I finish rinsing out my mouth and rip my pajamas off in a frenzy. Stopping to catch my breath, I steady myself on the towel rack. My head is spinning and my stomach is queasy. I have got to get my act together. I pause to collect myself, then I pull back the shower curtain, and a cloud of steam billows up to surround me.
I hold tightly to the towel rack as I step into the shower. The water feels wonderful. Hot. Steaming. Stepping into the streaming water, I move slowly… deliberately, keeping my body fully aligned and absolutely straight. I step forward into the stream, my gaze fixed intently on the square tiles in front of me — particularly on a rectangle of glue residue below the shower head that darkens one of the tiles in front of me. The residue appears to be left over from the prior occupants of this house, who probably had a shower caddy of some kind attached to the wall. The caddy is long gone, but now the texture is useful as I focus with all my might on the spot, and so steady myself.
My head spins, and I reach out to the tiled walls to keep my balance. The smooth coolness of the tiles under my fingertips calms me, and I run my fingers along the lines of the grout, relishing the roughness under my skin. Feeling the texture of the grout focuses my attention on that single point, that one sensation in the midst of all others. I find my attention drawn to the miniature hills of tile that flank the valleys between them. After a few moments of running my hands along the wall, I feel more stable, and I can pay attention to taking my shower.
I have to be careful under the running water, making sure I don’t get water in my eyes. I have to keep my eyes open, or I feel like I’m going to fall. I have already nearly fallen several times, this past week, and the idea really worries me. In my mind’s eye, I have sudden visions of myself falling and breaking something, and my partner not waking up to find me until hours later. My imagination plays a short, distressing “film” of me hitting my head and knocking myself out and staying under the hot shower, burned by the water that I cannot make cooler. A hundred different catastrophic images loop through my mind, before I bring my attention back to my shower.
I absolutely hated taking showers when I was a kid and I hated having my hair shampooed. As sickening as it is for me now, to close my eyes when I’m having problems with my ears and equilibrium, it was even harder for me when I was young. Baths weren’t much better. Sitting in a bathtub filled with smelly, soapy water… unable to balance when my eyes are closed, slipping into the water, getting water up my nose… unable to feel the sides of the tub because my fingers were “raisins” and wrinkled, and I can’t get a good grip on anything to stabilize myself… It’s nerve-wracking just thinking about it, let alone experiencing it.
I also found my grandparents’ house to be very hostile… just because of the water. My grandparents softened their water, and I hated the feel of it – it was too soapy and slick and disorienting for me. I never felt like I was getting clean or dry when we visited their house, and in retrospect, I suspect that’s why my parents didn’t have us kids stay over that much. I became and agitated at their place, and years later I now realize it was probably because of the feel of their water that I acted out. Visits to my grandparents were usually punctuated with plenty of “unacceptable” behavior, like rowdiness and temper tantrums. If I had known then what I know now about how their water felt to me, I might have been able to explain why I was such a problem at their house. But I wasn’t, and I couldn’t, so my parents are saddled with my grandparents’ disapproval of their parenting skills. But knowing – even now – how distressing and agitating the experience of water always has been for me, I doubt that anyone’s parenting skills would have been adequate to keep me in check during those times of intense agitation.
Now, with one hand on the wall in front of me, I face the shower head, letting the water pound my sternum reassuringly, my vision fixed on the straight lines of the tiles in front of me. That helps me keep my balance. Parallel and perpendicular lines help me orient myself. They make everything stop spinning. Whenever I start to feel woozy, I run my eyes along the straight lines, and I feel better before long.
I hold very still as I rinse off for the first time, turning carefully… slowly… as I wet down my entire body. My skin needs to be completely wet and slick, so that when I soap up, the bar of soap moves smoothly across my body. If it hits a dry spot, the bar will jump out of my hands, and then I’ll need to bend down and pick it up. Today, my balance is so bad, that I doubt I can do anything that complex. If I drop the soap, it’s staying on the bathtub basin till my partner can pick it up.
I keep my eyes open the whole time I rinse off. I hold my head up and keep enough distance from the water so it doesn’t hit my face. I turn slowly, stiffly, keeping one hand on the wall at all times to steady myself, until my body is completely wet. Slippery. Slick.
Now I need to soap up. Holding myself ramrod straight, I press one hand against the smooth, cool wall beside me and bend my knees to lower myself to reach the soap in the holder that’s recessed into the shower wall. I don’t look down, but feel my way towards it, as though I were blind. From my peripheral vision, I can tell roughly where the soap is, and I pick it up carefully, holding it as firmly as possible. I cup the bar in my hand and run it all over my slick body, then I put it back in the holder and try to lather myself up as much as possible. I need to get clean. I have to be clean. People make rude comments to/about me, wrinkle their noses, and behave strangely towards me, if I’m a little “funky”, so I take special care to make sure I’m as well-washed as I can possibly be.
Then I rinse off… again turning carefully and stiffly under the shower, one hand always on the wall, the other swiping soapy water from my body.