Monday, August 18, 2008

Depression Behavior: Personal Hygiene

Last week I read two posts on two different blogs, How Is Bradley? and Catatonic Kid, about personal hygiene during depressive episodes. Since I feel very strongly about this topic, I decided to write about it.

Having survived more than 120 depressive episodes, I feel uniquely qualified to write about the importance of maintaining personal hygiene during depressive episodes. I believe that being depressed is no excuse for not maintaining personal hygiene. As awful as I have felt--and there have been times when I was lucky to survive--I have always brushed my teeth, and almost always showered, blow-dried my hair, and gotten dressed--even if I only changed into sweat pants, and went back to bed after my son and husband left the house.

For those of us who are parents and spouses/partners, I believe it's our responsibility to try and achieve a certain level of normalcy for our families, if not for ourselves. It's difficult enough for our spouses/partners and children to have to deal with our depressions, but to have to deal with someone who is unkempt and doesn't even try is far worse.

In my case, when my son was in elementary school, no matter how bad I felt, I forced myself to wake up in the morning, shower, and dress, and make his lunch, and his breakfast before my husband drove him to school. On my worst days, I usually felt well by 2:00 (it rarely lasted the entire day), and I would shower again, get dressed, and drive to pick up my son.

While I may not have felt well enough to chat with other moms who were waiting to pick up their children, in the worse case scenario I still forced myself to stand across the street, and cross when I saw my son get out of school. Because he's an only child, I also forced myself to arrange play dates so my son would have someone to play with--even though I wasn't feeling great.

I believe it was this self-discipline that enabled my son to have a fairly normal childhood, and for my husband to feel hope that at some point our lives would return to "normal." When I see the divorce rate among BIPS (bipolars) and when I read comments by children of BIPS, I feel like I've done the best I could--under the circumstances.

And I also want to say that I believe, no matter how bad we feel, we need to try and put ourselves in our childrens', spouse's/partner's, relatives' and friends' positions. How would we feel about living with someone who doesn't bathe because he/she is depressed? How would we feel about someone who doesn't do everything possible to try and elevate his/her mood by maintaining certain standards of personal hygiene?

What do we owe the people we live with and love? How can we expect them to "stand by us" if we let ourselves go and stop trying?


naturalgal said...


I have been wanting to ask you this for a long time you say:
"Having survived more than 120 depressive episodes,...."

How do you count your episodes?

Did you have 10 a year for 12 years? or ????

I feel like I have been through hell but I don't know that I could say I have had 120 episodes of depression....more like, oh I don't know...10 or 20 real doozies..dragged on forever....

KJ said...

I am so impressed as I find out more about you. You are an awesome example of good parenting. There are parents who don't suffer from depressive episodes who parent far less well than you do. Thank you once again for a good piece that reminds all of us that we should try hard for ourselves and the important others in our lives.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Naturalgal,
I experienced my first depressive episode when I was an 18-year-old freshman. Because it wasn't diagnosed, I continued to experience a low-grade depression throughout college. However, in terms of my count, they flared up during April and October.

After I graduated, it became very clear that I was experiencing two six-week depressive episodes every April and October. For much of my life, they didn't affect my ability to work or to live my life, but they did have a definite start date and end date. And I clearly felt depressed--even they they remained undiagnosed until 1993. the time of the diagnosis, I had had 2 episodes a year for 25 years. From the moment I was diagnosed and began keeping mood charts, I counted the actual episodes--which increased significantly once I began taking medication.

And I have counted every episode for the last 15 years.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear KJ,
Thanks so much for your continued support. I must admit that having one child made a big difference. I am awed by women like you--who have four. (One of my best friends from childhood also has four children --and now three grandchildren.)

Because I wasn't diagnosed until my son was four, and then became so much worse after taking the medication, I felt such a high level of guilt about him that I tried that much harder to achieve a level of "normalcy."

There were years when I was so sick and I felt he was missing out on so many things that children with a "normal" mother could provide.

Most of all, I didn't want our household to feel like a depressive environment nor for my son to have any real sense of how unhappy I sometimes felt inside.

Since I knew it was an illness and not who I truly am, I worked so very hard to keep my feelings to myself, knowing that when the depression passed, my "optimistic self" would show itself once again.


