So I have this thing called a touch phobia…

Touch phobia is also rather unhelpfully known by the following names: haphephobia, aphephobia, haphophobia, hapnophobia, haptephobia, haptophobia, thixophobia and just ‘fear of being touched.’ I call it a ‘touch phobia,’ and that works for me.

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Well, the name works for me, not the phobia. The phobia is a son of a bitch. And anyone who has it probably knows just how awful it can be.

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I’m lucky, I don’t have a truly severe version. My phobia has never made me throw up. I can sit in the passenger seat in the front of a car when someone else is driving (though it makes me feel trapped, and sometimes I’ve had to get out of cars or ask that they stop). I can shop in shopping centres, and I can even handle hugging some people hello and goodbye.

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The list of things I can’t do, right now, because of the phobia, is long and winding. From not being able to stand next to people on a crowded bus, to not being able to handle people walking behind me when I’m sitting down.

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For many of us, and certainly me, touch burns like fire, is intensely aggravating, or – as I like to describe it – ‘feels like sandpaper vigorously rubbing against the *inside* of my skin.’ You would think, because of that, I hate touch and don’t want it in my life, but you’d be wrong. I like the idea of touch (though I can’t imagine it too explicitly, or I trigger the phobia even when no one’s around). I crave touch. Pre-touch phobia, I used to be a physically affectionate person.

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I’ve tried different ways of dealing with this. I’ve talked to several therapists, I’ve even seen a sex therapist in the hopes that she’d come across a case like mine before (she hadn’t; the downside to finding experienced therapists in a small town). I’ve done research online and come across a whole bunch of bogus, generic, ‘I can fix your X phobia with this video/tape/cassette/aluminium hat, for X amount of dollars!’

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I’ve been drawn to media representations of people with touch phobia for some time now, from Ciel Phantomhive in Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler), to little Cindy in the two-part Press Gang episode written by the wonderful Steven Moffat.

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Ciel from Kuroshitsuji

Ciel from Kuroshitsuji

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Of course, it’s not a coincidence that I was also drawn to both of these characters; they have experienced childhood sexual abuse. That said, not everyone with a touch phobia has been sexually abused. But a lot of us have.

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Cindy from Press Gang

Cindy from Press Gang

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I’d list a lot more media examples, but we’re not really well-represented in the media. Which is a shame, because there’s not one way to have a touch phobia, and it manifests so differently that it would be you know – nice for me as someone who studies mass media – to see more representations of touch phobia out there.

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Some people are specifically scared of being touched by the opposite sex, some people are specifically scared of being touched by people, but not animals. Some people are specifically scared of sexual touch, but not any other kind of touch. Some people are specifically scared of intimate touch, but other forms of touch are fine. It affects people of all genders and sexes and walks of life. But not many people have heard of it, or know that such a thing exists. A lot of people don’t talk about it, even if they have it.

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There’s no guaranteed way to recover from a touch phobia. And everyone responds differently to different methods. Some people have a natural remission over time. Others need to put in a ridiculous amount of effort for a tiny amount of progress. Others find that they don’t want to recover from their touch phobia, because they don’t miss intimate touch of any kind, and don’t find they need it. There’s no one psychological technique that will work for everyone, and it’s important not to let other people try and convince you this is true. Because if you do, and then the technique fails you, you’ll end up blaming yourself, instead of the circumstances, environment, technique, or just ‘it not being the right time yet.’

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I’m writing about this again because it is actually the most common search topic on my WordPress journal. And I’m writing about this again, because I still have it. It’s still there. It’s still a son of a bitch. And because I’m not alone in trying to figure it out; but I feel that way, because not many people write about it. And because if you’re one of those people who feels alone in trying to figure it out, I want you to know you’re not. There are a lot of us out there, trying to wrap our heads around it, some of us wondering and hoping it could be different one day. And most of us are putting phenomenal amounts of energy into stopping it from getting worse, and even trying to heal from it.

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We’re out there. Cringing away from people who walk too close to us. Swallowing down nausea when a family member kisses us in neutral greeting on the cheek. Loving our partners endlessly and then struggling to understand why we can’t lie in the same bed with them, or cuddle. Letting the buses pass until there’s one empty enough for us to enter. Shopping online to avoid the crowds, and trying to count to 10 so we can survive waiting in a line at the bank. In whatever ways it manifests, we’re out there. And there’s probably more of us than we think.

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Oh artist, oh anxious artist.

So, over the Easter weekend, the Swancon/Natcon 50 Future Imperfect exhibition was on at the Perth Hyatt.

