Last week, for three consecutive days I showered twice a day. On the third day, that is when it hit me, ‘Damn me! I have been taking a shower twice a day without my usual showering anxieties. Not once but twice!’
It is hard to admit that for almost three years now, I have struggled with shower time and baths in general. The thought of picking my clothes after showering, ironing them, adjusting the water in the shower to my desired temperature, doing the body scraping, drying myself afterward, and putting on the clothes was mentally and physically draining.
The best comparison of my showering burden was the mental load women face when it comes to mealtime. For family meal time to proceed smoothly, she thinks about grocery shopping, each family member’s food preference, food rotation not to repeat what was eaten last week, and buying food from all macro classes while simultaneously maintaining the food budget. If she has help, then she will supervise how food is cleaned, packaged, and stored in the fridge. Then there is cooking. You get the gist of it, right?
That was me with showering.
This wasn’t always the case. I started having anxiety around shower time when I returned to work in May 2020 after my maternity leave. Before my maternity, I had a looming sense that I wanted out of the workplace. I didn’t have a way of going about it. And honestly, at that point, I didn’t know if it was possible to even quit the job. In hindsight, I believe the five months I was on maternity leave gave me clarity that I needed to quit before it was too late for my mental health.
Having an infant enabled me to negotiate a work shift with minimal interactions with bosses and colleagues. The shift started at 3.00 pm and ended at 11.00 pm. My shower time was between 12.00 pm and 2.00 pm. And in most cases, I needed to give myself a pep talk before finally showering. It became a running joke among my siblings and friends that if you wanted to catch my explosive mood/wrath call me at 12.00 and say, “Val it is that time of the day?”
I tried to change my bath time to morning. It didn’t work because I could end up dreading work for six works instead of the usual two hours. I thought maybe taking a shower and following it immediately by engaging in an activity I loved, say journaling or watching a favourite series, reading. That only ended up making me moodier and couldn’t enjoy the activity that I loved.
I remember wearing jeans and t-shirts a lot during that period because they didn’t need ironing. Buying a Nivea showering cream that smelt heavenly to ease my showering anxieties.
Study shows us, “ within any given workgroup, about 15% of workers will exhibit symptom clusters of sufficient severity and duration to meet criteria for a diagnosis of acute stress disorder(ASD) or post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD). My response towards shower time was my body responding to stress.
It wasn’t the showering that was the issue but the fact that now I have showered, what next, going to work? And going to the job I hated filled me with so much sadness I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy a simple bath.
In 2021, an online survey by Kira and Colleagues covering 6 countries (USA, Canada, South Africa, Japan, United Kingdom, and Asia) did research on the number of employees who had experienced a PTSD event at work. 48.80% of the survey respondents said they had dealt with at least one traumatic experience that lasted more than a month.
I knew showering was a trigger but I didn’t know how common workplace PTSD is. In another study, employees admitted to feeling physically sick, with muscle aches and back pains just by thinking of going to work.
Other symptoms that indicate an employee is experiencing acute stress disorder or PTSD at work include; self-isolation, low work productivity, constant conflicts with managers and colleagues, absenteeism, Task avoidance, fear, sadness, accidents, and loss of motivation.
Looking back, each of my fifteen colleagues exhibited at least one of these symptoms.
It brings me so much sadness when I see workplaces that have normalized stress at work. One manager told me just before I resigned, “I could stay and fight for a fair and healthy workplace.”
It’s almost a year since I quit my job but anytime I went to take a shower my body could tense. I could postpone showering as much as I could. And most Sundays whenever I was indoors, it was a no-bath day.
You expect that once you are out of this workplace. And you are in a job that ticks all your boxes, that fulfills your heart's desire. Then you can stop feeling the stress in your body. But it takes time.
Another of my trauma has been the dread of returning to Mombasa even if it is a vacation. The other day, my sister asked me in our WhatsApp group, “Val, are you healed enough for us to go back to the coast?”
The truth is, I don’t know. Some days I think yes then I pass through Mombasa Road and see the SGR terminus and I am like no, I am not going back there.
My friend Eyevee moved to the coast the same month I was leaving. We house-hunted her two-bedroomed apartment and one of those two bedrooms was to be my room whenever I visited. I am yet to visit. I know I should visit before her contract ends in May, but my body and mind are still stuck in the past that saw Coast as a place of pure chaos.
For now, I am grateful that I can enjoy shower time again.