Skin Hunger: The Collateral Damage of Social Distancing

cure for skin hunger

During this otherwise cold, lonely, scary spring of 2020, while the coronavirus rages on and we are all told to stay home, I am very fortunate that I live with someone, someone with whom I have an intimate relationship: my husband.

My husband and I share a business that we mostly operate from home, so we are used to spending long hours working in the same space every day. The irritations we usually weather are enhanced by the stress of the world situation, the fear for our friends family, and the requirement that we stay put, when we would otherwise be travelling weekly between our residences and other locales for our business.

What we share besides our business and the enhanced irritations of forced close proximity is affection for each other, specifically, frequent gentle nonsexual touch throughout the day. For this I consider myself and my husband very fortunate. (Also for the other category of touch, but I won’t be discussing that here!)

There are many people who are not so fortunate. People who live alone and people who are quarantined because they are sick with this virus are at risk of suffering something called affection deprivation, sometimes referred to as skin hunger. 

I first heard of skin hunger when I was in school during a study of the depression that residents of nursing homes suffer. Decades later, New York Times writer Andrew Reiner discussed this phenomenon with regard to his father in the introduction to his December 5, 2017 article “The Power of Touch, Especially for Men.” Reiner said his father “was slowly dying in a nursing home, and no one who visited him — from my mother, his wife of 42 years, to my three siblings — held his hand.” When Reiner finally ignored his fears and his sense of male social propriety and reached out and touched his father’s hand, the dying man’s “curled fingers opened, unhinging some long-sealed door within me, then lightly closed around mine.” It became clear to Reiner that both he and his father needed that touch. 

Many scientists have studied the human need for touch, and long before this pandemic, they have recognized that recent developments in society have discouraged us from feeding that hunger lest we get into legal trouble. Neuroscientist  Francis McGlone, having studied the neurophysiological sense of touch and its hedonic attributes for decades, told The Guardian’s Paul Coccozza that, “Of course we are moving away from touch!” (No hugging: are we living through a crisis of touch? The Guardian News & Media Limited, 7 Mar 2018). 

Coccozza has, shall we say, touched on (!) an issue that existed before the coronavirus sent us all home. Kory Floyd Ph.D., self-described “Affectionado” and professor of health and interpersonal communications, stated in Psychology Today that “Just as lack of food, water, and rest have their detrimental effects, so too does the lack of affection” (What Lack of Affection Can Do to You. Aug 31, 2013). His study of 509 adults delineates the negative health effects associated with affection deprivation, including depression, anxiety, secondary immune disorders, and fearful-avoidant attachment style. When I inquired in an email to Dr. Floyd if he thought there is a rise in skin hunger during this time of social distancing, he replied that though he hasn’t collected any data,  “It does seem, though, that this period of isolation is particularly difficult for those who feel lonely or affection deprived already” (April 6, 2020).

What is important to understand is that it is perfectly normal for people who are isolated because of this pandemic to have these symptoms. It might be helpful to understand that skin hunger is a real thing, though one might have very few options about how to satisfy it under these circumstances. Neurobiologist David Linden PhD told Coccozza that “Even petting your dog. Even petting a dog that’s not yours” can soothe the solitary. Maybe it’s a good time to adopt an animal. You could both rescue each other!

Baby Corona

This new way of life under the ugly thumb of the corona virus is causing a great deal of cabin fever, especially today, the second of three days of rain and clouds in my neck of the woods. Yesterday we went fill-the-freezer shopping at BJs, only to meet a crazy woman who threatened us with a large wooden cane, insisting that we give her her six feet. For the record, we were standing still when she came up to where we were.  

I imagine there will be some babies born late this year and early next year with names like Corona and Covid. There will certainly be a boom of babies, which seems fitting given the number of people dying from this virus. Talk about the circle of life! April, expected to be the peak month of this pandemic, looks to live up to TS Eliot’s description as “the cruelest month.” I dread the news that I expect is coming that someone I know and love is sick, dying, dead from this awful illness. And then someone else. 

My husband and I, well beyond childbearing age, recently reopened his music education business which functions up and down the east coast. We operate it from wherever we happen to be, and we normally give weekly lessons in early childhood centers and after school enrichment centers. Now we’ve had to climb the steep learning curve to present online lessons from our home. That’s been, well…interesting. Keeping the attention of small children on the teacher rather than on each other is one thing in the classroom, but online it is weirdly even more difficult.  

To fill the time that we are not giving music lessons and dealing with business in general, we have been cooking and eating too much. The “too much” is especially true considering that we can’t do our usual long walks until the weather improves. We’ve had both sweet and savory crepes, beef stew, a great deal of oatmeal if I’m doing breakfast, and bacon and eggs if he is. We’ve munched on chips and salsa for long hours in the afternoons, and cheese and crackers at night. Today we baked French bread, made guacamole, and prepared short ribs, now cooking in the oven, for dinner.  

Hubby has the news stations on the computer most of the time, and between bemoaning all that, completing work obligations, and occasionally checking on porn sites, we still don’t have enough to occupy us. So instead of baby-making or murderous crimes of passion, we simply start drinking early. 

