21 May 2012

Skin hunger


Last year I wrote the blog post I am most proud of - Untouched. Untouched was born from a conversation between me and the man I love/d. The conversation was about the crave for human touch. Writing it brought tears to my eyes as I wrote it, and left my heart heaving. The part at the end where I refer to sleeping in a man's arms is about my time with that man I love/d. I keep changing the tense of the way I feel. Love vs loved. I think I still love him. In an Alanis-like moment, he changed his Facebook profile picture today - a picture of his hands. Those hands that held me and made me feel so wanted.

Writing Untouched took such emotion. I felt worn out after the final key stroke. But the comments lifted me up, especially from him (he was so moved by the post he wrote that he was going to save it to look back on) - I didn't realise how much it would resonate with people. I look back on it and think about how I considered every word, and how the sense of touch really makes me feel. I also think about how much I helped the man I love/d and am bittersweet that I gave him some confidence and belief in himself to find a new love.

My Dad read that post, and it was very awkward as he said he worried that I was not being touched enough! When I saw Dad next, he gave me a big hug and said he didn't realise that I missed being touched.

I think about touch a lot. I think about how long it's been since. I don't get touched a lot, and when I do, it feels amazing, and sometimes heightened, even just a tap on the shoulder. It's not necessarily sexual touch that I crave, it's just the feel of skin on skin that I want. A hand held, a hug. I've got skin hunger.
"Skin hunger is the desire or craving to be touched, usually after a period of deprivation...Skin hunger is a relatively new term that has been applied to the emotional response engendered by the loss of touch in our society. One of the five basic senses, touch is the only one deemed essential to human life. During WW II babies in orphanages developed Failure to thrive or even died when deprived of human contact. In a classic study by Harry Harlow, newborn monkeys were taken from their biological mothers and given surrogates made of either wire or soft terry cloth. The baby monkeys consistently chose the soft mother even when deprived of nourishment. The need for bonding outweighed even the basic necessity of food". (As stated here)
This document discusses skin hunger quite well, and so does The art of love and intimacy. And Dawn Lee also discusses how it is a psychological condition.

I didn't know that skin hunger was an actual condition until I read about it on Lori's blog. I am glad I know that what I feel (or in this case, don't) is real.

As I wrote in Untouched, I do believe that having a skin condition like mine means people are scared of touching. Scared they may hurt the person with the skin condition, and maybe scared of getting dirty or catching it. I see others touching things I've touched - they do so gingerly, and with pincers. That sometimes hurts to see, so I pretend I didn't see, in case it makes them feel uncomfortable. It is human nature, even for me, not to want to touch something that looks suspicious. And beauty product advertising is about smooth, touchable skin.

Touch validates people. It shows that someone cares. It shows that you're in fact a real human being - physical matter, and not just a concept that doesn't physically exist. Sometimes I wonder if we are all just stardust, and this world's not real, and then the check out chick puts coins in my hand and I feel their fingers on my palm, fleetingly, and I am reminded, I am real. I exist.

I was thinking about touch at my grandfather's funeral as the celebrant read out the eulogy. I can't remember if I've ever really held my grandparents' hands. I don't remember the feel of their silky aged skin on mine. It made me sad that I don't remember, and sadder if I have never held their hands.

About a month ago, I went to the theatre with my friend. In the dark, he dispensed chocolates from a packet into my hand. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. It was innocent, his hand brushing my palm. And all the while I thought about how long it's been since someone has touched my hand. The touch was less than 10 seconds, but it felt like a lifetime.

As my friend and I said goodbye for the second time that night - for I had missed the train by a few seconds - he hugged me like a bear, said "goodbye darling" and kissed me on the cheek, his stubble scratching me in a good way. Let me reiterate - we are only friends - but this touch stayed with me for so long I had to write about it in my notebook (ok my iPhone notes functions) the next day. That's the closest I've been to someone in a long time.

