Being washed by carers

One of the most intimate parts of my care is being washed by another person.  Once my hand splints come off, I struggle to use my hands and can’t open bottles or hold a sponge without causing further hand pain.  It is because of this that my carers wash me, my entire body, yes, even there.  My entire body.

What does this mean for a 32 year old?  Well, today it’s normal.  I started having carers wash me when I was 28 and the flat I lived in wasn’t accessible.  We were having to sponge wash me at the sink.  I would sit in my dressing gown and we’d slowly work through my body.  It was cold and tiring and that was my overwhelming feelings about the matter.  They over-rode any concerns about privacy and dignity and nakedness.

But, it was important to me that it wasn’t just anyone who was washing me.  I insisted on regular carers than I could build a relationship with and there were particular carers who I chose to wash me because we had a better rapport.  One of my carers was very nervy and anxious and the idea of having her wash me wasn’t one I was ok with.  Another was incompetent and whilst that’s not great when she’s brushing my hair, it’s something else when she’s taking a sponge to my boobs…

Later I would move into a flat with a shower and whilst it was much better than sponge washes, it did change things slightly.  I was sitting in front of a fully dressed carer whilst I was completely and utterly naked.  And yet, I was ok with this, so long as I could chose the carer.  We got into routines and it was a bit like a strange dance; I start by offering my arm out to be washed, then I turn and my other arm gets washed.  Then my legs, then my back, then my tummy and so on.

Today, having carers shower me is run of the mill, it’s what we do, it’s how I get clean.  Still though, the quality of the shower is down to how good my relationship with my carer is.  I had a carer last year who I didn’t get on with, who didn’t listen and who didn’t treat me with the respect she should have.  I didn’t like having a shower with her.  She got shampoo and shower gel in places that didn’t need it – eyes, ears etc.  She didn’t like to talk whilst showering me.  She stood as far away from me as she could whilst also doing the job.  She tried to do things her own way which means the strange shower dance I have spent years perfecting didn’t work.  It was awkward and clumsy and disconnected and I felt like an object.

Similarly, carers who are prudish or standoffish make for an awkward atmosphere.  They see you naked and whilst I don’t expect to see my carers naked, I do expect to feel like I know something of the carer, outside their job.  That they have a couple of kids or a dog is enough.  That acknowledgement that we are both people.

I am lucky and I am now with a great care agency who focus on compatibility which in turn means showers are easier.  But the idea of being with an agency that sends out different people every day horrifies me.  To be showered by someone who has just met you, who doesn’t know you as a person, who doesn’t know what you can and can’t do and what might be risky or not.  It doesn’t happen in any other relationship.  The very least I would expect is to have met the person who is seeing me naked, in a physically vulnerable situation.  To have a care manager who acknowledges that I am a person with preferences and not an object.  It is not like taking a car to a car wash.  There needs to be dignity and rapport, understanding and empathy.

The vulnerability inherent in being showered by a carer must also be acknowledged:

“One person, strong and able, stands above and over another who is frail and physically vulnerable, forced to rely on their strength and goodwill… Being naked in the face of someone who is not, contains a powerful dynamic of domination and vulnerability, and it is often used in situations of interrogation and torture as a means of subjugating the individual.”
Julia Twigg

If you are washing, or being washed, by another person:

  • make sure the room is warm enough – being showered by another person is a lot colder than showering yourself
  • check the temperature of the water and make sure to either keep checking it or that the person being washed feels comfortable enough to speak up
  • non slip mats for safety
  • a shower seat can make things easier and safer
  • if the person being washed can do bits of it, let them; if they can do lots of it, they may want you to wait outside within shouting distance
  • if you’re being washed, having nice products can make it feel a little nicer
  • showering can be a good time to check for sores and rashes and bruises and such things
  • check what side of the sponge the person wants using – I want rough side for legs and soft side for top half of my body
  • having a shower routine can make things easier, less tiring and quicker
  • once showered, my carers wrap my towelling dressing gown around me and I dry that way
  • but most importantly of all, communicate, and remember that you’re helping a person, you aren’t washing a car.

What makes you come alive?

At a recent appointment with my psych nurse we spent a while talking about rubbish things which have probably contributed to the recurrent depression, self harm and anorexia.  Needless to say, the mood in the room was heavy.  Then she turned the conversation and we started to talk about things I enjoy.  After a while, she stopped and looked thoughtful and then told me how she had seen me come alive as I started to talk about photography, travel etc and how she’d really felt the atmosphere change in the room.

A few days after, there was a post on twitter which said find what makes you come alive and do more of it (or something to that effect).

It’s something I’m really trying to keep hold of.

What makes me come alive and how am I planning on doing more of it?

Photography – I’ve started following a couple of photography blogs for inspiration; I’ve made a note of techniques I want to try out with my diana mini; I’m hoping to get to the lomography store whilst I’m in London this week to pick up some interesting film; I’ve got my eye on a new lens for my DSLR and it’s only £150 so is affordable-ish.

Books – keep reading! I’ve got a good routine at work now where I read on my lunch break instead of sitting at my computer.  I also think it would be nice to set aside a couple of pounds a week to go to a cafe with a book.

