para-vagal activity

My supervisor at my retail job hugs me every time she sees me. I try to dodge her but she seems to hone in on me like some sort of snuggle sniper. She’s a short blonde waif-like lady with a Tinkerbell haircut, frosted eyeshadow, and thick square-framed Coach eyeglasses. She always grabs my arm and throws it over her shoulder, then wraps her arms around my waist.

And it’s uncomfortable. Not Weinstein-level uncomfortable but I’m just not used to being hugged and it feels abnormal to me. Which probably makes me abnormal to everyone else.

My supervisor knows I am not on board with touch but she tells me it’s good for me and I’ll get used to it in time. And maybe that’s why she’s so insistent on tackling me. She thinks she’s helping.

“Hugs are healing,” she told me one time. And it made me think back to all the times I’ve seen people embraced when they were sad or in need of some kind of emotional support. Her statement seemed to ring true…for other people. I can’t think of a time when I was upset and in need of a reassuring squeeze.

Outwardly, I don’t like touch. But sometimes humanity pierces through my robotic veil and… I kinda crave it.

I didn’t grow up being hugged much. My family is not affectionate. And I somehow found myself with a group of friends who were also not affectionate. So, for me, hugs just didn’t happen often. So now, when they do, I clam up. I’m not used to another person’s skin, a firm embrace, a gentle touch on the back or brush of the arm.

It’s all foreign. And most people fear foreign.

A lot of the fear of touch stems from how I feel about myself. Hugging me is like cuddling up to cottage cheese. I’m lumpy. I don’t like touching myself so I can’t imagine anyone else lusting for a handful of my hindquarters. I always think it would be better for everyone if everyone stayed far from me. But does that physical distance manifest into mental ramifications of a lack of physical contact? If hugs are healing, is distance damaging?

I don’t feel human most of the time, for various reasons. It’s nature and nurture. It’s chemical, mental, and physical. I didn’t experience those near-universal milestones. I don’t understand the concept of first kisses and first brushes with other body parts. I can’t relate to or share those experiences with others.

Touch is one of the ways in which people bond, not just to each other, but to something higher than ourselves. Even animals cuddle. They cuddle with each other and with us. It spans across sex and species, blood and brotherhood. It’s not just an every person thing. It’s an every creature thing. It’s universal. It’s how we can belong, provide protection, receive comfort, share safety.

And when you don’t have that, it’s very much alienating. Not to mention, potentially physically harmful.

While I fear it, I’m not totally devoid of the desire to touch and be touched. I see couples holding hands, hugging, kissing. It’s on tv and movies and in books. And what about those “touch porn” Taltz commercials?

But my problem’s not psoriasis. It’s psychosis.

Anyway, I think, “Wow, I want that. How nice would that be?” But since I’m kind of asexual, I’ve never had that in my life. I don’t know the intimacy, the close proximity of sharing a breath, the feel of two sets of lips pressed together.

And that’s where the conflict kicks in. I abhor and admire touch. I rail against it while daydreaming about it. And that sentiment transfers to other people too. I think about those who say, “I’m just a hugger!” Like my supervisor. She has no problem touching people, hugging, pulling in close. And I’m envious of that. It almost looks freeing, to be so open with yourself and others, to be able to express affection in that kind of way.

On the other hand, there’s something very attractive about someone’s cold demeanor, those who don’t want to be touched, who put up a wall against physical adoration.

So where do I fit into the fold of fondling and fleeing far away?

I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy. When it comes to food, I’ll either starve myself or binge my face off. And when I think of touch, I either want to fully embrace it or shrug it off completely. I just can’t seem to wrap my head around wanting to wrap my arms around everyone. But who said I had to do that? What if I was just selective about who I touched? And what if that selectability makes touch all the more special?

It certainly looks special. Human. And once I can get over the uncomfortable hump of being hugged, once I can recognize that I am touchable, that I deserve someone else’s hands on me, maybe I can learn to like it. And maybe my supervisor was on to something. Maybe hugs are healing. I just wonder what, and who, it’s going to take to get me to start believing it.

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