Skin hunger is strange. My skin is my existence - it defines me in a way. I put cream over my whole body twice a day or more. Self touch is not the same as another's touch. And so few people are in contact with my skin. So, when someone does touch me, the sensation is accelerated. Yet in between touches, I don't have a vivid memory of how it feels (as opposed to the vivid memory of the moments the touch took place). I lose so much skin, and it constantly renews. Is it because my skin constantly renews that I can't remember touch? Is it that my skin's renewal makes for a loss of its memory?


Some forms of touch do not satiate my skin hunger. When I was younger my parents would put cream on my body - in addition to hugs. Of course it would be gentle and with love, but it was more of a carer-type of touch than a cuddle. And in hospital, the nurses and doctors would do my dressings and bath me too. Now I usually do what I can in hospital, and the nurses just do my leg dressings. But this touch is different - it's vinyl-gloved, clinical and impersonal. I wonder that because there is the barrier of my creams that the touch doesn't feel the same?

Other forms of touch do satisfy my skin hunger. A kiss on the cheek, a brush of the hand, a warm hug, naked bodies spooning. My Mum's hands, they're soft and always warm, like milky coffee. Our hands are alike, and I remember comparing them when I was small. She combs my scalp like no other, and doesn't mind when I get her clothes greasy or covered in skin.

I really identify with the definition and discussion of skin hunger. I don't initiate touch much, and perhaps I should do it more. Although I don't feel lonely all the time, and certainly not depressed, my skin hunger is quite lonely. I can't remember what intimate touch feels like. Someone give me a hug.

Do you suffer from skin hunger? How do you overcome it?

58 comments:

  1. I'm a big hugger, love to hug my hubby, family, friends and especially my kids. I have no doubt that when I catch up with you (one day!!!!) I will give you a big hug :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love this Carly, touch is so important. It says the words when the words cannot be said. It means so much more than most can comprehend. I think Gossling sang it right in "Wild Love" ... "Just a touch is enough for me my dear"
    But even on a more basic level - someone struggling to lift a suitcase into an over head locker on the plane - that helping touch for example, means more than most would consider in the moment.
    Everyone deserves to feel those goosebumps of a first touch, hand holding moments and the flutter of butterflies when legs touch.
    Shame there is a ditch of salty water between we are, but consider this an IOU: a hug :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thsnk you Sophie for your lovely comment and IOU hug! I love Gossling and have her EPs so I'll be listening out for those lyrics.

      I agree - helping someone does mean the world to them. We are forever connecting with strangers online but not so much in person with strangers, So physical connection comes as a good surprise!

      Delete
  3. Im a touchy person and love beautiful big hugs.The ones where you feel the person Really puts their Heart into it.
    I would very much love to give a huge one to you right now.
    I know I would feel like you do if I had to do without touch.Ive never thought about it before.We take so much for granted in our lives.
    Thankyou for writing this as it has made me more aware that there are people out there who would appreciate a simple hand on the shoulder.
    My hubby and I often find ourselves chatting with older folk when we are out shopping.They tend to strike up a conversation while sitting on a bench,as they are there to break up the monotony of their lonely day.Who knows how long it has been since they had a hand on their shoulder.
    You have given me something to think about next time I see an older person sitting alone,hoping someone will take the time to share with them a moment,a few words and maybe a simple touch.xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thsnk you Debbie. I do wonder how it may be for older people (and young people) without family.They may deprived of touch for so long. I worry about this, being an only child. Morbid I know.
      I an so glad I made you think with my writing.

      Delete
  4. Oh Carly, this post makes me want to give you the biggest and longest hug in the world (if that's okay with you?). I actually remember meeting you VERY briefly at Blogopolis last year (in the icebreaker 'game' time) - and I'm sure I shook your hand. Not because I didn't want to hug you, but I'd only just met you. Now that I know you better if we meet again (and I hope I do) let's hug? I adore your honesty, your heart,your insight. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Deb and thank you. I dont recall talking to you last year - I was having a very difficult time (see the blog post titled Truths), and I'm also really bad at recognizing people!
      I do hope we meet again so we can hug.

