Hard questions #1

*WARNING: this is a blunt and honest account of hygiene, specifically the lack thereof – you may not look at me quite the same after reading this, but remember that I am the same person, just struggling to keep my juggling balls in the air*

What I write here, I write to share with you the side of mental illness that isn’t necessarily obvious to the onlooker, be they aware or unaware of the illness. Or maybe its obvious, but not understood. I write it to break through the stigma, if I can, that still settles over the mentally ill and to raise awareness of what life is like inside a head that doesn’t let you be the boss very often.

I know this isn’t going to be glamorous. But believe me: I’m not trying to sensationalise the truth. If anything, I’m under-selling the real story. So here we go:

Some questions are hard to answer.

Some questions are unanswerable.

Some you just wish were!

Like,

“How long is it since you last had a shower?” – husband

 

Ummm…well…

I’m not really sure…ahhh…

Maybe…I don’t know…

I think it was…

Hang on, when did I last work? Was it then…no, that’s right, I dry shampooed…

So, then…maybe on the weekend? Which day was it…

You changed the towels a week ago?

I haven’t used mine yet? Hmm…

…well then I guess…well then I guess that’s when…ah, yeah…so…a week you say…

Now where was I? let me just…slowly walks awaydrowns in shame

Plans to shower tomorrowknows it probably won’t happen

more shamethat’s life!

There are a number of questions that you try your best to avoid hearing, and therefore having to answer, once chronic illness has set in.

Like, when did you last have a shower.

I was never a shower-a-day person. I grew up out of town in drought years and whenever the rain didn’t come we had to buy in tanker loads of water to fill up our concrete tanks because we weren’t connected to town water. For longer than I liked we didn’t shower, we bathed because it was much more economical for water use to run a bath tub full of water rather than have individual showers. Plus when we were little its just what you do; everyone piles in. When we were little the bathroom was also outside in the mud brick section of the house: shower and bath in one room, laundry in another, and toilet at the end. Later on in our school years we got an inside bathroom (toilet still outside) and it was one after the other, and you got to top it up with hot water if it ran cold, which by the time the 4th person got in was a high likelihood, never mind the parents. Especially because some people liked to have a sleep in there, regardless of those following! Okay I was one of those having a sleep in the bath, but I went last or close to last. If you were washing your hair you got to quickly rinse the conditioner off in the shower, given that the bath water wasn’t the cleanest by that point. Then again, showering wasn’t all it cracked up to be since the shower head was too short! It was half a gym workout doing squats under the tap while rinsing your hair!

So I was an every second day washer, basically just when my hair needed washing or my leg hair was getting to liberated woman stage! So when I got sick I didn’t exactly have the best routine to fall back on.

Why is showering so difficult and so irregular now?

There’s no simple, snappy one-liner answer.

It’s a few things.

My shower is in a bath. Lifting a leg over the tub just always seems so…HARD! I think about having a shower, and I think about getting one leg up and over, let alone 2 legs into that bath without over-balancing, the effort of getting my big self up and over into the tub and its just…its…its so…its just, yeah, well, maybe tomorrow.

So there’s that. Plus it takes energy. If I had a store of energy, like in a barn, I would go get the amount of energy that I need with my forklift and bring it back to the bathroom and have my shower. It would be simple, straightforward. I would just take the exact amount of energy needed, use it to have a shower and it would be all good! Sadly, unfortunately, regrettably, energy doesn’t store. It just comes and goes, waxes and wanes. You either have it in the moment or you don’t. There are things that help or not, but there’s no guarantee of having the energy you need when you need it. So, lying in bed thinking about having a shower and I ask myself, do I have the energy to do this right now? And it’s an easy answer, it’s a yes/no problem. So it either happens, or it doesn’t. I.e. it doesn’t. Because all that thinking just used up my having a shower energy! Isn’t that ironic? So now no energy, no shower and I turn my attention to covering up not having a shower, if its been more than a day.

There are things that make it a bit easier. Hubby getting the shower running and frogmarching me to the edge of the tub for instance. Well that’s about it, actually. There are hardly any things that actually motivate me to the point of getting up off my tush and having a shower, even my amazing husband. Even when he asks me to, as a favour to him. This is a point that a lot of people don’t understand.

“Don’t you want to do it for me?”, “Yes I do want to do it for you”.

“Do it for me”, “I can’t”.

“Can’t you even do it for me?”, “I’m sorry, I just can’t, even for you”.

It hurts me to give these answers. I love my husband more than anything in the whole world. We have been best friends since 2003, since we met practically. We’ve been married for nearly 8 years and have shared everything together. If I could do it for him, I would! Come to think of it, if I could do it for myself, I would! But its not about that. Its about not having the energy, the motivation, the drive to do it. If one of those questions comes up, it just makes me feel worse about the whole thing, which is not the intention I know; that I wouldn’t even do it for him, after all he’s done for me. How selfish!!

