13 July 2011

Untouched


For most people, being touched is something they take for granted. It just happens. A hug from a friend, a hand being held, a pat on the shoulder for reassurance. These small moments of physical affection aren't milestones for most people. They are events that are just done - like drinking a glass of water, doing up buttons, putting one foot in front of the other. For me, these small moments of affection are shelved away in my memory like wines in a cellar. And for the big moments of physical affection, I want to hold a press conference, telling the world that I've been touched.

I received lots of physical affection from my parents as a child. I would sit in between them on the couch since before I could remember. Dad would curl my hair around his fingers, 'curly lurly, curly lurly, curly lurly', he would say, letting each ringlet spring like a piglet's tail. He'd give me animal rides on his knee, usually dipolodocus rides. And each night, and sometimes Saturday mornings, Mum would sit with me on the floor, me lying on her lap, while she combed the scale out of my scalp. I could not imagine letting anyone else doing this - it's such a private experience. Lots of skin being removed, my scalp and emotions often equally raw. The feel of the comb on my scalp was both pleasurable and painful. My scalp would feel so tender, especially when I went out in the cold. Void of its protection. I used to cherish this time I spent with my Mum - we'd make up our versions of fairytales, and I'd tell her what happened in my day - often of how kids at school were afraid to touch me.

When I heard this lyric, it felt like I'd written it.

"Is my skin untouchable?
Do I remind you of a part of you that you don't like?" ~ Darren Hayes, Unlovable
In 2004 and 2007, at his small concerts, Darren hugged me from the stage. In 2007 he kissed my face and I can still feel his bristles against my cheek when I think hard. A celebrity's touch is pretty special. Especially when for so long no one ordinary wanted to touch me.

Getting bullied at school was fortunately not often physical. Kids were too afraid of catching my skin condition. Being stabbed with a protractor, pushed off my bike and being spat on provided enough distance between me and the bully so they didn't catch anything. Despite the isolation, teasing and name calling, I still wanted to join in on their playtime - much of which involved some sort of physical contact. They didn't want me to get my cream or skin on them. I wanted to have my hair plaited by the other girls, to have my thumb touched in heads down thumbs up, to have my held hand by a friend. This sometimes happened, and I was so excited if it did. It meant that I was normal like everyone else.

My Dad is not a big hugger - nor are my grandparents. I think it's an English trait. Our hugs are clumsy and brief, like two humans in bear suits, just patting each others' backs gently. I was never allowed to sit on my grandfather's lap because I'd make it dirty. This is my main memory of time spent with him as a child.

Hugs and kisses as greetings are so common place now, even between strangers. Sometimes in a group situation, other people are hugged and kissed hello/goodbye and I am left standing there awkward, and waiting. I am not an initiator of this greeting, I never know if someone wants their cheek to be smeared in my vaseline, or have their black clothes peppered with my skin. People close to me don't mind if this happens. I remember feeling my most valued in the workplace when a previous male manager reached over and pulled some skin from my hair. Awkward but valuing.

I wonder if whether the reluctance by people to touch me is not of fear for themselves - and it probably isn't - we are no longer in the playground - but out of genuine worry that their touch will hurt my skin. It generally won't. A hug is warm and can often make me feel better. Even a sales' assistant's hand brushing against mine when they give me change can give me shivers. I also wonder whether my skin is so sensitive is why the feeling of being touched is physically and emotionally heightened. I don't think my nerve endings are more sensitive than the norm, but it's like my skin is more receptive to touch because isn't an every day occurrence.

Casual touches can feel miraculous to me, despite their innocent intent. A pat on the arm that means it's good to see me can make me smile all day. And so intimate touching is literally etched into my memory forever. After so many years of peoples' repulsion at touching me, the times when I've been intimately touched are amazing. Not necessarily sexual, but the hand holding, the brush of the arm to indicate interest, a kiss on the face. They're all electrifying. The best feeling in the world. I can remember every single caress during the first time I was in bed with a boy - even though it was in January 2000. I remember everything about how it felt.

When I had long term (?) boyfriends I'd often want to go to bed extremely early, just to revel in more than eight hours of physical contact. I never felt like I woke up with my skin dry like I do when I sleep alone. It's as though touch nurtures me.

Last year a strange thing occurred. As I slept in a man's arms, it felt so amazing being held that the feeling of touch was squared. I dreamed of him holding me as he was doing so. And then I wondered whether this was my body's way of responding to a form of deprivation, drinking up the sensory overload of being touched.


