The last time I hugged another human was the 14th of March 2020. It has been almost two months. Two months since I felt warm hands wrap themselves around my body. Two months since I felt the touch of human flesh against my own. Two months since I could fall into the comfort of someone’s arms. Two months since that feeling wiped away the stress in my body and mind.
When the social distancing and lockdown measures came into place the week after, I panicked. Not because it meant the virus was a bigger deal than we initially realised but rather, it was anxiety about my mental health. I worried that without gyms, I wouldn’t get the endorphin rush that helped keep my mood stable. I worried that without social contact and seeing my friends regularly, I would withdraw into a deep dark hole of despair. I worried that without access to the beach or the water, I would not be able to soothe myself. I worried that without the promise of live music events, I would not feel a sense of connection and have things to look forward to. Life looked bleak. And while to many, it might seem frivolous almost, for someone who has had a history of depression, who is well aware of the warning signs, who has put things in place to keep the black dog away, this chance of it recurring was worse than a virus.
Since then, after undergoing the massive lows and the heightened anxiety of it all, I have reached a stage of acceptance. It took about a month to get there. Slowly and surely, I have put things in place to keep my mental health at bay. We are fortunate here to be able to still see people outdoors for exercise. And so, I have made it a point to see at least one friend for a walk or swim on the weekend. I haven’t been able to see them all though because a lot of them live further away from me. But here’s the thing. While it’s great to see some of them, I am also so very aware of what is missing. The hugs. The sense of touch.
When my hours at work were reduced, it sucked and while I had empathic friends, a hug would have helped even more. When my friend was struggling, I listened and supported them. But I really wanted to give them a hug. After spending two to three hours with a friend, talking about everything and nothing, I just wanted us to hold each other. But we couldn’t. Because of social distancing.
In the rhetoric around social distancing and lockdown measures worldwide, there has continued to be the emphasis on ‘spending time with families’, ‘changing how we live as families’, ‘connecting with families.’ Similarly, all the measures originally put in place, including the two-person gathering rule, favoured coupled up people, people in the same household, or families.
But there are several people like me who live alone. Or don’t have families that we can visit either. What happens to us? I know people can feel lonely within a family too. I know you can feel lonely when surrounded by others. But when there is a pandemic, when everyone is going through a hard time, sometimes, all you want is a hug. Or to sit down with someone and have them hold you. And apparently now, I can’t even do that. But if you belong to a family or the same household, you can.
When we hug someone, it releases oxytocin – a hormone that helps reduce stress, fear and pain – all of which we need even more right now. Even touching someone and making eye contact can help form bonds and connection, and once again some of us are not able to get that.
I get that there is a deadly virus. But, loneliness kills people too. Depression kills people too. I just wish we could take these just as seriously. Because despite all the technological advances of keeping connected, sometimes, you just need to physically be with another human being who you can talk to, listen, and hug.