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.

Dealing with Some High School Memories

We are struggling quite a bit. We hardly know why, but yesterday, a memory appeared. It’s not like we weren’t aware of this having happened before, so it’s not a repressed memory. However, it still feels as though only certain insiders can “own” the memory, if this makes sense.

This is hard, because we got told last Thursday by our nurse practitioner that it’s good people aren’t validating our experience of dissociation. For example, they’re reminding us that the body is 32 and we’re all Astrid. That may be so, but it’s only getting us to further disconnect from ourselves.

He told us that being a child at heart is not wrong, but claiming to be a child is. Or something like that. He more or less told us to look beyond the emotional parts’ words to what was actually troubling us. For example, Jace saying she has to move out by age eighteen meant we’re afraid we won’t get long-term care funding. Fine by me but I think it’s not that simple. I think this may be an actual memory bothering Jace and it was just triggered by the long-term care stuff.

Anyway, yesterday evening we started experiencing high school memories. Our high school tutor was our safe person at the time. We trusted him more than we did our parents. Our parents weren’t okay with this. When in ninth grade, we had been struggling and our schoolwork was suffering. Our tutor asked us to tell him what was going on. We wrote it down. Then our tutor told our father, who worked at our school. He refused to disclose what we’d written though. I understand this, but it got our parents angry and led to an incident of bad mental abuse.

Anyway, like I said, this tutor was our safe person. He was the first one to know about our being multiple other than a handful of readers of my online diary at the time. He wasn’t impressed by it as much. In fact, he told us we’re just manipulative. This got us to go in denial and not tell anyone else.

It still upsets us that we could’ve had a chance for real help if we hadn’t been in denial at the time. I mean, the tutor told our first psychologist about our experience. This psychologist suspected DID, but we denied everything. It’s understandable, because we were still in somewhat of an unsafe situation at the time.

We trusted our high school tutor, but he betrayed our trust in some rather overt ways. He told our parents that we suspected we were on the autism spectrum. Not that there was no other way for them to find out, as we wrote about it in our public online diary. However, he told them that we’re a hypochondriac for it. In this sense, he was on our parents’ side. And yet, we didn’t see it.

Then again, is it okay for me to think in terms of being on someone’s side or not? I mean, our parents were supportive in some ways. Our mother was at least. Our father was and still is too self-absorbed to actually care about anything other than his intersts and opinions. It’s not black-or-white. People can be good and still do bad things. Or something like it.

An Eighth Grade Memory

I’ve been meaning to write a lot, but I can’t. I am having a lot of memories. That’s what they’re supposed to be. I already survived and am now safe and an adult, age 32, living with my husband. I don’t care, this pretty freakin’ hurts. One of my inner teens, Karin, hurts the most.

On November 17, 2000, I hid under a coat rack during recess. I don’t even know why. I mean, yes, I was feeling miserable and lonely. Kids in my class were bullying me and I had no friends. I was mainstreamed at the time, being the only blind student in my school.

My French teacher found me and called for the coordinator. My tutor had just gone on sick leave the day before and never returned to our school. The coordinator would act as my tutor from that point on. He sat across from me in the room where I’d been hiding under the coat rack. He held my hands and said: “Is something wrong?” I couldn’t communiicate. Not speak, not move, nothing. I was completely frozen.

Several months later, by the time my now tutor had become aware that I was feeling left out and lonely and being bullied by my classmates, he organized a class conference. Without me there. My classmates were allowed to say what they didn’t like about me. Then I was supposed to change those things. I was supposed to take better care of my personal hygiene and develop better social skills, so that I’d be less curt.

My tutor died in 2016. He cannot read this now, but my old tutor, the one who went on sick leave just before the coat rack thing, can. She found my Dutch website last year. Granted, it has my real name in the URL and this one doesn’t, but still. Maybe I shouldn’t write this, or publish this. But I want to. I want to get this off my chest.

I want to show that it’s not okay to blame a bullying victim for being bullied, even if the victim “elicits” it by acting weird. It’s good to teach a child about social skills and personal hygiene. I won’t deny that. It’s quite another thing to link that to bullying and say “You bring it onto yourself”. That’s what many people around me did say. That’s victim-blaming and it’s not okay.

Another thing I want to say is, if you wouldn’t subject a non-disabled student to something, chances are you shouldn’t subject your disabled students to it. Another boy in my class was being bullied too. My classmates asked for a class conference similar to the one held about me. The boy didn’t want it and this was respected. I was never even asked whether I wanted a class conference, because apparently, being blind, I was so special that I shouldn’t have a say. For clarity’s sake: I think class conferences like thsi one are an example of victim-blaming whether the bullied student agrees to them or not.