To shower or not to shower?
This is a question I asked myself yesterday and this morning based on how I was feeling when I woke up and attempted to move my body to get out of bed. I finally succeeded to move from horizontal to vertical and knew, before I took my first step, that it was going to be an interesting day – my ability to do more than sit on the sofa for much of the day would be impacted.
In fact, this is a question I ask myself several times during any given month. It might sound bizarre, but it’s true. When you live with the symptoms of conditions like CFS, as I do, you appreciate that everything is energy and every action you take requires energy — including taking a shower.
With CFS, more and more research is showing that one physiological aspect of the condition is what’s referred to as mitochondrial dysfunction. Without going into too much detail or being too scientific, with CFS, our bodies don’t produce enough ATP to function properly – ATP is literally the energy source of every cell in the body, which means every organ and system is impacted if ATP production is low. Similar to gas that fuels a car, ATP is the fuel that supports our body’s cellular activities. If we don’t effectively produce enough ATP, then our bodies don’t function optimally and “fatigue” a lot faster than those with healthy ATP production. If we exert ourselves, it can result in a setback that can last for days or months. And, unfortunately, the impact of exertion can be inconsistent so it can be difficult to gauge what our limits are. At the same time, once our fuel is low, it becomes crystal clear when taking even one more step for the day might be too much.
So, to shower or not to shower becomes a very valid question in the midst of a day that has other “to-do” items on the list, such as work, in the world of CFS. Would the energy required for a shower be better served by directing that energy to work or something else on my agenda? Or, maybe it’s best if I rest for another 15 minutes vs. make myself get up in time to shower so I can conserve even just a little bit more energy …
Of course, I do take into consideration how many days in a row I have gone without showering when deciding what priority level showering is for a particular day! 😉
Back on point, though, and to help put it in perspective …
Using the gas for a car analogy, if you only had 1/8 of a tank of gas to use for the entire week, without a clear idea as to when the tank would be filled up again, you would have to prioritize where you were going to go that week and also attempt to plan ahead, just in case you don’t have fuel to run the car for a while. That’s what it’s like when dealing with the fatigue and low energy aspect of CFS and determining where to direct our precious energy. The price we often pay if we don’t listen to our bodies and exert ourselves or overdo it is a flare-up that can set us back for days or even months at a time — the post malaise characteristic of the condition that comes from exertion can be extreme.
In addition, similar to me, many with CFS have a constant sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, pain/aches throughout the body (also related to Fibromyalgia in my case), joint pain, and carry a low-grade fever, to name just a few of the other common symptoms characteristic of CFS that also impact our abilities to function on a day-to-day basis. That’s in part why there’s a lot of debate about the name Chronic Fatigue Syndrome — fatigue is not the only symptom of the condition, plus, the “fatigue” experienced with CFS is extreme and the term can come with a stigma attached to it. Living with CFS is like walking around much of the time with a mild to moderate, and sometimes severe, case of the flu.
To help in understanding what the level of fatigue can feel like with CFS, imagine you’re attempting to walk, while at the same time, there’s a rapidly flowing river pushing against you much of the time. It’s difficult to move under such circumstances, and to continue to try to do so for any period of time would create even more fatigue for anyone’s system — for those with CFS, it could mean a flare-up that puts them down for weeks at a time.
So, yes, CFS can limit our ability to function and perform regular, daily activities, like showering, walking, going to the grocery store, and work. With modifications and pacing, though, it can be possible to function, though many days, it’s a matter of being patient with how things are in the moment with hopes that the next day will be better.
If you have been diagnosed with any life-altering condition, like CFS/ME, be gentle on yourself, do what you need to in order to take care of yourself, and do not apologize for how you feel. This condition, in addition to Fibromyalgia, chronic mono, and mental health conditions that I discuss on this blog, are very real and can be life-altering. Many with CFS/ME are diagnosed with other conditions, like depression and anxiety, as well, adding to the challenges of functioning from day-to-day.
If anyone you know has been diagnosed with CFS/ME, trust them when they tell you they’re having a difficult time functioning and know that, even if they don’t “look sick,” their condition is very real. It makes our conditions even more difficult to deal with when those around us don’t take us seriously or discredit our symptoms, many of which cannot be seen by the naked eye.
And, if you must forgo a shower every once in a while, well, you’re not the only one! I keep the baby wipes handy for the days that a shower simply feels like too much. Or, there are the days where I decide I’m clean enough, regardless, and go on with my day. As long as I don’t smell and scare people away, then I think they will be none the wiser …
Though, if you’re around me and you can tell I haven’t showered, please let me know! 🙂
Until next time …