Jazz said...

Even at my worst, I guess I always felt I had a responsibility to get up, get dressed, feed the kids, and do my best to keep things around here as normal as possible...even if I felt dead inside. I may not have been the most fun mom around, but I was there, and I read to them and gave them hugs and did what I could.

One of the things about depression that makes it hard for our families is that you're not hobbling around with a cast on your leg or any visible sign that something's people aren't looking at you and seeing an injury and automatically making allowances and accomodations for you. And if you have a partner who has never experienced depression before, it's very hard for them to understand what it is you're feeling...or not feeling, more like.

You are right, though--I think we do owe it to our families to keep things as normal as we are able to.

Wellness Writer said...

I couldn't agree more. It is difficult for people to understand. How do you explain what it's like to feel "dead inside" when you look normal?

Looking normal was actually a problem in getting psychiatrists to understand how terrible I felt. They evidently felt that since I was clean, dressed, and coiffed, I didn't feel as bad as those who weren't.

For me, it was truly a case of self-discipline. I felt that if I "let myself go" I would lose the very essence of who I am.


P.J. said...

I, too, think it's important to keep yourself "hygiened" even when we don't feel like it. It IS important for those around us to know we are at least trying.

The time I found I was at my worst was before I was diagnosed. It wasn't my depression that was hardest on my kids, it was my instability. I was so hard on them, and I yelled a lot. I was unfair to almost everyone in my life.

Well, those unpleasant thoughts are not helping my wellness, so I'll just say that I'm glad I'm better.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear PJ,
Thanks for sharing. I'm sorry if it makes you sad. But, now that you're better and starting school again, it sounds like your life is back on track. That's the best we can do!


catatonickid said...

Thanks for the shout out, Susan. I certainly get why you'd want to be 'together' for your family. That's a brave way to live but I know you're the brave sort so it makes a lot of sense.

Responsibility is vital. I guess that's the broader point I take from listening to you. We mustn't forget the promises we make, to ourselves or others. Whether we make them out loud or not.

Nancie said...

Dear Susan,

I am encouraged to read of your self-discipline! You have made such a difference to your family in your determination to take care of yourself, to keep trying and to think of your family always. That is truly courageous and I am sure your loved ones appreciate your love and thoughtfulness.

Personal hygiene is indeed very important and can be one wellness activities that helps us when depressed. There have been times in the past when during depressions I skipped bathing for day as I simply didn't want to get up from my bed. But recently, I am beginning to learn to be more discipline and I realized that I actually feel refreshed after my bath. Though I was still depressed, I felt better and have lesser guilt of not taking care of myself!

I have so much to learn. I am just beginning my journey. But your experiences and that of others spur me on. Thank you for sharing with us. Take care and have a great week!


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Catatonic Kid,
I appreciate your kudos. I was proud of myself for my level of self-discipline and I believe it did show an unusual level of responsibility.

And while I know it made a difference to my son and husband, never once in the decade that I saw psychiatrists did anyone ever say what you have or what some of my other readers have.

Instead, I believe my doctors felt that if I could do all that, then I wasn't as depressed as others who couldn't or didn't. It sure would have been nice to have received some positive reinforcement from them.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Nancie,
Thanks for your positive thoughts on this. Yes, it does make you feel better to shower, doesn't it?

It is the small things that enable us to assert that even if we're "dying inside," we can still behave in "normal" ways, and try our hardest to remain self-sufficient and seek wellness.


Dr. Jay SW said...

Interesting--I've just been hopping from blog to blog reading comments about depression and personal hygiene...though I tend to be somewhat the opposite, I take lots of showers and, particularly, exercise like crazy when I'm depressed (I once told a shrink that if I stayed depressed all the time I'd have washboard abs and no handles--and, in fact, it's in non-depressed periods when I tend to put on weight)--and suspect it's because I feel a desperate need to get out of the situation I'm in, but feel so helpless in terms of anything except the physical end of things. The irony is that this seems to make friends less sympathetic to me--I'm looking so good, how could I be feeling bad? Then, maybe that's part of it, too--a terror of people seeing how badly I'm doing, even though I desperately want to tell them.....