And maybe it is selfish. A lot of times depressed people have to make selfish choices for their own survival, be it mental, physical, or emotional survival. And it hurts us to do it. But we need to, even if you don’t see why. It’s not about you, its about us; that sounds selfish right there. But we spend a lot of time conserving our resources and we know what we can and can’t manage. But doing that means a lot of navel-gazing, inward looking so you’ll have to excuse us while we’re busy sorting ourselves out, please.

I think it is a severe understatement to say that my husband is long-suffering! He is beyond patient and kind with me, beyond what I deserve for trying his limits so severely with such things as:

  • unwashed hair looking and feeling greasy
  • the same hair tangled into dreadlocks-style clumps that have to be cut out after who knows how long of not brushing my hair, then dry shampooing, then not brushing, then dry shampooing etc
  • eyebrow/underarm/leg/bikini waxing abandoned I don’t even know how long ago anymore!
  • tooth brushing I also don’t know…well I do know cos I brushed them last week once, but before that its anyone’s guess and he suffers them orange with food stuff and still bravely kisses me when I must be repulsive with plaquey teeth and bad breath
  • BO is one area that I think is mostly under control thanks to Dove Invisible Dry with 1/4 soap
  • avoiding hand washing except when its absolutely necessary, meaning much less often than I should

You would think that because I love my husband so much, and because I know that I owe him so much, and want to please him, that these emotions would motivate me to fix these areas. He hopes that I would do it for him, and I’d love to be able to do these things for him, but wanting to do it and doing it are separate entities that rarely collide, I’ve found. Because while I DO want to do it, especially do it for him, wanting it doesn’t give you energy, the kick, the ability to actually get up and do it. I wish. So often, probably daily, my husband may well think that I don’t care enough about him to do one “little” thing for him like clean my teeth. But there’s just something so difficult to overcome in myself to just start to think about doing one of these things. I want to in theory, but practice hasn’t really tallied out on my side.

It’s difficult to explain why its so hard to do these things. After all they’re easy things that most people just do without even thinking about it. But its a common happening in depressed people to get slacker on these things. It’s just one of those things that goes when your mind and your body slow down. It takes 10 minutes of pros and cons to decide that I absolutely can’t go another day without showering, that even my soapy deodorant, dry shampoo and perfume aren’t going to cut it today. Then it takes a good 10 minutes to plan how I’m going to get up, walk the 9 steps to the bathroom (actually 9 steps), clamber into the bath and get the shower going. Then I may actually have a shower, or can it after all and skip another day.

I’m not alone. I was relieved when I found this out. Depression tells you that you’re a slob, and disgusting, and no one wants to be around you, and maybe thats not far off. But knowing that this is a common symptom of depression takes a little of the pressure off, which helps you to take it easy on yourself, which in its own twisted roundabout way means that you’re MORE likely to pick up some of the hygiene slack. So here’s what others have said

“Literally not showering for months. Not changing your clothes for weeks. Not combing your hair for days. Not brushing your teeth for weeks. With depression, hygiene goes out the window.” — Zoe S – The Mighty ‘Worst Symptoms of Depression‘ article.

“Not keeping in touch with anyone, bad personal hygiene and extremely bad reactions to seemingly trivial things.” — Jenny B – Upworthy ‘30 Things Depressed People Do‘ article.

“I love not having to decide if I’m mentally and emotionally prepared to spend time drying my hair after a shower” – a friend who just shaved her head for cancer awareness and fundraising.

“Thinking about going to the gymhaving a shower like”…hopefully this opens to a visual aid giving you an idea of how I think about showers.

But now, a new directive:

“Danika, I strongly encourage you to shower daily” – my psychiatrist

Rats!! *snaps fingers* I was hoping to avoid such a direct instruction!

“Not for hygiene…”

Well that’s surprising! All I’ve considered so far is hygiene.

“…but for your own self-worth. You aren’t showering because of low self-worth, and then not showering further lowers your self-worth. *cue light bulb moment* You have come from a long way back to get back to work and it hasn’t been easy, especially having issues with the pharmacy board and your current job, but you made it. As far as work goes you’re back to where you came from, more or less. Showering daily will reinforce to you that you’re back to where you came from, and improve your self-worth. Your actions inform your mind, just as your mind informs your actions” – my psychiatrist, quoted as near as I can remember.

Well that was all a revelation, I can tell you!

Showering to improve how I think about myself. Not cause its the thing to do, or for hygiene, or cause someone thinks I should. In fact, its all about me! And don’t we like that?

So, here I am the day after yesterday when I talked to my psychiatrist, 5.26pm, wondering when exactly should I have this shower? Cos I’ve managed to not have the time for it so far: dropping off the car to get serviced first thing then doing a jobs run of picking up clothing repairs/script dispensing/groceries/posting a parcel then walking home, breakfast, a nap, another little nap, house inspection, groceries delivered, pick up the car, Officeworks. And now going out to dinner…is there time before? Or when we get home? Hmmm.

I do feel like my head is in a different space though, after that chat. Shout out to my darling husband for dobbing me in to the psychiatrist!! Sheesh!! So, about that shower…

Change

I have some big news! HUGE news! We’re moving cities!