      Delete
  5. I touch. I use touch to reach out as an extension of what i am verbally expressing sometimes. But I've had to rethink doing that because so many people don't like being touched. It's an intensely personal thing and you've given me great pause to rethink my "try not to reach out and touch that person" rule! xxxxx I am SURE I hug you every time I see you. Please forgive me if I haven't - as I said, I've learned to hang back, not touch so much and reduce my hugging power too. But I can't help it: when I hug, I'm all in (otherwise not at all! what's the point?). Next time, how 'bout a crash-tackle? Let's spice it up ;-P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha a crash tackle!

      I think it is a personal space issue. I have been standing with a colleague or acquaintance and they get really close to me, and it feels strange to be that close for someone I don't know well.

      Delete
  6. I will join the Carly group hug, most definitely.

    I'm a toucher (hi, FBI spies!). I crave human touch. I might have had children just so that I would have hugs on demand. I can literally feel my skin aching if I go too long without having someone warm pressed against it. I find touch to be a much more powerful communicator of emotion than saying "I love you" or "I need you".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anna thank you for your comment and The offer of a group hug!
      That's so lovely about your children.
      I think what you say about touch meaning mire than words of affection - it's the premier meaning of "actions speak louder than words" hey?

      Delete
  7. I am NOT a hugger. The only touching I get is from my children, who are still young enough to want to hug me all day long.
    But recently I was at hospital getting a scan done and the technician had to basically physically envelop me to get the right angle. I remember lying there thinking "this is actually really nice. He's so warm, pleasant, and this feels just right". I didn't realise I'd missed that feeling so much. Just a completely non-sexual adult human:adult human safe touch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh I can so relate to this!! Last time in emergency, the hot young doctor took the time to get to know me aside from the medical stuff, turned around when I took my stockings off, and held my hand and did my bloods so gently. Amazing feeling, even when I hate needles!

      Delete
  8. I've never considered myself to be a big toucher, but I can relate (on a much, much more minor scale!) to you. My boyfriend lives just shy of 15,000kms away, which I'm ok with 90% of the time. It's the other 10% of the time when I'm out with girlfriends and their partners, or curled up in bed trying to ward off the chill that I would give anything for a hug. It's interesting that the first few months of distance were easy and I half-heartedly convinced myself that out of sight = out of mind, but now, the longer we've been apart (ten months and counting), the harder it gets.

    It's funny, I never thought of myself as overly affectionate, but realising how much I miss having my hand held or my cheek stroked has taught me otherwise. My mum, my gorgeous toddler cousins, my best friends and my platonic male friends will have to suffice for now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh your boyfriend lives so far away! I'm sure you'd appreciate his touch when you spend time with him.

      Delete
  9. Beautifully written Carly, it is a subject that I am sad to say I know all too well. Thanks for sharing - Jeff

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for understanding Jeff, and I'm sorry that you do.

      Delete
  10. There was a period in my life where I really felt this. I think I would have gone mad if I hadn't had my dance classes. I remember one night, lying in bed trying to think of the last time I had been touched that wasn't by a family member or in a dance class and for the life of me I couldn't think of a time and it really grieved me.

    Touch is so important, we are social creatures. I see groups of teenage girls sitting around doing each others hair and it always makes me think of a group of gorillas grooming each other - maybe we haven't evolved that far!

    Let me say, I will join in a Carly group hug any day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa thank you for your wonderful comment. I see that teenagers touch eachother a lot. I even saw two guys - rugby players I'd say, maybe 17 or 18 yo, sleeping on one another's shoulders in the train. What a beautiful display of affection.

      Delete
  11. You writing about wondering if you held your grandparents hands reminded me so much of my own grandparents and great aunts. My great aunty Jess used to sit next to me and give me a hand massage when I was at her place. I remember walking hand in hand with my Grandfather Les to the station just to watch the trains go by. We've always been fierce huggers in my family and my daughter is addicted to them especially now she's started school. I know I would hug you if ever I had the pleasure of being in your company!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Mary those are wonderful memories you've shared, thank you. How lovely you shared so much with your grandparents.
      It's great your family are huggers.

