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)
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?