Working On Us Prompt: Self-Care and Personal Hygiene

This week’s prompt on Working On Us is about self-care. I initially thought of self-care as those things we do to pamper ourselves, but then when I read the questions, I realized Beckie means basic self-care. You know, personal hygiene, such as showering or brushing your teeth.

I definitely have always had trouble with this. Part of it may be due to my lack of awareness of my appearance, which may be due to both blindness and autism. However, the fact that I don’t always shower or brush my teeth regularly, certainly isn’t.

I have always had trouble with proper personal care. When I was about fourteen, my high school tutor got complaints from my classmates that I smelled a lot of body odor. He told me I really had to develop a personal hygiene routine, but didn’t explain how to go about it. He was my PE teacher and said that he personally showerd twice a day. So I initially thought I had to do that as well, so the next day, I jumped in the bath at 6AM. My parents were not amused. With my parents, I finally agreed on a routine of baths or showers three days a week, on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings. That way, if I went to school, it’d never be more than 48 hours since I’d had a shower or bath.

My parents still didn’t explain how to wash myself. Honestly, now that I’m 33, I still get told by my husband at times that I don’t do it properly.

The problem of course wasn’t just that my parents didn’t teach me. After all, presumably my sister knows all about hygiene. It was also that I had an aversion against personal hygiene activities. Here is where my mental health is involved. Like, I have executive functioning issues on the best of days, making a “simple” shower very difficult. When I’m depressed, I cannot cope with the stress of having to shower.

My lack of self-care wasn’t even picked on when I was first assessed by a psychiatrist. Maybe he did notice I smelled, or maybe that particular day my body odor wasn’t too bad or I’d had a shower. If he did notice, he didn’t tell me so or write it in the report. Neither did any of the next so many psychiatrists and psychologists I had. I only found out that my psychologist at the resocialization unit in Nijmegen had noticed because it was written in my long-term care application at the time, that I didn’t get to see until we applied again last year.

As for brushing my teeth, I hated toothpaste. I still do, but at age 18, finally forced myself to use it. I never brushed my teeth properly until I got an electric toothbrush for my birthday this year. Now I’m still not sure I do it right, but I at least brush for the required two minutes. Interestingly, the elctric toothbrush is less horrible sensorially than the handheld one.

I find it interesting that, though lack of personal hygiene is part of an assessment of mental functioning, so few mental health practitioners take the time to discuss it with their patients. Like, when I was in the mental hospital, no-one offered to teach me personal hygiene. Not even when the dentist recommended I get help brushing my teeth. They said it was my responsibility. I really hope that, when I’m in a care facility for people with developmental disabilities, that will change.