11 March 2015 – Personal Hygiene

I was asked by a reader whether my bipolar disorder effects my personal hygiene regime at all, and it does.  I find that when I am unwell, either manic or depressed my personal hygiene takes a hit, but in different ways.   When I am well I am (I think) fairly normal.  A shower every day, shave when necessary, do your hair for the day (I don’t wear makeup), put on an outfit appropriate to the tasks you’ll be doing that day, just the normal stuff.  But when I’m unwell things go a little haywire….

When I am manic, I become obsessive compulsive about my personal hygiene.  I pluck, shave and clean everything (including my teeth) multiple times a day.  I get my hair and nails done professionally more regularly than is necessary.  I am fastidious about my toe nails being short enough and my skin not having any blemishes.   I am possessed by the need to check and recheck how I am looking throughout the day in the mirror.  I fuss over every detail of what I am wearing making extra sure that EVERYTHING matches and compliments my appearance.   I spend sometimes an hour just doing my hair, getting the curls to sit just right.  I am also over bearing regarding my husbands appearance.  Insisting that he shave daily, have his hair cut as soon as it starts to grow out, wear neat and presentable clothing at all times, even when we’re just sitting at home.  I am impossible to please and a nightmare to live with.  When I am manic, my husband and I both appear to be very self conscious and proud.  Far more so than when I am ‘normal’, when in fact both of us are quite relaxed about our appearances, not sloppy just relaxed.

When I am depressed however, my personal hygiene regime slides right off the radar.  At it’s worst I don’t shower for days at a time, I don’t shave for weeks at a time, I don’t get my hair done for months and my nails don’t get done at all.  I don’t even notice that I have toe nails and blemishes on my skin aren’t even a concern.  What I wear is almost irrelevant because I am reclusive and am barely leaving the house.  Consequently I almost live in my nightgown.  On the rare occasion that I do go out, I have one or two ‘favourite’ outfits to choose from.  They are ‘favourite’ because they are comfortable and easy to put on and they are fairly good at hiding the fact that I haven’t shaved in a while.  On a daily basis I barely brush my hair, usually just tying it up in a bun to get it out of the way.  I don’t even brush my teeth regularly, which is extremely embarrassing for me to admit (in fact everything I’ve just told you is extremely embarrassing).  With regards to my husband, I leave him to his own devices (as I should all the time) and he takes care of himself.

I, of course, am not proud of my behaviour when I am manic or especially when I am depressed.  But I think it’s important that I share this with you, so that others who experience similar changes in their personal hygiene regimes know that they are not alone.  In either scenario my husband and my psychiatrist both encourage me to aim to get my personal hygiene back into the normal range as soon as I begin to show signs that I am recovering from a manic or depressive episode.  They monitor my ability to do this and use it as a measure of my recovery from the episode.  So it becomes a handy tool for them to know how close I am to being well again.  Does anyone else experience these types of changes in their personal hygiene regime or am I alone in this?  I sincerely hope it’s not just me, that would amplify my embarrassment ten fold.  Let me know your thoughts, if you have a moment to reply to this post.