Contact-less, yet contact-filled
There’s no podcast version of today’s issue, for reasons that will likely become apparent as you read on.
I haven’t touched someone since March. A dear friend braided my hair about a month ago, as we sat at a five-person outdoor going-away gathering for another dear friend. I’m tearing up now just remembering what it was like - even with my anxiety pulsing out of my chest - to have someone else’s body in contact with mine.
There’s been two, maybe three times I’ve unintentionally bumped hands with a Tesco or Lidl checkout attendant as they hand me a receipt. Each has provided a split second of reprieve before the concern sets in.
Anyone who is around me knows that I’m a very physical person. (I still don’t understand how it isn’t my top love language.) Hugs? I would like all of them, please. Laughing? My hands tend to flail a bit and then grab hold of whatever friend is in reaching distance. Grief? Just hold me, please, and don’t talk at all. Even when talking shit amongst a group of people I love, it includes a nudge or a bump alongside any punch line.
If I can pinpoint a single thing that is the hardest of these last seven months, and will be the hardest for the foreseeable future, it’s this. Not being touched. Not being able to touch. With the election and the loneliness and the job search and the pandemic and the uncertainty.
I cry remembering how awkward and horrible my most recent long-term goodbye was without the ability to hug her. I cry when I imagine showing up to Kansas City International Airport and not immediately hugging my parents. I cry when I consider the almost-certainty that I’ll leave Belfast without hugging the people who make this city mean so much more to me. I cry when I remember what it felt like to wake up with a loved one beside me in bed, to wake up cold due to winter or to an overeager air conditioner and immediately seek someone else’s body heat. I cry when I look ahead and attempt to wrap my head around how long it will be before I next can do any of these things without concern for my own health.
That’s the crux of it, I think: being in physical contact with people is currently bad for my physical health, while also something that would do absolute wonders for my mental health. It’s a both/and situation, and yet it is also a situation where the only option I’m considering is continuing as I have. Contactless.
I talk to my parents on the phone every day - oftentimes more than once per day (and usually whether they want to or not ❤️). I text and Facetime with other important people in my life, do the usual social media interactions, virtually tutor loads of people across the U.S. I am by no means starved for social interaction, yet none of these interactions come anywhere near filling the void that a lack of physical touch has left.
Just last night, I played virtual chess (i.e. lost many, many games) with someone important to me. There were moments where having him on a video call while I had a chess board on my iPad felt almost normal, where I didn’t remember having to say goodbye to him when he left the UK in March. And there were other times where I was so wrapped up in my clearly-not-maintained chess skills that I forgot about the pandemic and election and racial justice uprising and everything else because my Queen had just been taken AGAIN. And then there were times where I thought back to us, Christmastime last year, playing board games in an Edinburgh pub that was packed with other people and bright lights and raucous laughter.
I’m finding it so hard to contain these multitudes, and I’m wary of how these will come up for Christmas in particular.
I’m trying to maintain that ‘one day at a time’ approach that Therapist Gail suggests, but the ‘one minute at a time’ of old grief is tending to prove necessary more often than not, or else the ‘how can this world be so damn heavy for so long’ approach. I don’t think any of these are particularly helpful and, to be absolutely honest, I’m throwing things at the wall, hoping they stick, but mostly just trying not to think about any of this.