What?? Yep we’re moving interstate! Not what we thought we’d be doing for the rest of the year!

Why?? My husband has been chosen by his workplace for a project. It involves tailoring and implementing his workplace’s software, and the customer wants him on site to help smooth the whole process.

Where? We’re moving to Canberra!

When?? Well apparently his start date is still Monday 12th September, as it was set a couple of weeks ago when the project came up. Yep, as in next Monday!! It seems that that is still going ahead, despite the fact that his workplace still haven’t organized our accommodation at all!! They are meant to be covering our moving costs etc, but right now it feels like what move?! Are we really moving? In a week? Like next weekend??

How long? The project is meant to be for 3 months, but you know projects…we’ll see. We might still be up there in February!

So! Once the shock subsided, I think we like this idea! I think we like it a lot. So many new things to be experienced.

Of course the list of down sides can be significant: missing friends and family, feeling displaced or lonely, far from my doctors/support network, leaving my stuff behind etc. But let’s leave all that til it happens. Right now, the opportunities are spilling out in front.

It’s going to be exciting!

What better time to be an unemployed pharmacist with no job ties? Talk about silver linings! This has to be a pretty big one. No taking leave, or a leave of absence. No having to quit a job I like. I can just up and go at a moment’s notice; which as it turns out is just as well, since it might come down to that!

I’m going to be a tourist in a new city with unlimited time to check out all the fun places it has. I’m smiling spontaneously and getting a buzz just thinking about the endless possibilities, the sights I might see and the people I might meet. And I’m off the hook about jobs! It is a relief. I’m unlikely to fall across a short term part time job while I’m up there so free time! Like last time when I was off work, when I was still sick enough to not need to think about returning to work, but well enough for short daytime adventures. Like an organ concert, a blogging class, a river cruise, taking the tourist bus or the city circle tourist tram around the city, a couple of hours at the zoo or wildlife park, sketching in the botanic gardens…I had so many hobbies and attempts at hobbies and really tried to get around the city as much as I could for free or cheap.

Remember this, self, remember the excitement when your anxiety about not knowing when you’re leaving for this new city, when you need to be packed up by, where you’re going to be living, what you need to take, how you’ll get around, if you’ll miss home, if you’ll find new friends, if you’ll….argh!! The big ol’ IF!!

I don’t deal as well with change these days, not like I used to. I tend to get anxious and become stressed about the unknowns in life which I would have sailed right through before I got sick. I need more notice, more time to think and consider the options, and I’m generally just more of a pain in the butt about the details! I need details!! Ask my poor long suffering husband! I have to be reminded, and reminded that things will work out just fine and not to get bogged down in the minutiae of a situation. Just breathe, and things will be fine. Of course they usually are just fine, but my brain doesn’t keep a record of all the times things have been just fine. It still goes straight to the what ifs.

And now I’m feeling thoughtful and pondering after that little detour, instead of happy and anticipatory of the future! Annoying. Let’s get this back on track: excitement, happiness, adventure!

I started a list of things to do once I get there, whenever that turns out to be. A reminder of all that I can look forward to, and a prompt for me to get out of the house once I get there and make the most of my time.

I’ve looked up places to go bird watching and practice my photography. I’ve ordered some tourist brochures for all the typical things to do. I’ve thought of a couple of friends I have up there, as well as my brother and sister in law. I’ve started checking out women’s bike riding groups and places to go riding. I’ve planned visits from people who may not yet be aware that they are coming to stay! I’ve chatted to some people who live an easy weekend away from where we’ll be living. Actually there’s so much to look forward to if you put your mind to it. Which I try to do these days.

I’m still writing my packing list and checking it twice. But since nothing has been happening about accommodation and no new information has come up, I’ve sort of put the packing thing off until I know for sure there’s a furnished house with our name on it that I can direct my things to. I had my initial freak out about which knives we must take and which tea towels were essential, but a Valium and a good night’s sleep mostly calmed my heart rate and thinking speed down to normal levels about that, and I’ve only been a normal level of anxious since. Well I think so anyway.

I will miss being close to my doctors. I think that will be the hardest thing. I don’t want to find new doctors; I’ll stay with the ones that I have. That probably means a couple of trips back for my psychiatrist, and I’m not sure what I’ll do about GP appointments. I know I can always call them on the phone so that’s reassuring. I’ll need to get new scripts for everything before I go. I just have to remember that I’m only a phone call away, rather than thinking of it being a 6 hour car ride away! Or however long the flight is. But nothing is impossible really. Just have to think of another way around it.

All of this shows, I think you’ll agree, that I’m going pretty well right now. Being able to see the positives, the blessings, the advantages, is not something you can force while you’re unwell, however much other people try to get you in the frame of mind. It comes with time, and with health. I’m grateful to have been able to take this enormous change so calmly, for me, and so positively. It could have thrown me well off kilter and returned my to bed for days. I’m glad that’s not the case.

So, all things being well, I’m off Canberra to have a fun and adventurous time for a couple of months, and I’ll certainly be filling you in on my life living above the blue line!