It’s the more unspoken part of dealing with chronic illness. If being able to get out of bed or going to a doctor’s appointment is a big win, taking care of your daily hygiene needs makes up all the tiny victories in between. It seems so simple. Just take a few minutes to clean yourself and your surroundings. All you need to do is brush your teeth, shower, shave, wash your hair, moisturize, trim your nails, change your clothes, etc.
But, simplicity rarely exists in our realities. Surviving the microseconds is where we live. When everything hurts, maintaining the squishy bag of fragile skin, holey bits, and perfectly balanced bacteria can be exhausting. Human bodies are a lot of work. They require absurd amounts of attention and finessing in order to not fall apart.
Besides the compounded amount of time it takes us to complete a hygiene task, many chronic conditions change the process into a possible dramatic event.
Bruising, dislocating, breaking, scarring, and twisting are possible side effects of showering. Once you’ve worked up the energy to get into the shower, you have to find the strength to apply enough pressure to your hair and body to cleanse it. Your hands have to hold bars of soap and tubs of shampoo. You need to wring out washcloths and raise your arms.
Dizziness and fainting are possible side effects of standing for more than a few minutes at a time. Stabbing pain, electric shocks, numbness, unfelt injuries, inability to stand or hold anything are more accompaniments to keeping ourselves clean.
Hives, rashes, itching, raw and swollen skin can all be aggravated. Accidental exposure to allergens also occurs. Migraines can be a possible side effect of any activity or undiscovered trigger. Oh, don’t forget about nausea and vomiting from moving around or a drop in blood pressure.
Keeping dental, vision, and auditory health as priorities in our hygiene routines is extra important. Most of our conditions have some affect on those three areas. For example, people with connective tissue disorders, have a higher probability of gum disease and deterioration. Migraine sufferers can have tinnitus and auditory hallucinations that need checking. Autonomic issues include vision problems that should be monitored.
Many of us avoid or skip taking care of our entire bodies because we already suffer with so much that we can’t imagine taking on more pain, testing, and possible bad news. We also don’t want to be berated for our unconventional routines. In many countries, including America, medical care for eyes, teeth, and ears is also ridiculously expensive. There are ways around the costs. If you can get the courage and physical capacity together, there are cheap/free ways to visit the specialists. Unsurprisingly, the research and follow-up for practical healthcare falls on you.
Pain and fatigue are the most noticeable results of taking on hygiene hurdles. Halfway through a shower or change of clothing, you can be so depleted that you just stop. Maybe you crinkle down to the ground and lay on that cold surface with one pant leg on and the sleeves of a sweatshirt wrapped around your shivering body. Perhaps you sit on the floor of the shower, weakly reaching to turn the heat up a notch as you take deep breaths and rest your heavy head on your knees. You thought you could make it. You really tried, but now wasn’t the time. Later will be better and if not later, tomorrow. There’s always tomorrow if we make it through today.
We know how much our mental health is tied to our surroundings. A cluttered room equals a cluttered mind, and whatnot. The same is absolutely true for our bodies. On my worst days, I brush my teeth. I do it lying in bed and over the course of ten minutes, but I do it. It is something that I take control of when my body is dictating everything else. When I can take a shower and change into fresh clothes, my mindset always shifts to a more positive place. For that small task, I did it! I accomplished “normal” and “healthy”. It pushes me and reminds me that my body can be good too.
You are doing the best you can. I hope today is the day you get to feel uplifted by those minutes you pushed through the agony and took gentle care of yourself.