People In The Grasp Of A Mood Disorder Almost Always Think The Shower Is Evil.
I know I do.
The day after I had my wisdom teeth out, my mom went out of town, leaving my dad and I to fend for ourselves. It was the day of a popular music festival in our town, and despite the fact that my face was swollen into a perfectly symmetrical square reminiscent of Raymond Burr and I still had black thread stitches in my mouth, my father was bound and determined that we were both going to go.
As you can probably guess by the fact that I’d just had my wisdom teeth out, I was plenty old enough to stay home by myself, and also, I didn’t want to go. In addition to being uncomfortable with how I looked, I was still in a fair amount of pain. I just wanted to stay home and watch television. Did this matter to my dad? No.
“Take a shower. You’ll feel so much better.”
And so it began.
I read this article on The Mighty this morning and I and LOLed (yes, for real) in recognition. I have bipolar disorder, and when I am in the middle of a depressive episode, my battle with the shower is real. It is always so nice, and reassuring, to discover that one is not alone. Naturally, I did not recognize at the time that I had my wisdom teeth out that I was not just angry, but that I was also bipolar; it wasn’t until I’d graduated from college that I sought mental health counseling, even though when I was still a pre-teen, I locked myself in the bathroom with a steak knife.
When I’m depressed, I don’t shower. During my worst depressive episode, The Very Bad Day When My Hard Drive Failed, I couldn’t even roll over in bed, and I mean that quite literally…so how on Earth could I shower? My most vivid memory from that period of time is of sitting in a chair in my bedroom, tweeting at Rachel Maddow over and over and over again about the death of Trayvon Martin. How someone from MSNBC didn’t put out a warrant for my arrest or at least block me on Twitter, I’m not sure, but I was really severely upset and needed Rachel to do something about Trayvon.
Interestingly, there’s now actually a whole YA novel about a high schooler who writes emails to Rachel while depressed. It’s really good. I’m just saying, apparently much like my issue with showering, I’m not the only one who ever thought about spamming Rachel with my issues when locked up in my head.
We’re not a particularly original group.
Luckily for the populace at large, I work from home now, and also, my mood is more on the stable side, so this whole showering thing is not nearly as much of a problem as it was at one time. But there was a time when I’d do anything to avoid having to shower. I’d get those wipes meant for your face and do my underarms and my bits. But then, when I actually made it to the shower, I’d lean on the wall and just let the water beat on me. If I was really motivated, I’d do push-ups on the wall and tell myself I was multi-tasking. I’d bend over and touch my palms to the shower floor and stand in there like that…stretching my back and just standing there folded over, and I’d stand there until the hot water ran out. Or, I’d get in and get out in 30 seconds and tell myself I’d satisfied my responsibility. Or, I’d get in and run the water as hot as I could and then turn the hot water completely off and run it all the way cold.
Why is the shower so problematic when you’re depressed? My theory is that it’s a self-worth thing. I’ve been exploring the idea of self-worth a lot over the past year and have come to the conclusion that for me personally, most of my non-biological mental health issues come down to my lack of self-worth. I have sabotaged myself at every possible opportunity to be happy or to enjoy my happiness because I couldn’t possibly be worthy of happiness.
Picture this: After arguing with my now ex-husband for months about getting married in the first place, which he didn’t want to do until we were out of debt, and finally talking him into that, we’d arrived at our wedding day. I had processed down the aisle of our wedding Mass, which I had also talked him into — he’d wanted something simpler, and possibly not even in a church, but I’d insisted on a full Mass, with Communion and all. I’d been a big bully and gotten my way with everything, and pressed the issue relentlessly especially with our biggest hot button issue, money. But here we were on our big day, I was dressed in my beautiful dress, and he was smiling at me as we joined hands at the altar.
What did I say to him as I looked into his eyes?
“Did you remember to pay everyone?”
Yep, I completely ruined that potential moment of happiness, and not just for him, but for me, because every time I have thought about it ever since then, I CANNOT FREAKING BELIEVE I DID THAT. And that’s just a minor example. I’ve willingly thrown myself under more buses than a fleet of Greyhounds, due to some faulty wiring in my head plus the fact that I haven’t cared about myself enough to stop and say enough is enough. And the showering is a symptom.
Because I have bipolar disorder, I know things will likely never be smooth sailing for me. I say “likely” because I’m always hopeful about new treatment modalities and new medications; the cutting edge of medical innovation is charging toward us just as we rush to embrace it. So even when things are okay, I walk in the knowledge that there may always be a next time when the shower looks menacing and unachievable to me and other things weigh heavy on my soul.
What’s different about me now, I think, is that I’m learning some ways around the “nuture” part of my mental illness and trying desperately to feed my brain with a nutrient-rich broth of coping skills that boost my self-worth so that even when my brain chemistry has me on the ropes, I’m not tripped up in a life-changing manner as I have been in the past. If missing a shower or two is the worst that happens to me during depressive episodes from this point forward, I can take it; many of our European brothers and sisters think our American fascination with cleanliness is more than a little pedantic anyway.
I’d argue that cleanliness isn’t really that close to Godliness. Love — self-love included — is right up there nestled in tight.