And sometimes we finish drinking late. 

Swans

Looking at the reservoir in Brewster from my sister-in-law’s home, we spy on several swans gliding with grace along the glassy surface. There were three, now four. Our attention now drawn to two ducks wading well ahead of the swans, we miss the approach of not one or two, but some six more swans joining the others from behind the trees on the shore. I’ve learned that despite all their grace, they are nasty, brutish bullies, but right now they paddle along, their curved alluring necks still, none the least bothered by the birds around them. 

A couple of geese fly in, swiftly scooting away from the swans, and far off on the other side of the reservoir an entire flock of gulls come by, skimming the air just inches above the water, as if on tiny ice skates all. We watch as they finally begin to alight on the surface, as far from the swans as they can be. 

For their part, the beautiful beasts, the swans, hold court near our shore while we pay our tribute. 

Those Days

Some days things feel wobbly all the waking hours. Not necessarily because of a previous night of debauchery, though that often leads to such a day. There are days that feel that way in spite of a sober night before. Days when every vague look is an insult. When every hesitation before a reply is read as a scheming formulation of lies. 

Try as one might, the source of those days is often impossible to nail down, consciously and deliberately. Perhaps the subconscious is fully aware. Sometimes, however, one simply chooses not to look at it. 

Those days are usually not sunny. On a cloudy one of those days, one might see an airplane disappear into a cloud, glimpsing ghosts of it intermittently until it has gone too far away. In such a mood, one might then think of so many aspirations, so many endeavors that went away similarly, teasing one with temporary twinkles of possibility.  

It is on those days that one picks fights over trivial items. On one of those days one finally reminds one’s partner that the proper way to load the toilet paper is with the end coming over the top, adding that the proof of this is in upscale hotels and restaurants in which the staff often folds that top piece into a triangle. It is on those days that one asserts one’s opinions on the correct ways of doing many such things, signalling that the partner has failed to appreciate the finer things and must therefore be some kind of boor.

On those days, one seems to stand outside of oneself, helplessly watching as one wields the battleaxe everywhere, unable to stop oneself from delivering cutting remarks in an “I’ll show you!” kind of tone. 

Tired of tilting at windmills all day, one sits sourly in the evening leaving the blade out in the rain while one drowns the memory of the day in too much wine, enabling one to finally sleep with the hope of a better day tomorrow. 

I snapped this photo because the cloud formation seemed especially weird and creepy, like the giant marshmallow man in Ghostbusters.

The (Un)Rest of My Life

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Life has been incredibly hectic and crazy for the past year. About two years ago, plus a couple of months, my ex-wife announced that she was in love with another woman. Perhaps I should let you know that I am bisexual. I was married first to a man for four years, then was with a woman for twenty-five years. I married her when we were finally able to do that, then I had an affair with a man, which my ex-wife discovered. I managed to claw my way back into a relationship with her, only to have her fall in love with someone else nine years later. At first she thought I would want to stay with her, and initially I considered it as an attempt to win her back. Then I remembered that I was miserable with her frequent verbal abuse and her alcoholism (much ink has been spilled over these things), so I began to reclaim my life.

Reclaiming my life meant first getting more healthy. I stepped up my “running” routine, added rowing on an erg machine, and got myself into very good physical shape. I dropped thirty pounds. Plus the 180 pounds I had been married to!  ;P

Along with physical health, I attended to my mental health. I saw a therapist for about a year and a half. She was great, and introduced me to art therapy. I produced a couple of interesting paintings that way, the final one is featured above, and the first is below. Finally, I got my head around the changes in my relationship status and left therapy. 

Art Therapy 1 - Who I Am and Not Am
This was my first Art Therapy painting. Weird, no? It's called Who I Am and Not Am.
This was my first Art Therapy painting. Weird, no? It’s called Who I Am and Not Am.

About one year ago (it will be that in mid March), I met the man of my dreams: an intelligent, well-educated, classically trained guitarist who also plays and loves classic rock, and plays and loves me. By “plays” me, I mean sex. Wow. The best. And he loves me. He was recently divorced from a woman, his second wife, who was similar to my ex-wife in being a very abusive bitch. For us both, we believe that three times is indeed the charm!

I wrote the first four lines of a sonnet to him after having a three-day first date. He and I later made it into a song; he set the music and I added more lyrics. The song became our first dance at our wedding, which was one day shy of six months after our first date. [WARNING: Shameless plug alert!] It’s now available to stream on YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify, and the rest as “Deluge” under my stage name Cinnamon. He plays guitar and sings too, and we have a string quartet join in after the first verse.  If you’re curious enough to check it out, let me know what you think. Also, please like it! I’ll include a link to the video, which is, sadly, attributed to another woman whose name is Cinnamon. Go figure.

From the Shameless Plug Department

This is my song “Deluge” attributed by TuneCore to the wrong person. Also, it’s just a static image with the song. My own, below, is more interesting, because it has a slideshow.
Here is my own video of Deluge. It has a slideshow of pictures and clips, most of which I took myself.

