3 Things That Help When You Become A No-Touch Zone
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I finally became aware that I was entering into a depressive episode a few weeks ago. Thing’s change so slowly that it’s extremely difficult to pick up on unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. It started with my energy levels getting lower and lower, small tasks began to appear like herculean events. I stopped doing the little things like washing the pots right after dinner and leaving them to the next day. Not putting my clothes away after they had been washed and letting the clean washing pile up in the corner of my bedroom. The physical aspect of depression hits me hard at first before the mental side kicks in.
This last week I’ve been so tired, it’s as if I’ve hardly slept at all when I’ve definitely had at least 7-8 hours sleep a night; the quetiapine makes sure that I’m out like a light. All through the day I’ve been falling asleep, napping and yawning. It’s extremely frustrating when there are so many things I know I should be doing but my body is so heavy and sleepy that it takes all my energy just to walk and talk. The chronic fatigue is probably the most vexing thing to me, I’m generally a very active person. I love climbing, snowboarding, going to the gym, hiking and a plethora of other activities, in fact I’d call myself a bit of an adrenaline junkie. The worst part is that I’m completely self aware and this constant feeling of being drained of energy is making me even more irritable and lowers my mood because I know exactly what’s coming next and I’m totally helpless to stop it.
The other thing that is glaringly obvious to me is that my tolerance for human contact has all but disappeared. I call it tolerance because I’m not a naturally tactile person but with a partner or close family I do like the occasional hug or cuddle. Ok, I admit it, I like hugs. However, in the last few weeks and especially in the last few days I’ve become not only distant with my mood due to the low energy but the idea of being touched by another human is making me literally cringe. My peripersonal space (or DPPS) has doubled and anyone even walking near me sets off alarms in my head which my body reacts to. When a co-worker touches my shoulder to get my attention my whole body tightens in what I can only describe as a kind of disgust. I get a wave of this uncomfortable weird feeling crashing over me that’s so hard to describe that the only thing I can say is picture the most yucky thing you can imagine and then picture someone dumping a bucket filled with that over your head. It makes me recoil so much that my body physically reacts, my muscles tighten as if ready for sudden devastating impact.
Now for me this isn’t pleasant but then to imagine what this is like for a partner would be horrible. It must seem like all of a sudden I don’t want to be anywhere near them, like they disgust me and the mere idea of them touching me makes me want to run away as fast as I can. While this is partially true on the physical side and a few quick loving kisses can create fear in my head like Jon Snow getting attacked by Orell’s eagle, I can tell you that mentally I don’t love any less than I did before and I certainly don’t lust any less. I still look at them and fully appreciate the aesthetic beauty that I’m in the presence of. I still feel love and want to be around them, but perhaps just not be in physical contact all the time. For aloof people this should be pretty straight forward but if you’re with somebody who qualifies their love with touch, this can be the biggest barrier to surviving the episode together. My sudden hated of human contact, whilst having nothing to do with them personally, can seem like I have suddenly gone off them, no longer find them attractive and even not love them. How do you tell someone who is experiencing a person they love recoiling at their touch that everything is ok, it’s just the bipolar.
Have you ever heard of the term ‘Skin Hunger’? Hugging someone you love produces a powerful neurotransmitter called Oxytocin that can be really addictive, in a good way. It becomes so addictive that when you are deprived of it, you crave it. It being human contact in this case. There have been many studies done that show how necessary touch is to good mental health and wellbeing but how does this work in an episode? Have a look at my blog ‘A Love Bipolar’ from valentines day last year to know more about the effects of oxytocin.
So here’s the problem, humans need contact and your partner will be used to a certain level of contact that you’ve been happy to give them in the past; the past being a time you weren’t in an episode. By me suddenly hating human contact, it means that chemically the person I’m with suddenly loses all the Oxytocin triggers they once had which of course produces a withdrawal that makes the rejection feel more acute than you can imagine. So what can we do to continue as a couple if almost every time they initiate contact with me I feel violated. This is made worse if the person you are with is a naturally tactile person and even more so if they are someone that displays their affection and love through touch. Some people only feel truly connected and secure with their partner that way and by not allowing them to touch me I’m sending a signal that they interpret as ‘I don’t love you and I’m not comfortable with you’ which will make the most robust person feel insecure. But of course, this isn’t the case.
I’ve thought about this long and hard, it’s a current problem for me and will only get worse as this episode takes hold. I’ve read as much as I can online but there doesn’t seem to be much content out there with advice on this matter so here are 3 things you can do if you find yourself in this situation. So far, they are working for me.
Create A Code Word
Come up with a word that means ‘leave me alone please’. Something that you don’t say in every day life but you can use as an indicator that you need some space. Sometimes I just need an hour or two by myself, wrapped in a blanket watching Gotham, it helps me remember to breathe. By making a specific code word with your partner, they can then associate the word with your episode and not have to wonder if you’re just getting sick of them being around. Don’t abuse it though, it’s an ‘in case of emergency’ word for when you really need that alone time.
Be The One To Initiate Contact
If you feel like me then sometimes you get to a point where you just don’t want to be touched and you can’t control your physical recoil or feeling of deep discomfort when people invade your space. What I have found though is when the contact is on my terms, then it’s not so bad. Communicate with your partner and tell them that you need to take the lead when it comes to touching, even the simple things like resting your hand on their leg or shoulder. Try the small stuff first but do it on your terms in your time. The fact you are trying can help to ease your partners fears that you just don’t like them anymore.
Spend Quality Time Together
So you’re hating contact right now and you’ve communicated that to your partner. If they respect you and you love them then it doesn’t mean you can’t still spend quality time together. Play a board game or a video game, read to each other, go on a bike ride if you have the energy, but do something together that focuses your attention on each other. Without touch in the equation they may be feeling rejected and low. Combined with the fact you already feel low and fatigued, maybe just spending some time doing something very simple, fun and low energy will keep you connected. Perhaps you can make it part of your daily routine since routine becomes crucial to functioning when you’re heading into an episode.
People display love in different ways. Some people like to hear ‘I love you’ all the time, others prefer thoughtful gifts. Some people feel the most secure and loved by physical contact. When you take that away there is a void, the bigger the void grows the further apart you become until one day, perhaps, there is no bridging the gap. Speak to your partner and tell them exactly how you feel, refer them to this article if it helps. Communication is always key especially when mental health is involved. It’s very hard for those around us to understand what it’s like to be in an episode and it’s even harder for those who love us to watch us supposedly reject them, push them away and withdraw further and further into a dark world.