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I had fully intended to go the launch, after backing out of speaking on a panel about the techniques I use as an artist for anxiety reasons. And then on the afternoon of the launch, anxiety reasons kicked in again, and I didn’t end up going. I couldn’t even feel crushed or guilty about it, the anxiety was just that all-encompassing. Also, additional self-hate issues kind of had me viewing ‘going to an exhibition to see my own artwork on display when I know what it looks like’ with a kind of abashed, affronted horror. I just couldn’t get excited about making a big deal out of myself.

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I know I often talk about ‘bad mornings’ with PTSD and so on, but the reality is, PTSD touches every part of my life in different ways. Sometimes it will be the ‘I slept badly, today will be a slow day.’ On days when I’m actually planning on doing something exciting, like attending my first exhibition launch (since I didn’t go the other exhibition launch a year and a half ago that I was in either), it creeps in and I don’t go.

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I did make it for an hour – hour and a half on Saturday morning. We got there early, so we sat down by the Swan River foreshore and I took pictures of ravens (ravens, not crows – Perth, ravens. Corvus coronoides to be precise). I found this relaxing.

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raven pair photo by Ravenari

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raven. photo by Ravenari

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We went in and I saw Linda, and Stephanie Gunn (and her partner and son), both of whom are good friends and a relief to see. I met a few other people, and my method for ‘looking at my art in an exhibition’ was to walk straight by it. I didn’t stand in front of it and look at it once. I looked at everything else. I admit, I was surprised to see how many originals were only featured as limited edition prints, instead of their traditional medium originals. I prefer traditional medium originals, or limited prints of digital work at an exhibition; but limited prints of a traditional work is jarring. I especially enjoyed the work of Sandy / Gas Bomb Girl, which was both original, well-executed, and a pleasure to look at.

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Anxiety dictated I leave soon after, and that hour tired me out so much I mostly just slept for the rest of the day. So many people. In fact, it was during that resting, that I got a call and then a text from Linda saying that Portable Photovoltaic Systems had sold! And then a couple of days later, I discovered that The Sea Shepherd had sold too. Currently Clearcutting at Dawn is all that remains, and is right now hanging on my loungeroom wall. Although here it is, resting on my art table:

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Clearcutting at Dawn framed - Photo and Art by Ravenari

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That was very career-affirming for me as an artist. But more importantly, I am so glad these pieces have found homes. I think one of the worst things about being an artist is executing a piece of art only to have it languish away in a cabinet or under a bed, instead of being displayed like it’s supposed to be. One doesn’t generally do art to then put it under a bed, y’know?

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I also finished – drumroll – Wandsuna – Remember?. You can see a post of all manner of details here at my Dreamwidth account. But I’ve provided a picture too:

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Wandsuna - Remember? by Ravenari

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The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a part of my life. It won’t always be in this severity. In fact it isn’t as severe as it used to be. But it is crippling. Things that I expect myself to be able to do, because others not only find them fairly easy, but look forward to them, I find ‘do my head in.’ Launches, socialising with like-minded people in a group setting, seeing my artwork in an exhibition, even sometimes selling that artwork. As it’s invisible, it is something people in the majority don’t understand unless I take the time to explain it, and as explaining something like PTSD is difficult I frequently have to have the energy to do it (it being draining is often compounded by some reactions like; ‘but the abuse happened X years ago, shouldn’t you just be over it by now?’ and ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ and ‘it’s too hard for me to be in this conversation,’ and ‘I don’t believe you,’ and many, many more). I think it can also be hard for people to understand how being raped and abused as a child and the subsequent PTSD I have from that, might impact something like an art exhibition. They are, after all, two wildly differing animals on the outside, right? Well, no, not especially.

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In between all the artwork I post, my life is a lot of self-work, therapy, and ‘forcing myself to get up in the morning and face the day after 4 or 5 nightmares.’ Serious, ongoing, ‘every night’ sleep disturbance is something I’ve lived with for over 23 years, and I’m only 29. I have woken up tired almost every single day of my life. But I get up, I walk around, I live my life, I do the art, and of course I rest significantly because PTSD takes it’s toll, along with all the other different things that spin around the PTSD, like the touch phobia, alexithymia, and dissociative issues.

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I’m proud of myself that I got down to the exhibition and the Hyatt, even if it was only for an hour. And I’m glad I volunteered to put some artwork in the exhibition and went through with it, even though I talked myself into pulling out about 5 times. I’m stoked that I sold anything at all, let alone two pieces, and that has ignited a warm fiery glow inside of me. Sometimes when you take a chance and challenge yourself, you’re rewarded. I’m glad I went through with it, even if I need to have a quiet month afterwards to rest. 🙂