Hygiene, My Arch-Nemesis

I was healthy through most of high school, but my depression returned with a vengeance around the time I turned 18. It came with a lot of big problems – frequent sadness, no energy, fraught sleep – but I’ve found that the more tedious details of being depressed are actually some of the nastiest.

For the past several years I’ve woken up almost every morning wondering how the hell the high school version of me consistently got up and washed my face, brushed my teeth, and generally took care of myself in half an hour before the bus came. Was that even me? Or was it some kind of alternate-universe-anti-Zoe who somehow didn’t feel the need to scream every time she uncapped her toothpaste?

I don’t know exactly why the idea of taking care of my hygiene became so impossible for me to understand. It’s not due to laziness. I will literally stand in front of my bathroom mirror, stare myself down, silently demand that I pick up the toothbrush inches from my hand… and still not do it. I will make it as convenient as possible to wash my face, but then I panic, and the thought why don’t I just do it later burrows its way into my mind, saving me from making a choice in that moment.

I’m always baffled as I walk away from my toothbrush having accomplished nothing.

I still manage to brush my teeth, but it’s always with a ton of effort. Once the paste hits the brush, I’m in the clear. It’s not difficult to perform the actual task. It’s just getting there that kicks my ass every time.

And it never gets easier. Depression is, among many evil things, a disorder of the ability to make an effort, and it’s always churning away in my brain, dodging my attempts to learn to take care of myself. It’s not a static blockage at which I can continually chip away. It’s more like the flu, eternally adapting to vaccines, coming back with a new strain every year. It’s a shapeshifter. If I manage to outsmart my depression and exfoliate my pores one morning, it’ll bounce back the next day and eat my new tactics. (I picture a green monster in my head literally gobbling down my progress toward mental health as if it’s candy.) Then I have to come up with another, more clever reason for washing my face while I’m already in the bathroom instead of putting it off for several hours.

I see a lot of blog posts and books that address solutions for depression’s most apparent symptoms. But I have never come across anything that supplies tips for washing my hair more often. It seems like as soon as it’s done drying (I rarely have the energy to blow it dry, let alone curl it or use product or anything fancy like that), it’s greasy again and I have to take another shower. That’s not an effort I’m able to make right now.

Maybe it’s okay that for the time being, I just wait until the last reasonable moment to do anything about my hygiene. If that’s all I can accomplish, it’s better than nothing. It’s probably not helpful to worry that I’m not flossing often enough. Just so long as I don’t allow myself to become complacent in my mild lack of hygiene, it’ll improve eventually when my health returns. 

2 thoughts on “Hygiene, My Arch-Nemesis

  1. It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one. I have a todo list taped on my bathroom mirror and it’s just… so…long. Brush teeth, floss, wash face, lotion, sunscreen, makeup (mascara, lip stick, at minimum), take a shower at least every other day, wash hair at least twice a week, etc. I stare at the list and think I can’t possibly do all of that so why bother with any of it. I don’t understand how people do thirty things every single morning without even thinking about it.


    1. “Without even thinking about it” is the key phrase in your comment, I think. That’s what really boggles my mind – so many people don’t struggle at all to do basic hygiene.


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