31 comments:

  1. It's amazing what we take for granted in our everyday lives.

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  2. When I looked back on the photos of us at the bloggers conference I wondered if my arm or hand may have been too tight and you didn't want to say. I intend on giving you a big squeeze in a few weeks. xx

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  3. That's it, I'm giving you a big hug next time I see you xoxo

    Karen

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  4. Touching post, Carly. I will never take my hugs with others for granted again, you've put it so eloquently and beautifully. Sending you virtual hugs though the internet...not the same...but still. Lots of love,
    Heidi xo

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  5. Lovely words, you're a talented writer xo

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  6. Beautiful and moving post Carly:-) <3 xxxxx
    When i see you at #blogpolis i will give ya a squishy hug ok as we never really got to chat at last years conference!

    I also showed my 12 yr old daughter your post in new idea she was really moved as well :-)

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  7. Beautifully written. Big hugs coming your way next time we meet!
    L
    xx

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  8. Dear Carly, You write so beautifully. I suppose some people may be worried that they may hurt you. In Chile, you would be kissed within an inch of your life. Every hello and every goodbye must be noted with a kiss. I hope everyone of your friends in Melbourne hugs you today, that your colleagues touch your arm when they speak to you and that more rockstars kiss you. love Lindaxxx

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  9. Great Blog Carly! Being a Mom to two sons born with Ichthyosis, the one thing I remember the most was the way the Dr's prohibited me from touching my babies. I was already the Mom of an Angel, and not knowing if my son was going to make it or not made me even more determined to have that time of bonding that is so critical between a Mother and her child. Sure I understood that the Dr's were worried that touching him would pull more of his skin off, cause great pain, and possible infection in the deep crackes that covered his tiny little body, but now days I'm happy with my determination to insist that they allow me some time to just sit and hold him, stroking his little cheek, and letting him know I was there for him. I truly believe that those few moments of being held, and those gentle touches made him they gentle caring person he is today. He may be a grown man now, but even today he has not problems showing affection, especially in the simplest of hugs that he gives and receives today.

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  10. This was very emotionally touching. Thank you for sharing these intimate and personal details of your life, I hope you know that it helps so many people get to know you better, and have a greater understanding of NS. My daughter has Netherton's, she's only 6, but I wish that she could articulate her emotions well enough that I would know these kind of details about her. We are BIG huggers around here, the kind that might make people uncomfortable by waiting for them to pull away first and squeezing nice and tightly. I never doubt for a second that we give EmmaLee enough physical love, but she does know we have certain conditions sometimes. If we want to snuggle and have her head on my shoulder, we get a soft cloth to protect clothing, etc. Same with sitting on some furniture and stuff. I hope that this never makes her feel unloved, it's just a fact of her daily life and it's too expensive to keep replacing things. But it NEVER deters us from giving her hugs and kisses! Sending hugs your way!
    -Anna Dawn

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  11. Beautifully written post Carly. Your Grandfather has surely missed out by not showing you affection and giving you hugs. Im a big hugger, im forever hugging my kids and kissing them. When we meet up (one day) get ready for a big hug from me :) PS I like Darren Hayes that little bit more now :) Bx

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  12. Carly I want to hug you. Thank you so much for writing this - you're talented and beautiful. xx

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  13. Carly,
    I have to say that you write beautifully and rather eloquently. Your words serve as reminders to the self obsessed masses (me included) not to take the simple things in our lives for granted.

    Great blog by the way! I am a new follower!

    Love to you!
    BB

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  14. Big hugs Carly. Your writing is amazing xox

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  15. I'm not a big hugger and never initiate that awkward social hug. But touch is so important, you're right and something most of us take for granted. eye opening post Carly.

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  16. If you were my friend I would hug you every day. Not for your Untouched blog post (which was exquisite to read); simply because the more I read about and from you, the more I wish you were in my daily (real) life.

    You're awesome, Carly. Funny, sensitive, intuitive, honest, intelligent and true.

    Take care,

    Ms Melbourne.

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  17. You never know what you've got til it's gone. I can't remember the last time I had a hug and right now my body is aching for it, for the simple touch of another human being.

    I call it skin hunger.

    I do not have a skin condition, do not have a phobia of being touched, but I am socially isolated, even though I live in a house with others, have friends, have family. I just can't remember the last time I was touched.

    Such a terribly affecting blog post Carly, you have crept into my heart.

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  18. I wanted to give you a hug at Aus Blog Con but was afraid that I would hurt you. next time Miss Carly, next time.