Another major change in my life involved my work. For thirty-three years I was a public schools English teacher. First I taught high school English for about ten years. Then, when it seemed that I couldn’t convince an Honors freshman who played two varsity sports that a B+ her first semester wasn’t the end of the world, I decided to transfer to the middle school. I taught eighth graders for the remainder of my English teaching career. Then, after having my life turned upside-down relationship-wise, I decided to change more stuff and retire two years early so I could work and live with my then fiancé full-time. 

Retirement from my teaching career hasn’t been all shuffleboard and early-bird dinners, no. In fact, not at all. My now husband and I started a music education and entertainment business together. [WARNING: Shameless plug alert!] It’s called The Village Music School, and you can check out our imperfect website: TheVMS.org. I am making a huge shift in work style, from being a classroom teacher to being a business owner. Luckily, my husband and partner was an owner of a similar business for thirty years before his divorce from his second wife. So he knows all about being a business owner and this type of business in particular. We have business in Virginia, Washington DC, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Boston, so we are up and down the northeast coast like a tennis ball in a volley for serve. We have an apartment in DC, a family home for weekends in the foothills of the Berkshires, and we often stay at my sister-in-law’s home in Putnam County, New York. We are on the road a lot, and have found that travel by bus is vastly cheaper and often more productive than driving or taking an Amtrak train.  

While my new life has had my head spinning quite frequently, I find the blurry view and the twisting of my mind to be fun and inspirational sometimes. Often it’s too much, but my partner and husband is very understanding. He encourages me to be where I am and to go with it. So here I am, going on a wild ride I like to call The (Un)Rest of My Life.

Art Therapy 2 - Cloud Dancing
This is the final piece of my Art Therapy art. It's called Cloud Dancing, a title borrowed from a song by The Roches.
This is the final piece of my Art Therapy art. It’s called Cloud Dancing, a title borrowed from a song by The Roches.

No Poetry for Now

I’ve decided to take down my poetry, even though it was public before. Most poetry mags I want to submit poetry to want unpublished work. I decided to keep my poetry to myself for now. I will be submitting new poems elsewhere in the hopes of publication. But I’ve discovered that even stuff I’ve put out on my WordPress “blog” can’t be submitted.

So now I will write about writing, about being a poet, about being the owner of a music education business, and about being married to the love of my life. I’ll start with the last one.

I’ll definitely let you know if anything I write gets published anywhere. It will be a shameless plug.

Sands in motion

What is the value of that last grain of sand in the hourglass? It seems more important than the first, since it is decisive, an indisputable end. It draws great attention and energy, carrying thoughts of its portent. In one situation it says, Time’s up! You’re done or, You’ve failed. I’ve won! I’ve lost! Perhaps it says, You did it with a moment to spare! In another situation it says, It’s over, at last. In whatever situation, the hourglass’s last grain to fall marks a conclusion.

What percentage of a minute, of a second, does that last grain of sand represent? Do they all represent the same amount of time? Or should we consider the last grain as a representative of the full hour, or half hour, or minute that the hourglass measures?

Flip over the hourglass. The first grain that falls through seems more important than the next. Does the weight of all the other grains add pressure to the literal gravity, making it fall faster than the last? Does the last grain just mosey on down through the center, feeling no pressure? Gravity is a constant, and free falling objects accelerate at 9.8 meters per second per second, according to my friend Scott, who teachers physics. He says that every surface a grain of sand encounters creates friction, a force that slows down and stops motion.
Friction increases or decreases based on two factors:  the two surfaces involved and how hard those surfaces are pressed together. But sand in an hour glass performs more like a fluid than like a free falling object.

Instead of the last grain of sand, let’s look at the last child in a string of, say, seven. In this exploration, the mother is the hourglass, and the seven children, the grains of sand dropped from her womb over the nine years she spent (mostly) pregnant. Was there more pressure on that first child? Did he or she bear the weight of expectations for a successful future solely on his or her shoulders, in case there were no more to follow? Was there more pressure on the mother with regard to the first child for similar reasons? Is the last child less pressured than the first child was, free from the pressures and energy of new parents and grandparents? Is that last child freer to be herself or himself than the first? Or is the same pressure exerted over all, as with the grains of sand.

©️Josephine Cannella

Welcome to my world.

I have often wondered if my perspective is interesting to others. I like writing, and sometimes write about writing. In this blog, my idea is to post pieces I’ve written about a small thing or even just a key moment, and how that thing or moment may have a bigger meaning.  Sometimes, I express that in a haiku, sometimes longer pieces of poetry, and sometimes it will be in just creative nonfiction.

I drew my own little icon or logo out of an idea to visualize my plan. The hourglass image is in itself often an image for the female body. This one has one last grain of sand in it. The magnifying glass has the cross in the handle, which also is a play on the symbol for females of a circle with a cross below, as opposed to the male image of a circle with an arrow at an angle above. I want the single grain of sand in the hourglass to be the focal point moment and the magnifying glass blows that last minute up.