Why Don’t We Want to Shower When We're Sick?

March 7, 2011 Natasha Tracy

Self-care, like showering, is difficult for people with a mental illness. Why don't the mentally ill want to do something that feels good like showering?

I know this seems like an odd question, but I was considering it this morning (in my shower). It is a common problem for people with a mental illness. I have a tendency to avoid showering (really) and I know of others with a mental illness have gone weeks without showering.

So, if all we’re talking about is standing in some warm water, why don’t we want to shower?

I think there is a tetrad of reasons, experienced according to mood: fatigue, crazy, self-hatred and pain.

Too Tired to Shower

If you’ve been seriously ill, mentally or physically, you know energy is in short supply. Sometimes it takes the effort of a thousand men just to open your eyes and get out of bed in the morning. Every muscle flex, joint bend, or even a thought is overwhelmingly exhausting.

And if you only have enough energy to accomplish two small goals that day, you might pick eating and paying the power bill. Both of these things are more important than showering. (And of course, you might not be lucky enough to have even that much energy.)

Too Crazy to Shower

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Hypomania (mania) is the fastest time on planet earth. Nothing holds my attention long enough to do it and I’m vastly annoyed at how slowly everything moves. I end up finding myself watching TV while doing yoga and writing the first scene of a book in my head. And then I look at the clock. Five minutes have gone by, but in my brain they’ve felt like 60.

And due to my extreme inattention and annoyance at single-threaded slowness, a shower sounds like the most boring thing in the world. Ever. It wouldn’t even occur to me to bother with one.


Too Hateful to Shower

Those first two I think are obvious, but I think this one is more subconscious and insidious. I sometimes find I don’t want to shower because I hate my body -- my existence) and therefore don’t want to be naked - rather a requirement for taking a shower. It’s not a conscious lack of self-care, or purposeful denial of pleasure, or low self-esteem, or any other therapy-esque interpretation you’re likely to find. It’s just that me, my body, feels really grimy and I don’t want any further proof of its existence. I want to pretend it’s not there. It hurts less to pretend it, myself, doesn’t exist. (I suspect this is an aspect of dissociation. I'm a dissociator from way back.)

But Showers Feel Good

Ah, spoken like a normal person. No, they really don’t. I mean, sometimes they do, sure. Warm water, citrus bodywash, what’s not to like?

It’s complicated.

When I’m in pain I want to put up additional barriers between me and the world. Some subconscious part of me is thinking extra clothes and blankets over my head will save me from my brain. Being naked removes barriers. And I can’t have that.

And I’m not exactly sure how to explain it other than to say the water is painful. It feels like an attack. It feels like I’m in so much pain already that a breeze grazing my skin makes me want to cry.

And I’m really, really trying hard not to think about that pain. That’s the stuff of death. So the last thing I need is to have shards of water splitting through my skin. I don’t want to shower; I’m in enough pain already.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, March 7). Why Don’t We Want to Shower When We're Sick?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Dr Musli Ferati
March, 11 2011 at 7:18 pm

The matter of personal hygiene to sick people is problematic, but when is the question to mentally ill individual the issue become more stressful. As for mood disorders I can say that the maintenance of personal hygiene is concentrate right two extreme direction: total negligence in depressive state to over shower in manic episode of illness. The individual variance of that habit determinate the concrete manner of proceeding of sick person. However, I agree with your four elementary reasons Ms. Tracy, which exerted to avoid regular showing of affective sick person. In any case, it is possible to be delusive ideas, that constrain the sickly person to avoid, eventually, perilous shower. The last ones are very concealed and should be considered seriously in stubborn cases.

March, 11 2011 at 2:50 pm

Absolutely! All of these answers have come to mind for me. Glad to know I'm in good company, even if we are all avoiding body wash for a while.

Char Brooks
March, 11 2011 at 6:52 am

This is a fascinating article - like others, I never thought to dig deep into this question of why we don't want to shower. There are lots of good reasons that this happens though as you point out. Not wanting to tune into my body and its needs is the one I personally resonate with. Thanks for your amazing insight into this.

March, 11 2011 at 4:51 am

Wow! I thought I was the only one who thought about this, and it's embarrassing! Like right now, for example, I'm hypomanic and while I might be putting tons (if not too much) effort into looking AWESOME every time I leave the house, I'm seeing myself go for spans of days without showering! And I've experienced it from the opposite end of the spectrum, too... either way, I'm glad I can at least recognize this one simple sign that I need to be more proactive in my self-care. Even if showers are boring and sooooo last week!

March, 11 2011 at 4:50 am

Along with the reasons in the article, at times I also find not showering another way to punish myself when I am in a depression.

March, 11 2011 at 2:11 am

This is definately interesting.. I'm thinking about going to the doctor for myself. Ever since I've had my child, I've just completely stopped wanting to do anything.. I used to weigh 120lbs and now I'm over 200.. Its made me hate myself and not even want to go out in public.. I never want to shower or get myself nice and done up.. I barely leave my house, only if I have to. But I dont have thoughts of killing myself or anything like that so I'm not really sure what to do..

March, 9 2011 at 4:06 am

Wow, a very intetesting viewpoint. I know when I get in my lowest low I don't feel like getting out of bed and showering just takes to much energy. Never really thought of the other ideas before but some are true for me as well.

