“Why don’t you just go take a nice, relaxing shower?”
This is a piece of advice that able-bodied people love to share with the chronically ill. It makes sense; a shower is the gold standard comfort when they’re dealing with discomfort from a hangover or a chest-cold or just need a pick-me-up. When life is simple, the shower is a place of comfort and rejuvenation.
Having a chronic illness complicates things; that’s common knowledge. What you don’t realize until you’re experiencing chronic illness for yourself is that illness doesn’t just complicate things—it complicates everything. When your body hurts to move and pain & fatigue leave you barely able to stand, that shower changes from a relaxing retreat to a dreaded chore.
So what’s an ill person to do? Getting clean is a basic life necessity, and some of the comforts of a shower, like the warm water, can help improve disease symptoms. Here are some of the tricks I’ve learned for making the shower comfortable for me:
Get a shower stool. I have long touted the benefits of using a shower stool. There are stools and chairs specially designed for the shower available in most drugstores near their other assistive aids, but sturdy plastic stools and chairs also work if you’re on a budget. Shower stools help you conserve energy and prevent pain by allowing you to sit down while you bathe. This goes a long way in improving the safety and comfort of a bath.
Make a schedule. When you’re healthy, showers can just happen whenever you feel like it-- decide you want to shower, hop in, and hop out and go. That goes out the window when you’re chronically ill and have to spoons you’re trying to manage. It’s important that you plan your shower for a time when you’re not totally worn down with pain, but also when you have enough time to let your hair dry totally. I like to schedule for a time when I can decompress from the pain afterward. Developing a general shower rhythm can go a long way to helping with pain, too. Save the really hard tasks like washing your hair or shaving for the very last part of your shower so that you’re not too exhausted to finish everything. And remember that not every bathing task needs to be preformed each shower; it’s perfectly fine (and actually healthier) to go a couple showers between washing your hair.
Use a detachable shower-head. Being able to direct the flow of water means that you can easily clean the areas that need cleaning, while keeping the rest of you dry. This means that you don’t need to deal with waiting for your hair to dry on days when you aren’t actually washing your hair. The high-pressured water from the showerhead can be effective at removing dirt and grime without having to use soap or scrub at yourself. On days when you have a bit more energy, spraying yourself with the different pressure settings can make for an easy massage for tight muscles.
Use products that don’t require opening. One of the trickiest things about showering for me was trying to open and squeeze the containers that held my shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. When my hands are really hurting, there’s just no way for me to get into those things. To remedy this, I now use bar soap, since it doesn’t require any manipulating to get to the goods. Another handy solution has been transferring products to empty pump containers; since you can use any body part to push down on the plunger you can get out the product on even the worst of days.
Finally, make sure to let someone know when you’re showering. You can’t plan for an accident, and you want to make sure you don’t end up trapped in your tub if you run out of energy or fall down. A roommate or family member could easily fill this role, but if you're living alone you could text someone or let somebody know on social media.