Wednesday 7 October 2020

Experiencing the mental health detriments of a pandemic

One feels alright

Are you alright? I hear people ask, and I answer, I am fine, thanks. I think I am fine; I feel I am fine, generally, things are fine and well. Yet, they are not so.

Some of the consequences of the pandemic are not as studied or appreciated to any extent, the mental health consequences. In terms of relationships, I am engaged, but we are on different continents almost 9,000 kilometres apart, we were last together in January and communicate daily keeping faith, hope and love alive until the circumstances allow us to meet up in South Africa soon.

To feel human

However, at the crux of this issue is the fact that I am a lone occupant of my apartment in a big city of impersonal glances or stolen greetings. My social interactions are only on Sunday, first at church in our socially distanced seating with masks on, no singing, no touching and pleasantries at a distance. I have not shaken a hand or felt the tight grip of a handshake in probably 9 or 10 months.

Sunday evenings, I meet with my close neighbours for wine and snacks, much banter, smiles and laughter, they have companions and family, I return alone to my abode comforted by the video conferencing with my fiancé or telephone conversations with friends I have no seen in ages.

Touch feels good

The last time I hugged someone was when we hugged at O. R. Tambo International Airport in mid-January. My social humanity is under stress and seriously strained. I was probably last touched when the nurse donned gloves to take blood in April, it remains the last significant human touch I have felt.

I am at work with colleagues I have never physically met, we have been working together since May, but I have been working from home or living at work as the case might be. They have families, some even visit the campus of the workplace, so human interaction takes place to an extent, which for many like me, we live in an electronic age of sight and sound, smell is local or just home as the restaurant culture is literally gone, touch is anathema as it is to be avoided and taste is what you cook or put together to eat.

Senses feel lost

You wonder what this pandemic has wrought upon the earth, it takes away your sense of smell and taste, then robs you of the enjoyment of the sensation of touch, whilst the use of sight and hearing is constrained to a world bolstered mostly by electronics. As social animals, we have lost the social and the animal begins to disintegrate without the grooming that comes with the socially enhancing qualities of human interfaces, much of it physical.

I am fine, I have found coping mechanisms, I am working with the expectation that things will ease up and soon a semblance of living like a real human being with all senses in deployment will come. That sensation of skin on skin, the warmth of touch, the whispering that triggers and excites the ear from breath to sound, the expression of love when lips meet and tongues tussle, you melt into each other with a longing that no words can yet express.

That is what keeps me sane, for I reckon, all this shall pass, the night always ends in the breaking of dawn, no matter how long it seems to our consciousness. There is stress, there is strain, but we prevail.

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