I’m in my second week of what I’ll call a mini Personal Care Series. Last week, I talked about design solutions to save energy with your morning routine. Next week, I’ll talk about some easy jewelry options. But today I want to tackle the big dog: showering.
Why is this the thing that is so exhausting? Did you ever imagine before you were sick that you would need to recover from a shower? And yet here we are, psyching ourselves up for the big moment as though we were preparing to run the 100 meter dash in the Olympics!
If showers are a struggle for you, too, then let me share a few of the things that have saved me valuable energy.
Stubbornness and pride kept me from investing in a grab bar during my first two relapses, and in hindsight I regret it. Getting into and out of the tub was such a challenge, and I was often afraid of falling. When I entered my third relapse, I finally went looking for solutions. The reality for me is that I don’t really need a grab bar when I am in remission. For whatever reason, it’s just not as hard for me during those stretches to get into and out of the tub. So I wanted something removable. I didn’t even know removable grab bars were an option until I read about them here!
I invested in this grab bar, because I wanted something that coordinated with the overall look of the metal fixtures in my bathroom. Although this bar is plastic, it at least has the look of metal. There are countless other options on the market in various colors and finishes and price points. I was a little tentative about how well it would hold, but I tested it out before I used it. I pulled with all my weight, and the handle didn’t budge! I was convinced. And I can’t believe how much easier it has made things for me getting in and out of the tub to shower, or getting up from soaking in the bathtub. And the bonus is that since it’s removable, I can take it with me when I travel for extra assistance on the road!
If you prefer a permanent grab bar, check out my post dedicated just to beautiful, functional grab bars.
My pride held me back from getting a shower seat for a long time, too, and I paid the price for it. I would stumble out of the shower and either sit on the edge of the tub or collapse into my bed after standing while showering. I finally gave in and tried sitting on the floor of the bathtub and discovered that it saved me some energy (although showering will always be exhausting to some extent). Having been sold on the idea that sitting might help, I went in search of a good shower seat.
There are so many wonderful options on the market, and someday I will do a post dedicated to those, too. I would have loved a fold-down wall seat or something along those lines, but it just didn’t work with our bathroom set up. We have one family bathroom where everyone showers, so it was essential that whatever I got be removable. Since our space is limited, it also needed to be collapsible. And since I am me, I couldn’t bring myself to live with something that looked medical. So this was the solution I found. It is a little lower than I would have liked, but otherwise it serves its purpose well. I love the wood, and being bamboo, it’s hardy and should last well. When I’m not using it, I can collapse the whole thing down and tuck it beside our vanity. And it really does save me energy to sit while I am showering.
Dry Shampoo and Hair Care
I don’t know many of us living with chronic illness who haven’t at least contemplated dry shampoo. Not having to wash our hair, comb it, dry it, style it, and all that that involves, is an invaluable way to save energy. I have naturally curly hair, and it took me a long time to find a product that made my hair look clean without weighing it down or affecting the curl. I was over the moon when I found this product, and it has completely changed how I’m able to stretch out my hair washing days. A little bit goes a long way, and the bottle is inexpensive to begin with, so it’s a budget-friendly option too. On the days between when I wash my hair, I also find I don’t need to re-apply my hair product, which saves energy and money. All in all, this find was a life-saver for me!
I also save energy by applying my hair product in the shower. I discovered the “curly girl method” of hair styling some time ago, and have found ways to adapt it so that it’s a little more chronic illness-friendly. For example, just before I rinse out my conditioner I hold my head under the water and comb my hair. The conditioner and running water help loosen any tangles so I don’t have to do as much work. Once the conditioner is rinsed, I apply my hair gel, turn my head upside down, and scrunch my curls. Then I “plop” them in an old t-shirt and wrap them up. They can sit like that until I’m finished getting dressed, or for half an hour if I need to crawl back into bed. When I take them out, I just adjust the curls so they fall the way I want them to, and my hair is done for the day. If you have curly hair, I highly recommend streamlining your process as much as possible so that you have energy left over for other things.
I often have joint pain, especially in my hands, so anything that minimizes pressure on my joints is helpful. Using a simple pump bottle can help reduce effort and energy expenditure and minimize pain. My current shampoo and conditioner are not available in pump bottles, and I’ve considered purchasing a bottle that I can pour the product into to save effort in the shower.
Temperature is a huge issue when I’m showering, both in the room and in the water. I find I get chilled easily, and shiver and shake violently for a long time after I’ve gotten cold. So I am careful to make sure the room is warm enough when I go in. We have a small space heater that sits on our vanity countertop, and it helps get the room to a comfortable temperature.
At the same time, too much heat makes me feel dizzy and nauseated. I’ve learned to be careful with my water temperature to make sure it doesn’t make things worse on the other end of the spectrum. We have a jetted tub, so on days when I’m having a lot of pain or muscle aches, I love to soak in the tub with some Epsom salts. I have to be very careful not to be overly ambitious with the hot water, or I will feel faint by the time I get out. When I overheat like that, it usually takes me hours to recover. So finding the right balance in temperature is hugely important for me!
This tip may feel like a cop-out, but it’s essential: I plan my showers very carefully. If I know I will have a busy day and will be pushing my limits with the activities I have planned, I make sure it’s a short shower/dry shampoo day. If I need to dress up or have bare legs, I shower the night before and shave my legs right before bed so I can fall into bed and stay there when I’m done.
That’s just how we roll with chronic illness, isn’t it? Every step we take is calculated and planned. We think ahead to what we’ll need to do in a few hours, or even a few days, to make sure we have enough steam left in the tank for those things. It’s essential.
I also make sure I have everything gathered within easy reach before I shower: I have my clothes laid out, my towel within reach, and I set the shampoo and conditioner where I can get to them from my seat. I keep everything as close together as I can so that I can minimize steps.
Hacks I Haven’t Tried or Don’t Use
There are a few hacks I don’t use, but have heard can be helpful from others in the chronic illness community.
- Using a handheld shower head. Many people recommend this, especially if you are showering seated. It can also be helpful if you live with chronic pain, since the water can be directed just where it is needed and avoid painful areas. For me, I have found that gripping the shower handle and having to move it where I need it actually expends more energy. When I have joint pain, it also hurts my hands. So for me, this one has not been helpful in the past. But it might be worth trying for you!
- Wrapping in a terry robe. I’ve actually considered trying this, as it would save even more energy not having to towel off. When I’m feeling particularly wiped and sit on the edge of the tub with a towel wrapped around me, I’ve noticed the one upside is that I don’t have to dry myself off. A terry robe would wick away the water and also feel incredibly soft and comforting stepping out of the shower.
- Using a terry head wrap. Similarly, there are great terry head wraps on the market that would make drying hair incredibly easy. They are designed, like the robe, to wick away moisture and dry the hair quickly. Not unlike my “plopped” hair, if you need to crawl back into bed after showering, you might wake to find your hair dry and ready to be styled.
- Using an electric razor. An electric razor could be an easy way to conserve energy, as the razor does most of the work for you. It’s also possible to use it without water while seated outside of the shower, to break up the energy expenditure.
- Using a two-in-one shampoo. Using just one product for hair (or even for hair and body) saves time and effort in the shower. Especially if you find it exhausting to raise your arms and rinse your hair, eliminating one step can be very helpful. There are many different products on the market with both shampoo and conditioner, too, to make it easy to find one that works for you.
What are the things you’ve found most helpful? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!