels without a shower, the washing rubbing hurts, I can’t stand the way my skin feels without a shower, the CFS is going to leave me exhausted after the shower, I can’t stand the way my skin feels without a shower.
    Take a bath instead? This apartment bathtub is claustrophobically narrow and since I weigh 196 pounds, it’s not like I’m the size of an NFL defensive tackle.
    Yeah, I’m practically Superman for being only as nuts as I am! ;D

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