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  19. Oh Carly. In real life you have such an amazing energy, I wanted to hug you when we met briefly at AusBlogCon.

    This most has made me cry. YOur real life energy translates into your writing.

    xx

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  20. Wow. You are an amazing writer, Carly Findlay. AMAZING. Holy shit. You have a gift - in your Heart, hon. You're filling your pages with the breathings of your heart, and it's just beautiful.

    You are a shining star. xox

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  21. I've really missed reading your blog Carly (i've been lazy and have been out of the blog world for almost 2 months) You write so beautifully and it really touches me - you can bring tears to my eyes. I hope to get the honour of meeting you one day, i'd love to give you a giant hug! But for now it'll have to be a virtual hug :) x

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  22. I think it's so brave of you to open up about such a raw and personal topic. I found it quite confronting and it's really got me thinking.

    I must say I was quite affected by the emotionally-charged writing here, you have been so honest it's completely impossible not to be moved. I know you are not at all wishing for sympathy, nor coming from a place of self-pity but my heart broke reading this and it's made me realise what too many of us take for granted. It's also made me realise what I myself may be missing out on, through fault only of my own.

    I am not at all touchy-feely usually, and I've never thought about how my lack of affection may be perceived by others. I'm such an outgoing and friendly person, however I've always been stand-offish when it comes to touch. I've thawed out a lot as I get older, and tend to be quite affectionate with those very close to me (I have a habit of playing with people's hair) but I'm scared to reach out because I am apprehensive as to how my advances will be taken. Will they think it's too much? What if our friendship isn't on that level? Are they a bit funny like I used to be, and can still be? What if I come across as creepy? I'm so confused as a result of excluding myself for so long I don't know how to participate in the world of touch. I even feel awkward when my best friends need comfort, because I'm just so unsure! I think it's time to just jump in there and start hugging people!

    Now that I think about it (thanks to this post), a hug can have that same ripple effect as a smile and I always have lots of those to give out!

    Thank you again for another thought-provoking article, I am sure it affected others (actually, scrolling through the comments - duh!) as much as it did me.

    Absolutely love your blog, Carly OOOOOOO (that's lots of hugs!)

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  23. What a beautiful and moving post. I'm lost for words. You've demonstrated how something as ordinary as a hug can be extraordinary. May you receive a million more in your lifetime!

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  24. Just... wow, Carly. That's skin hunger, like mine, but a thousand times more intense.

    You know what, my lovely girl? You've probably noticed, although I actually hadn't until I read this- every time I see you, I can't wait to hug you- it feels like I'm soaking in some of your awesomeness by osmosis. You are a truly amazing women. Not to mention an incredible writer- that last paragraph, about touch squared... just... wow.

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  25. I continue to receive such beautiful comments about this post. Here, Facebook and twitter. I am touched (ahem!) about its reach and the way it has resonated with people.
    Thank you. I wish I could hug you all back.

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  26. I dont know how to comment about something that I would usually respond to by leaning over and rubbing someones arm or putting my arm around them. Thank you for popping this on twitter so I could weave my way back to it...its cluncky to say that you write beautifully but you do. An elderly neighbour told me when I was little to never forget that so many people remain untouched by others and than a soft touch, a quick hug or even just a person sitting alongside someone can do wonders for the soul. I was 8 when she told me this and Ive never forgotten it - my work has forced me into situations where I sit with people hearing the worst news of their lives and the only thing I concentrate on is the placement of my hand on theirs x

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  27. Beautiful Carly.. Your writing is superb.. (you know sometimes i book a massage for a nice sensory overload of touch when I feel that I'm lacking..) oh I hope they ask you to speak at the conference!! They'll love it!!

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  28. Everyone deserves to be loved in whichever way they need.
    Certainly everyone deserves physical affection! Yes you too. Don't you be afraid to reach out and hug, or put an arm around, or just touch others. They're probably wanting to do the same to you, but worried they may hurt you physically and not realising it hurts you emotionally to hold back.

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  29. Oh Carly... I didn't know. We are twitter buds, and in that world I simply didn't know. Now I do, and I so want to cuddle you!! Look forward very much to meeting you IRL one day...
    ((((HUGS))))
    BB

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  30. Carly, I can't believe it's taken me this long to find you. What a post! What a writer you are. What an amazing human being you are. I love your awareness and your ability to articulate your heart. x

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  31. Dear Carly, you are indeed a wordsmith. What a revealing and beautiful post Carly. Thank you so much for sharing. Melanie xx

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