The Exhaustion of Cleaning When You Have Chronic Fatigue

I’m sure if you ask anyone who has ever lived with me, “Is Louisa a clean and tidy person?” they would probably laugh in your face and roll their eyes in a comedic fashion. I’ve never been a naturally tidy person, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be and, after living with an assortment of housemates over the years, I like to think I developed some skill at being mindful of mess. I now live by myself, which definitely has its positives. You don’t get in to arguments about whose turn it is to clean, there aren’t passive aggressive Post-Its on various surfaces or your belongings don’t magically reappear in your bedroom.

I am actually very house-proud (yep, just heard some more laughter).

As someone with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, the act of cleaning and tidying has, once again, become an alien concept to me. I envy those whose cleaning habits are second nature to them. I love having everything clean and in order, but it’s just not something I am capable of doing on a regular basis. Instead of arguing with others, I’m arguing with myself about the mountain of laundry in my bedroom, the grotty plates in the sink and the grimy fluff building up in the corners of the walls. I feel disgusted and ashamed.

After a while, I just can’t take it anymore. I shlep out of my sick bed and I clean everything in sight. Afterwards, I return to my bed where I spend several hours/couple of days recovering and lie there cursing myself for cleaning everything at once. What would make more sense is doing it all in bite-size chunks — laundry one day, washing up the next, etc. However, for some reason, having one thing clean and other things dirty gets on my nerves and I feel I can’t leave all the other stuff. It’s very frustrating. I feel like my body and brain are in constant conflict with each other over this.

Now, I’m going to make a pretty revolting confession here… I hardly ever bathe or shower. I go four to five days without going near water unless it’s to wash my hands. Once again, I am completely and utterly ashamed of this. It’s not because I don’t want to keep my body clean — far from it. I have always been fastidious about my personal hygiene, in particular my teeth cleaning. However, my body tells my brain “er, nope.” Body usually wins this battle. The whole process of washing is incredibly tiring and draining. Just the thought of getting in the shower feels like I’m about to climb Mount Everest. Standing for a few minutes can be excruciatingly painful. Dizziness and nausea also like to put in an appearance. Plus, it’s all the other things that go with it… undressing, lifting arms up to wash hair, redressing, blow drying hair. Oh boy! Don’t get me started on hair drying. I consider it the most boring and difficult life task and, no matter how thorough I am, I always seem to miss a huge nasty wet patch which clings to my neck for the rest of the day like a hairy limpet.

My lack of personal hygiene ultimately leads to me canceling plans with people. I then feel isolated and that I’m letting people down. I don’t want my friends spending time with Pig Pen from “Peanuts,” I want them to see the person I know I can be — squeaky-clean, freshly-made-up, hair-did-Louisa with a beautiful grown-up tidy flat. So, really, my lack of enthusiasm to socialize is actually a public service.

I don’t choose to be messy and smelly, my illness forces me to be. It doesn’t mean I’m lazy or gross (not intentionally, anyway) it’s just yet another unhelpful side effect of chronic fatigue. I hope people who know me well enough know that it’s not who I really am.

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