Coping with the pandemic has divided us all into roughly two categories.
In one group are those who either live alone, or with non-intimate roommates. Social distancing takes on painfully broad implications for these lonely souls as they find that physical intimacy—touch in particular—is even riskier to access now than it was before March. It’s a terrible thing when even the most basic social validation must be weighed against the harm we might cause seeking it.
Opposite this group are those who live with intimate others: partners, lovers, family, etc. In exchange for the physical validation their situation provides, this group has lost much of their ability to be alone. Privacy, rather than touch, is in scarcity: every room in the house a theatre, every shift in mood, a broadcast.
What’s your lockdown like? Share in the survey below:
None of these scenarios are hopeless—painful? Maybe. Exhausting? I believe it. But hopeless?
The bind that you’re in might be bringing up some very uncomfortable feelings in you. To outlast this rough spot first ask yourself if you’re willing to see those uncomfortable feelings as valid—maybe even valuable. Can you focus your attention, just for a moment, on how it feels to be in your position instead of what it means?
Next, let’s try out some creative solutions based on the answers you chose in the survey above.
I Need Touch
It’s ok. Everyone does. You are equipped, not just to receive it, but also to provide it!
What you’ll need: a comb or hairbrush and a dry washcloth
1) Find yourself a comfortable, quiet, reasonably private spot.
2) Now, pick one of your limbs. Roll up your sleeves/pant legs until you’ve exposed at least 10-12 inches of skin somewhere on the chosen limb.
3) With your comb or hairbrush, slowly pass the bristles over the skin in long, even strokes. Move lengthwise, crosswise, diagonal, whatever feels interesting. Continue this until the whole area has been passed over at least three times (but up to as many as feels good!).
4) Once finished, take a few moments to consider how the skin feels after the treatment. What sensations do you notice?
5) Now, take your dry washcloth and repeat the process over the same area. Draw your attention to the difference between the feeling of the bristles and the feeling of the cloth. Do you prefer one over the other?
6) Again, pause a moment and notice how your skin feels after the second treatment.
Your body will interpret your curiosity about these sensations as care. This care is a physical action, not just a thought, and it does not require a judgement or an improvement. Few things are as validating as being seen exactly as you are—even if all you’re “seeing” is the feel of cloth on a 10-inch patch of skin.
I Need Privacy
When we say we need privacy, what we typically mean is that “I need to be myself privately.” We all have thoughts, feelings and behaviors that we are not eager to see scrutinized by others, even our loved ones—perhaps, especially our loved ones.
But sometimes, space is non-negotiable. If we can’t negotiate the space, is it possible to negotiate what parts of you absolutely must stay private?
One strategy for exploring this is signaling for the people in your space when you have something you want to express that is a little out of the ordinary for you, but that doesn’t require a response from them.
Some examples of these signals are phrases like:
“I just want to brainstorm this . . .”
“I just want to hear what these words sound like . . .”
“I’m not saying something I believe, I’m just trying to process this idea . . .”
“Do you have the patience to let me think out loud for a minute?”
“This might be ridiculous, but I want to hear how ridiculous it is . . .”
Phrases like these alert people to the fact that what you’re trying to express isn’t a suggestion, a belief, a demand, or any other kind of concrete shift in the household dynamic. It’s verbal playtime.
Our voices are literal extensions of our bodies. Clear thinking frequently requires that our bodies are somehow involved in the thinking process, and vocalization is a great way to do it—as long as the people around us feel safe. What kind of phrases could you introduce into your household that would make it easier for everyone to express difficult thoughts and feelings? How might you define spaces for processing rather than declaring?