I’ve never been a real touchy-feely kind of gal. I believe public displays of affection can make others uncomfortable and I’m sensitive to people’s personal space. However, I have not hesitated to touch the shoulder of the person I was talking to to deepen a conversation, take the hand of someone who was hurting, and to greet and depart from those I care about with an embrace; and I found great pleasure in being affectionate with my children and, of course with my husband in private.
When Multiple Sclerosis weakened my legs and made me unsteady, a fear of falling replaced some physical touch. Seeing children quicken their pace to greet me with an enthusiastic hug or jump up into my arms caused apprehension instead of joy, and my arms and hands were used to halt them instead of welcome their show of affection. When I began using a walker, it provided a visual warning to others that I was unsteady and it was a safe barrier to fast moving bodies. Using a walker required the use of my hands and arms as much as my feet and legs; so no longer were my hands available to use for caring gestures toward others. The barrier of a walker also meant that others reached out less often and those who were still comfortable hugging me gave more than I could manage to return. The posture of sitting did still allow some opportunities to use my arms to hug, reach out a hand in tenderness, and hold my husband’s hand and cuddle on the couch.
When MS took more of my abilities and my scooter came on the scene, my arms and hands were even more busy with controlling steering and speed of the machine I was driving. My focus on people around me had to be more about seeing feet to avoid rolling over them than about seeing the faces and souls of the people attached to them. When able bodied, we don’t realize how our lower bodies automatically move without needing to concentrate on garnering strength in legs or the placement of feet, or dividing our attention to manage controls. When I was in a scooter, some people who knew me well still approached me with outstretched arms. Eventually, transferring my body to and from the scooter’s seat required moving to a chair with arms, which created a barrier to the previously enjoyed closeness of side-by-side sitting on a sofa.
It was a slow transition to my wheelchair. It sat available in my home for over a year before I began using it for its higher level of comfort and security. More and more hours of a day were spent in my wheelchair instead of my scooter, until the scooter was reserved for out of the house excursions. Then, the day came when I could no longer transfer between my wheelchair and my scooter; and, as much as I hated to admit it, the little scooter I had grown to love for its ability to maneuver in small spaces was no longer functional for me.
There are different kinds of wheelchairs. Some can be folded and easily put in the trunk of a car. My wheelchair is more like a car itself than the foldable kind that fits in a car’s trunk. Because of all of its wonderful functions, it is very large and very heavy. With its armrests, leg guides, headrest, control station and massive wheels, it can seem like a personal armored tank. It keeps me safe, but also confines me. It can be rather intimidating when it comes to others breaking through the armor. Hugs to and from my wheelchair can feel awkward, even with close friends and family.
I am continually grateful for those who see me instead of the chair I’m in and are not intimidated by the metal and electronics surrounding me. They effortlessly break through the awkwardness to place a hand on my shoulder or hug me. But oh how I miss the freedom to easily give and receive the caring expression of touch I used to enjoy. It has been a loss of a physical human need with an emotional impact. It was a slow change over time, giving up closeness with others one step after another.
Many of you have experienced an abrupt change. “The virus” and social distancing have placed most of the population in our country and the world in the position I am in. Hands and arms are kept at length, not for lack of ability, but because we are being told not to touch for health and safety reasons. Fear of touching now replaces familiarity. Research has proven that physical human touch, or lack thereof, affects emotional health and can lead to a condition called “touch starved” (click here to read about it). I know, from my small experience, how this can affect a person. I hope that, while we are being careful and safe, we don’t as individuals and a society, forget how to reach out to each other in caring ways. If you live in a safe environment with loved ones, enjoy every opportunity to tenderly touch those you care about. If you are able, make a difference in someone else’s life with caring touch. If you are alone. isolated by this virus and rules that control our lives, take heart. I’ve learned that God can reach out His invisible but powerful loving hands and arms in ways that can comfort our souls and fill our needs so completely that it cannot be explained. I pray you will ask God to do the same for you – touch your life and fill any unmet needs you may have.
Thoughts on hugs:
Hugging teddy bears is an option when hugging people isn’t, and there are even directions for hugging yourself! (Click here to read the benefits.)
There are virtual hugs….
Poems about hugs…
Benefits to hugs…
And invitations for hugs…