March, 8 2011 at 9:35 pm

First off, I'm new. I was surprised to see this topic, since I've been aware of this personal issue for several months. I worked in an office setting for over 16 years. I am now on disability. I don't have to get up each day and rush through shower, hair, makeup, office clothes, hot coffee and out the door. I can go to bed when I please and get up when I please - and, I do or do not shower or get dressed as I please. My therapist told me that he was concerned with - without a job - I would lose structure in my life. He was right. Now, I feel like I need a Mother!! I can go 2 to 3 days w/o a shower because I know that no one is going to knock on my door. I've cut off most of my social ties (everyone is busy working and then taking care of their families). And, my income is drastically reduced, so I'm not much for going out. It's apathy and lack of energy for me. I'm trying to find a good doctor to help with the depression (bipolar w/ depression). Prozac is barely keeping me afloat. Anyway, I just never thought this simple "daily" task was as difficult for others as it is for me.....

March, 8 2011 at 10:59 am

I fall into this rut as well sometimes I have been know to stop eating as well. I do not think these are uncommon problems. I have tried to puzzle it out and I think it falls somewhere between apathy and low self-esteem.
Conversly it could be a control issue. I know not eating sometimes makes me feel more like I am in the drivers seat and my life is not so out of control. An interesting point to ponder Natasha.
cheers Jake

March, 7 2011 at 10:44 pm

I guess I fall into the "why bother" since I'm totally anti-social when cycling. I get around to showering when the deoterant no longer covers the smell or I get offended by my own BO.

Lisa g Hancock
March, 7 2011 at 3:15 pm

Yea that that should be put down as another symptom!!! I have even lied to my husband when asked are taking a shower n I will say yes earlier today I had one, all while I'm laying on the couch with a oily face, oily hair, dirty clothes or pjs I've worn for however many days in a row. Just like brushing ur teeth. I think it's just b/c don't feel like even breathing to stay alive let alone getting more tired taking a shower/sometimes a hot bath is good and of course it allows ur mind to wander b/c there is nothing else at the time to keep ur attention so sit in the hot water n let it all out! Easy to wipe the tears n keep salt lines off ur face. (depressed ep) anyway! I kno I'm babbling!

Natasha Tracy
March, 7 2011 at 2:07 pm

Hi Kylie,
Glad I could help you find your light bulb moment. :)
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
March, 7 2011 at 2:06 pm

Hi Janae,
"Sigh. Why is something so small so hard?"
That is a big question. I've asked myself that many times.
But as I suppose time is relative, so is "something small." When we think of things we find hard as "small" we're really devaluing what it takes for an individual to accomplish them. We're kind of beating ourselves up about it.
It's hard. But it's not small. It just depends on who you are.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
March, 7 2011 at 1:47 pm

Yes, I don't suppose a lot of thought is put into the question. Seems trivial to many. But clearly it isn't with the response of these comments.
I think it's about insight. I have this idea that if we can understand the pattern we have more control over it. It's not magic, but I like to think that looking inwards helps.
Sometimes we trip (I can possibly influence) that light bulb moment where things make sense. And I think that's empowering for everyone.
- Natasha

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 27 2018 at 8:47 pm

The denial of pleasure is something I never thought of!!! I wonder why I torture myself because I stink so bad and yet I'm still not in the shower. Thank you for insight and your honesty. I'm tearing up because I don't feal alone in my self loathing. I feel like I should start journaling so I find out what's causing it. Thank you so much for your time and support ❤ it means a lot to me!

Natasha Tracy
March, 7 2011 at 1:41 pm

Hi Carly,
Many people have been there. Depression is a debilitating illness and right now you're feeling debilitated. It does suck. It's not ridiculous.
Hopefully, you can very slowly, one millimeter at a time, approach some kind of activity outside of bed. Showering might be too big a goal, but little, tiny, baby steps and little, tiny, baby goals are something all of us can achieve.
It's unfortunate that the people around you don't get it, but many of us out here do. And we're with your baby steps. And we celebrate your baby goals.
Drop by and comment any time. I hope something here helps.
- Natasha

March, 7 2011 at 1:06 pm

Oh my .. of course .. how come I have never put that together .. I too avoid showering when in a depressed mode .. and probably in a hypermanic mode as well .. in one I am too tired to move, in the other I just don't have the time to shower ...

Janae Johnson
March, 7 2011 at 11:47 am

I think I fall into the too busy to stop camps. Even when I am depressed, I look at showering as taking too long and too much effort. I have to remind myself of the benefits and/or just pick a time and that is what I am doing at that given moment. Sigh. Why is something so small so hard?
Thanks for your great post and for taking comments so we can share here.

March, 7 2011 at 10:57 am

Hmm--interesting. It seems like one of those things listed as "symptom" without any consideration of asking why so good of you to address this.

March, 7 2011 at 9:30 am

Thanks, I sent this to my wife.

why not?
March, 7 2011 at 9:19 am

i often go days (3-5) without bathing because I forget to... no other reason why quite often... and when i do i'm surprised because it's such a pleasureable thing to do

March, 7 2011 at 9:08 am

I'm in the throws of a big depression. I have barely gotten out of bed in two weeks much LESS shower. I know it's ridiculous. But even doing the littlest things SUCK. My family is so un-supportive and my friends don't get it.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 27 2018 at 8:37 pm

I get it!! I'm going on 4 days, possibly a week! I honestly can't remember when I last showered. I know I've used the spray twice since then to soak up some of the oil. Right now I'm trying to get myself into a bath lol. I even have one those fizz ball thingys that I love, but I'm not sure that's enough because I'm afraid I'll run out of time before work. Thank goodness it's my Friday. I'd probably be calling off if had to work one more day.
Yes, I wish I could be "normal", but lately I'll settle for at least I'm still breathing even if have to smell my own b.o. In the process. It will get better one day.

March, 7 2011 at 9:00 am

I'm also a shower avoider when depressed, it's one of the first things that make me realise I'm on a downer again. I've never really thought about it, but I think for me it's the flatness, the lack of caring any more, I'm hating myself anyway so I can't be bothered to take care of myself. My teeth are rotten to the core as a result.

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