      Delete
  12. Carly, this was a brilliant article last year. Why can we discuss just about everything in society these days, but not discuss important things like this more?

    I've experienced this circumstance as well and for prolonged periods. One suggestion is massages. (No, not the hot stones thingy, that kind of misses the point!) They helped me somewhat at the worst points.

    The other is children. Easier for females than males probably, but I got a lot laughs out of spending time with friends small children (have you ever heard a 2 year old try to tell a joke?), also the happiness of having a toddler park themselves in your lap with a story book. Or grabbing your hand to cross the street. Or wanting a piggy back to the park. This is just so astonishing and health-giving for people who don't have access to much oportunity for human contact.

    You are probably aware there used to be a Free Hugs guy in Sydney. He used to hold up a cardboard sign with 'Free Hugs' written on it in Pitt Street mall some lunchtimes and became an overnight sensation to the point of appearing on Oprah. There was nothing untoward about it and he never tried to hug anyone who didn;t ask for it. Anyone who doubts the power of skin hunger should have spent a few minutes watching the reactions to this guy, from every 'type' of person imaginable.

    There was a brilliant line in the Secret Life of Us some years ago, delivered by Deb Mailman's character. 'After some point I didn't get cuddles anymore. I got too big to sit on my parents lap and they just kind of stopped. And when I was a teenager, boys spent all their time trying to get into my pants. While I spent all my time trying to get a cuddle....'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thsnk you so much for this comment and the advice.
      I remember free hugs. Maybe I should hold a sign and get hugs too?
      I do remember that line by Kelley on Secret Life. Loved that show and it's so true. I think you (or someone else) may have told me about Kelley's quote on my Untiuched post?
      Thank you.

      Delete
  13. Oh Carly, I am a hugger and to be honest I thought you were shrinking back from me when I go to hug you- is there such thing as too hard a hug??

    I relate to your piece. I remember one time being on a crowded train and bumping into the chap next to me. It was an instant and side-by-side so not particularly sexual or anything but I remember feeling recharged by his touch. It made my heart feel better.

    So if I can help you feel like that Carly, let's catch some of our city's over-crowded PT together!!

    XOOOX

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much - I reckon I shy away because 1) people have hesitated to touch me and 2) I worry I will get the hugger's clothes scaly or greasy!

      You are right - public transport offers a lot of touch from strangers. I sat next to a guy on the train last week and though our arms only touch, he may as well have been holding my hand, the feeling was so intense.

      Thanks flor your comment - love you lots cx

      Delete
    2. Love you too, Carly! Gosh, don't worry about skin/Vaseline- I've a friend who is always covered with cat fur so have no fear! I just worried I was going to hurt you cos I can be a squeezey hugger!

      Gosh so many great comments in this post- I love Anonymous' sharing of the Secret Life of Us quote.

      Thank you for another beautiful piece- we really must get together and hug soon! XOX

      Delete
    3. Thank you and yes we must see each other soon cx
      I also love and remember that secret life of us moment. Love that show!

      Delete
  14. I totally understand this post, I can feel my skin hunger right now, it's like a rock sitting in the bottom of my stomach. I don't have a skin condition, I guess I just don't really connect with people well, to that degree. I haven't thought much about the small, everyday touches, which I probably get. But that feeling of even being hugged ,properly, is something I haven't had in years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comment. Skin hunger sort of lies dormant, doesn't it?

      Delete
  15. I don't mind hugging the little children at the preschool where I work, but I shy away from hugging adults. For one thing, I am fairly well-endowed, and it's awkward when we go chest-to-chest. And I hate being touched, by a friend or a stranger. I feel like I need to wash my hands after I shake someone's hand.

