This pandemic’s making everyone re-evaluate their relationship with touch, whether that’s contact with other people, our surroundings, or even our own bodies. Last June I wrote about the role physical touch plays in my life, and for a week I recorded every time I was touched. Since then, lockdown life has changed many things drastically, and I imagine that one of the biggest changes for most of us will be the amount of physical contact we have with others.
For me, other people’s touch is essential for everyday basic activities, including moving, weeing and taking medication, but I was curious to see whether there were differences in this physical contact before lockdown. So last week I repeated the exercise and for seven days I logged every instance of touch.
This doesn’t involve recording every individual physical connection – it means recording every task-focused ‘episode of touch’. For example, having a wash would be one episode, drying would be another, and dressing would be a third, but I didn’t attempt to record how many times my body and my support workers’ bodies connected while I was getting washed, dried or dressed. This was exactly the same way I’d defined and recorded touch last June.
Back then, my week was split over two countries – the UK and the US, and as many different locations. Although when I went back and looked at the record, I was surprised to find that in June 2019, 79% of all touch happened at home, with only 21% occurring elsewhere. At the moment all touch is at home because I’ve not left the castle in over 7 weeks.
In the same way as last time, I’ve created an image to summarise the week, as well as pulling out the key statistics:
Here are the 2020 stats:
I was touched 259 times in seven days
That’s an average of 37 times a day
This was almost exactly half as many times as the year before.
91% of contacts were disability-related – exactly the same percentage as in 2019.
There were 8 main reasons for my being touched.
Two of the reasons included in 2019 were not present this time. These were greetings and play.
Two new reasons were added: cat and safety.
The most common reason was still mobility, with transferring onto and off chairs, beds and toilets happening 151 times. This was 59% of all touch, 2% less than last year.
The least common reason was still my challenging behaviour which was just 1% of all touch.
I had physical contact with 3 people and 1 cat.
An 88% reduction on last time, and all these people touched me multiple times.
Claire touched me the most – 105 times.
9% of all episodes of touch required two people.
I used 25 words and phrases to describe the quality of the touch I experienced this time.
10 of which were the same as in 2019.
73% of the times I was touched felt smooth, matter-of fact or efficient.
All the touch was at the castle.
I had 1 black eye from my own touch – a ticced punch to the face.
I had 4 ‘ticcing fits’ and 0 cuddles, 0 hugs
Although the cat cuddled me 22 times.
And I received comfort from human beings 4 times – squeezed hands, patted shoulder and a rubbed back.
I was washed with big movements and dried with soft towels.
And with someone else’s hand guiding mine, I was helped to do delicate acts of personal care, and to eat one ice cream.
Every part of my body was touched. Like last year I was touched with love and kindness every day and was never touched with anger.
This has been a really interesting exercise to repeat. Although I’m being touched a lot less the quality of that touch and the reasons for it are largely unchanged. I imagine I’m being touched less because I’m at home and this is set up for me to be as independent as possible and because I’m only being touched when it’s necessary.
While lots of the physical contact I’m currently experiencing is similar, the small changes that there have been feel big to me. Even though I’m still having lots of physical contact with others, way more than most people, I’m really missing certain types of touch – greetings, hugs and play and particularly the joyful cuddles of Bean, my niece.
This type of touch has only ever made up a very small proportion of the physical contact I experience each week, but the joy, comfort and significance of this has meant I feel the absence of this contact very strongly.
Thinking about this has helped me realise something obvious – that not all types of physical touch carry the same weight and that while touch is essential to my life in very practical ways, it’s also important for my emotional wellbeing.
One big change from last year comes in cat form – Monkey wasn’t living with me then, and right now I’m really valuing the physical contact I have with him. His touch is never matter of fact or routine, and it’s always on his terms! When describing the quality of the physical contact I have with Monkey, 70% of the times I described it as loving/controlling, with ‘intense’, ‘affectionate’ and ‘urgent’ being other words I used.
Ultimately what matters to me are the connections I have with other people, and I’m getting lots of joy from things I wouldn’t necessarily have noticed before – waving, clapping, voice messages and handwritten notes, for example.
These small details matter, so I thought I’d end this post by sharing some drawings I’ve done for you. You can download a print version here. Some are black and white so you can add the colour – all these are messages of love, connection and solidarity to you, whoever and wherever you are.