Lost touch how a year without hugs affects our mental health

Even though a dog can do a lot, there are limits to what they can do. My staffy and I live together. By week eight of the first lockdown, she was rolling her eyes at me for my ever tightening clutch. Before lockdown was announced, I had been couch-bound with Covid and its effects. Then spring and summer went by without any meaningful touch from anyone. I miss the smell of my nephew’s hair and the clothes of my friends, but more importantly, I miss the grounding only another human being can provide. These thoughts were often a surprise to me, and I felt a sting in my solar plexus.

Below the consciousness horizon, there is a need to touch. Our entire self-concept is founded in touch. Before birth, the amniotic fluid from the womb swirls about us. Professor of psychodynamic neuroscience at University College London, Dr Katerina Fotopoulou says that the human body built all its models on the touch of caregivers. “We are utterly dependent on caregivers to meet our core needs.” Touch is the only way to do anything.

Nina Smith, 40, lives alone in south London. After sustaining a severe spinal injury in 2018, Nina Smith had to endure a long recovery that required her to be bed-bound for several months. People visited her, but she was so pain-stricken that touching her was impossible. She believed she had good foresight about how to prepare for the lockdown. “For instance, I knew how strict and disciplined I needed to be with going for walks. You always feel better when you’re in different environments.” But her resolve began to crumble after six weeks. “The isolation that I had already experienced made me more vulnerable than what I realized.” I tried to maintain a routine, but …” she starts to cry. “At some point, being unable to hug my partner was truly torturous. The government didn’t consider the effects of the first lockdown on those living alone, which I believe is a mistake.

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