    Maybe these are just my personal hang-ups. I once had a roomate who slept around quite a bit, sometimes just literally sleeping with a guy. She asked me, "Don't you ever want the feel of a warm body holding you at night?" Nope, I like the feel of being alone.

    I am very active at work; adding both children and staff, I interact with more than 60 people everyday. When I go home at night, it's blessed, peaceful solitude I savor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Cheryl
      I also like the feeling of solitude. Love it, and crave that too after spending a lot of time with a lot of people.
      But I still crave touch.
      And I'm big busted and do feel like I need to wash my hands after shaking a sweaty palm. We are almost related! ;)

      Delete
  16. What a inspiring post.. Now all I want to do is cuddle up with Evan!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Re~ posting from my FB comment...

    I think we have all been there at one point or another, probably because we grow up with people afraid of our skin and afraid to touch us. that lack of physical contact just makes us want to have that more. peoples with normal skin grow up getting hugged and and held by friends and by family.
    I myself had a hard time getting myself to handle being touched when I was in high school. I WANTED that physical contact but would shy away because I was so used to people not wanting to touch me. There were SO MANY fears there of what the person would think, if they'd shy away.
    I worried that that they would be grossed out, or get greasy/scaly... But I grew to love getting hugs, real hugs, the kind that wrap you up in comfort instead of a couple pats on the back.

    Carly your an awesome woman and have a beautiful way of expressing yourself with words. Thanks for writing your blog, and maybe as others read it they'll realize just how big of an issue this is for so many people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much. It's anon comments like the ones I've received on this post that make me wish they weren't anon and I could write more to the commenter because I appreciate the words so much.

      I swing between wanting touch and shying away too. It's funny isn't it?

      Delete
  18. Carly, I can relate to this and sometimes I can go for months without being touched - until my mother comes to town and gives me a hug, or I catch up with on old friend and we'll hug our hellos and goodbyes.

    When my niece was little and I saw her often I cherished the hugs and kisses.

    I have a hair appt this Friday and am already looking forward to the head massage while getting my hair washed. I love having my head and feet massaged, but guess part of that is just that sense of touch!

    I talked to a massage therapist once who said she has some people break down into tears during a massage if it's been sometime since they've been 'touched'. She said it's more common with women who were once married (and so used to being touched) and now divorced or widowed.

    All so sad.

    Deb

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Deb - thank you for your comment. As an adult, touches may be few and far between. I am glad the hair appointment will be good for you, enjoy! And I think massage therapists and hairdressers are also personal therapists in that regard. Thank you for sharing your story.

      Delete
  19. I can relate to this, despite not lacking in the skin touching department, I don’t even know how to phrase what I am trying to say so I wont bother, but I really can relate to this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mez, thank you for relating. It's hard to articulate, isn't it?

      Delete
  20. I'm a hugger, we all are at home, with mum's Alzheimers a hug makes her smile and we connect. The hug tells her it will be OK. The intimacy of a hug is amazingly powerful. The children who have suffreered trauma and abuse, their first hug is a baby step to trust.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nathalie - thank you for your insight. I love that you can connect with your Mum through hugging.

      Delete
  21. I can understand this. I crave touch - I hug my friends and my parents but what I really want is for someone to touch me just because they want to. I want someone (preferably tall and handsome, haha) to hold me around my waist or my hand just because they can.
    Even a little brush of touch from someone handing back your money can linger with me and give me a sense of energy - it's strange and a bit indescribable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for understanding. I agree - so indescribable. I could only write about it by thinking about it for such a long time.

      Delete
  22. I have to reply to this Carly.

    I changed jobs a few years ago now... I went from running a community house, where I was the nurturing, listening, hug dispensing friend to the vast majority of my customers / visitors / volunteers / staff. Every day, I was hugged, lots.