Travel – I can’t fly at the moment (I have been forbidden by the psych nurse on account of my weight which is a good reason for gaining some weight and I need to keep reminding myself of that) but that doesn’t mean I can’t make plans.  I have planned in a bit of detail an independent trip to Norway.  I’ve also decided on a small group tour in Cambodia and started to look for somewhere to stay in Lille.  In the meantime, my travel is restricted to trains but that’s ok – I’m off to Scotland in August for a writing, photography, art week away on a remote island.  I’m also staying at a hotel which is in a bookshop on the way and way back!

Learning – over the last couple of weeks I’ve been to quite a few workshops and lectures as part of York Festival of Ideas – Writing Recklessly, Randomness and Chaos in Art, The Rise of the Female Diplomat, Listening to the City (a writing workshop), Frogs Don’t Need to Get Hot (about social support and mental health) and Moving Beyond Boundaries (about teaching women’s history in schools).  I’ve really enjoyed these and have (reluctantly) acknowledged that I’ve got so much more out of them because I have been eating more and have gained a little weight.  I’m also trying to get back into my Future Learn courses.  Last night when insomnia struck, I returned to looking at the MA in Women’s Studies that I want to do but I know, sensibly, that I can’t do right now.  I also had a look at some of the open university modules and think that might be an option before the MA.  But before that I need to get healthier.  So I’m currently waiting for the centre for lifelong learning brochure to come out and hopefully I’ll book myself onto a short course or a weekend course which I think will be more achievable.

Dinosaurs – dinos rock!  They are amazing and I feel like me and dinosaurs have been a bit distant of late so I’m hoping to reconnect with them and their awesomeness!  This has most recently included a trip to the natural history museum in Brussels where I bought a hoodie with a dino on it (I’m that cool!).  I also have the bones of a poem about a diplodocus which I need to go back to.

A year on

WordPress has just kindly pointed out that this blog has been around for a year.

My first post included a poem I had written based on my tweets which makes for interesting reflection.  The blog was started primarily as a way of getting back into writing but also because I was sinking further into a hellish pit of depression and destructive coping mechanisms.  My eating disorder was starting to take hold and I had done a good job of self silencing.  I had attempted to seek help from my GP and through work and hadn’t been successful.

Written last year:

Elusive words

Choke
(Bindweed)

Metaphors
Stuck
In the dark

Peaceful/painful silence
(Delete as applicable)

Battle ready
(Battle vulnerable?)

Overstep
Reclaim

By a strange coincidence I wrote another poem based on my tweets today:

pretence at sanity guides through
disturbed moments
a reminder of lost feelings
sharing imaginings of gifts

fight back with uncomfortable defiance

A year on and I’ve managed to speak and I’ve finally managed to get some help.  It’s a huge relief but in order to recover I know I have to struggle back through the hell of depression.  Anorexia has numbed me and eating releases the feelings but anorexia is not sustainable.  I face the depression or I die.  They are my choices.  I choose to face it.

I don’t want to be sitting here, wasting my life to anorexia, when wordpress tells me it’s been two years.

Speak louder (or why I’m talking about my mental health)

DSC_0294 edited

I’m talking a lot about my mental health at the moment (more so on twitter than here) and I feel a need to explain.  One of the reasons I think I have ended up where I am is because I didn’t talk.  Therefore talking is important to my recovery.  Also, having a way of externalising bad thoughts and feelings and acknowledging the good days and behaviours is a healthier way for me to validate my experience.  I have an overwhelming need for validation and I know this is something that drives my destructive behaviours and keeps me trapped in their vicious cycles.  Eating disorders and self harm can be incredibly secretive and talking about them is helping to free me from them.  Talking (or tweeting as is more often the case) helps to keep me accountable, even if it’s just being accountable to myself.

I also think that we should talk about mental health and one of the ways that some good can come out of where I am is by raising awareness of depression, self harm and eating disorders.  Even if it’s just normalising the fact that someone is talking about it.

So, if you happen to speak to me you may find I mention my psych nurse, my eating disorder appointments, my weigh ins or my dietitian in passing.  These are part of my life at the moment and the fact that they are means I am fighting, I am trying to recovery.  The fact they are part of my life is a positive thing.  If my talking about it makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why.  I am not ashamed.  Are you?

This is my life. This isn’t a life.

Wake up, run hands over body to check for overnight weight gain.

Drag self out of bed. If I stand up and the room goes black then I know I’m on track.

Put on the kettle.  Make coffee.  A taste acquired through anorexia .

Strip off.  Weigh self.  A good day will see weight loss.  A bad day, weight gain.  You have to weigh yourself before you can eat or drink anything.  You have to weigh yourself naked.  No more pj days for me.

Slowly get dressed.  Exhaustion makes it difficult to do everything.

Wearing seven layers and still not warm.

Drink coffee.  Possibly have dry cereal for breakfast.

Then drag self to work.  Walk seems like forever.  Have to take the lift one floor.

More coffee.  Mainline diet pepsi.  Countdown minutes till lunch.  Lunch, which can barely be called that.  Constant counting of calories.  Working out the possibilities of food combinations.  What can I have for tea? If I have that then I can’t have the other thing.  How can I reduce calorie content of foods?  Constantly thinking.  Constantly counting.

Countdown minutes till I can leave.  Struggle to get to the end of the day.  Trying to remember how to hold conversation.  Pretense of normality.

Dragging self home is almost impossible.  Miles and miles of painful exhausted steps.

Surrounded by mess and dirty dishes, force self to cook.

Eat watching dvds.

Stay, stuck, on the sofa.

Bed. Dreams of food.

Start again.

This is my life.

 

This isn’t a life.