    When I started my new job, as a public servant, I felt something was missing. It actually took me a little while to realise what it was. It was the touch - the hugging. No one touched me in my new job. I really missed it - I almost ached for it, I'm sure you know what I mean. It really impacted on how I felt every day - I think we really NEED touch. It brings happiness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Anon! Yes! I got hugs when I volunteered at the hospital. Helping people change their lives in a tangible way means people show their appreciation physically.
      And being a public servant myself, I can see how official and distant some of the relationships are. I am so glad you shared your story and can relate :)

      Delete
  23. My biggest problem is that i'm a very physically affectionate so unless somebody is clearly not wanting a cuddle i'll always go for the hug.

    As someone who has been giving you hugs since we were little tackers trust me when i say you dont need to to stress on the vasoline or anything, it's not a drama and I think if people aren't sure about hugging it's just cause they are concerned about potentially hurting the delicate flower that is you.

    So it's good people that know how you feel about all this and although i expect you'll get more of it now if you ever need a hug or suffering a little skin hunger send us a text my friend ox

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Mitch, this made me smile :) thank you.
      Your hugs are the best!

      Delete
    2. Thanks! I used to do hugs professionally you know ;-) glad it put a smile on your dial too.

      Delete
    3. Oh Wombat! Yes! You may have even hugged me in the wombat suit.
      I think there needs to be more professional huggers.

      Delete
  24. Carly, so openheartedly conveyed, and so beautifully worded. I admit I have no cause to consider this, having a husband and two children. I do love it but if anything, I have to make requests for personal space at times! I have a daughter who is a stealth hugger. I've made her promise to ask or at least warn people. She hugs every girl at school, teachers, every check out girl, everyone's mum, all my friends... she's a fiend for it. When she was a baby, a very old lady sitting with friend on a bench in the main street struck up a conversation with me as I passed, then asked if she could hold my baby just a moment please, it had been so long, she promised she had no diseases! I let her. I don't know how many mums would, but I just knew it recharged her immensely, she'd been craving it enough to put her pride aside to ask.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh so sad and lovely about that old lady holding your baby. I'm glad you let her.

      Delete
  25. HI Carly, I popped over here from ChronicBabe. I have felt skin hunger, possibly not as profoundly as you, but your post resonates. I lived alone for a long time, and am only intimate with a few close friends. One time a former nurse gave me a hug and it felt so amazingly good! It is at such times I realize how much I have been missing! Even now, when I have more opportunities for human contact, being held helps my whole being to relax. Like you, I relish the inadvertent touch of a stranger in the bus.... When I was at my sickest, I was so cold I could feel the heat radiating from surrounding people and objects, and I could bask in it for months. Even now,years later, I (usually) love a warm body next to me. I hope you get more real hugs from now on!-Grace

    ReplyDelete
  26. Beautifully written Carly with a y - I'd love you to spend an afternoon with my husband's extended family. Italians do warmth and touch so well xx

    ReplyDelete
  27. Now I just want to give you a big hug!! A wonderfully written post. We do take touch for granted.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Just spent time searching through your blog and learning more. You have my deepest admiration for how you approach life with a chronic disease and push through no matter what. I am a blogger, too, and took quite some time off working through a painful health problem and a surgery that made it worse. I am getting ready to write about the issue and, though it's sensitive, I feel more for others who might be facing it than I do for my own sensibilities. Humor is my normal venue so that's the approach but I had to wait until I could laugh about it - at least a little.

    Thank you for this very thought provoking article. I have considered the subject many times and yet, I forget, even in my own life, that those who are without a very snuggly partner or children can sometimes nearly starve to death for the want of touch. I am committing myself to touching others more - especially my immediate family. Massage is so very good for this as well and we can all offer each other even those little five minute mini-massages of shoulders, necks, hands, or feet. So wonderfully healing and helpful in this world of so much togetherness (blogging, Facebook, instant messaging) and yet, sometimes because of these things, abject loneliness in the midst. May you be touched and hugged and made a regular Velveteen Rabbit. With Love, from California.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for reading my blog. I love receiving comments :)
I really appreciate the time you've taken to write to me, and to share something about yourself.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails