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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Too many rabbits…

Well, obviously:

Wandsuna - Remember? Artwork by Ravenari

I’ve been doing so much art and writing lately, that I’ve actually lost track of blogging here. That’s just… incredible. Along with the art and the writing, I’ve been going through something of a PTSD exacerbation since mid-December, and have been feeling less buoyant as a result (somewhat of an understatement). There was a trigger in real life that caused this (a catalyst you might say), so at least I have the ‘comfort’ of knowing it doesn’t come from no where. But at the same time, three and a half months is a long time to deal with an increase in all of my symptoms, from nightmares to bruxing to stomach upsets to flashbacks to losing time to just general miserableness.

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So, I decided to get some of it out of my system, and returned to the cathartic and personally symbolic Wandsuna series. The Wandsuna series started around 1998, I believe, and back then it was exclusively limited to pastels. But the series has been evolving as I’ve been, and now we’re into inked, bulgy-eyed rabbits:

Wandsuna - Remember - Detail by Ravenari

This illustration, entitled Wandsuna – Remember? is unfinished, and still needs to be coloured, but there is a liminal moment after inking and pre-colouring where I feel I have a finished piece before the piece is a finished piece. It drifts between being complete and not complete. I treat the inking process as a ‘completion,’ and intentionally put more detail into the piece than can be visibly seen post-colouring. We all have secrets. Even the Wandsuna pieces do. What can’t you see behind the colour, even up close? Well…

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What you can see however, is too many rabbits.

wandsuna - remember - detail 02 by Ravenari

On dogs, PTSD, and being an artist with issues.

This is not a ‘new art’ entry. Though… okay, alright then, here’s something I’m working on:

Zentas the Mini-Dragon- by Ravenari

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Now for the actual entry.

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In one camp (CAMP 1), you have many mental health officials and organisations release studies that say things like: Cats and dogs markedly reduce the stress of those with mental illness, and provide a sense of responsibility that can sometimes save a person’s life. Sometimes, the only thing that helps a suicidal person get out of bed in the morning, is feeding their dog.

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And then in the other camp (CAMP 2), you have many dog training officials and organisations release information that say things like: Cats and dogs benefit best when they’re raised in a stable and consistent environment. Remember that dogs need socialising, and to try and minimise tension, stress and fear around them, because dogs can pick up on this and it can create behavioural problems.

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And then in my camp, you have a conscientious, but mentally ill person who wants very dearly to have a dog in her life, but knows very much that my mental illness would on occasion create atmospheres that may stress a dog out.

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Now what there doesn’t seem to be is another camp of specialist dog trainers (or professionals in general) that have read both the scientific studies on ‘rescue people’ (i.e. humans with mental illness who would benefit from the presence of dogs), and dog happiness (i.e. dogs who would benefit from the presence of a more calm environment), and create dog/human positive-reinforcement training techniques designed for the mentally ill.

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I know some trainers out there exist like this, but in Western Australia, you can’t even find trainers to specialise in helping you train a professional therapy dog, let alone step in and offer as much understanding reassurance to the human as to the dog. Now I hope I’m wrong in this, but the divide between the initial camp 1 and camp 2 is quite large.

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What to do? I don’t know. Unfortunately, my illness has gotten in the way of me having a dog once before, and with no trainers to help me through my very specific issues, I’ve had to put getting a dog on the backburner. But my heart is open for a dog, I love dogs, I love being around them, I love spending time with them, I research training techniques (I’ve clicker trained my cats, particularly Maybe, who thinks it’s the best thing ever), I research dog breeds, I research dog genetics, I watch Youtube videos of dogs that I enjoy, and more than that, I contact breeders to ask them questions about their breeds.

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I think a lot of people don’t overthink things as much as I do. People want to do the best for their dogs, sort of, but many don’t buy books, or research training, or figure out a lot of things regarding their dog before they get it. Many people learn ‘the hard way.’ And many people still get it mostly right by happy accident. But I’m not ‘many people,’ I am a person with post-traumatic stress disorder, and a dissociative disorder. I have nightmares at night, and can shriek and flail and be very frightened – which rules out very protective breeds. I have to be responsible and do a lot of research.

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And I have to try not to scare the crap out of myself, which is very easy because you know… all the stuff I just mentioned above.

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There’s no easy answers for me. I am, in a word, a stresshead. Being in the presence of animals does significantly relax me, and my cats are – according to our vet – happy, friendly, well-socialised cats that are sweet-natured. In their presence I can go from ‘ZOMG LIFE IS HARD’ too ‘aw, pretty furry animal, do you want to do some training? Let’s play!’

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But enough about that, I want to know where the meet is between camp 1 and camp 2. Where are the trainers and psychologists meeting together to make pets work for people with mental illnesses in ways that are both humane for the pets, AND humane for the people? If we can spend so much time rescuing dogs and cats (I am a big believer in rescue dogs and cats), surely we can spend as much time rescuing the people that need so much help to make it through the day. And surely, considering that both people in camp 1 and camp 2 tend to care about living beings, there is room for a niche to develop? A niche of ‘people who help people with mental illness have pets.’

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We have a growing number of ‘people who help people with physical disabilities have pets,’ but – at least where I am – there doesn’t seem to be much of the ‘helping people with mental illness have pets.’

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That’s a sad thing, because clearly there are benefits to be had all round if the situation was managed safely and ethically. And on a very personal (and probably selfish) level, I find it is yet another of the things I am impacted by, in terms of having these illnesses. Something as straightforward as expanding our family – that millions of people do – is not straightforward here. It is not straightforward, but in a more supportive and nurturing environment; it could be easier.

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It could even be healing.

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I see many futures for myself. Too many. In a world where one of my debilitating symptoms was being certain I wouldn’t live out the year (every year), starting to overcome that has presented a world of overwhelming possibilities. But in one of those futures, I take the time to get a dog. It is a journey of trial and error, but with research, there is love and happiness too. And maybe one day, I can help there to be more professionals who can help people with mental illness have successful relationships with their canines; especially those people with mental illness who are conditioned by their disorders to lack confidence in themselves and their abilities. It is often those people who most need the animals who aren’t prone to overthinking. Who do just often enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

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Of course, in yet another future I see myself as a professional space-travelling chocolatier. So…you know. O.O

The problem with being too driven…

The problem with being too driven in self-work and self-awareness.

Tonight I am pondering the endless work of Sisyphus. The endless pushing of the stone up the hill, the endless rolling of the stone to the bottom of the hill, the eternal suffering for the sake of ‘progress,’ and the slaves that it makes of us.

Sisyphus pushing the rock.

Progress is a myth in the sense that; progress can happen, but it will never be the salvation of humankind while humankind exists. To gain this non-existent progress, we must work endlessly, more than ever, we must slave for something we cannot have, and for something that is also endless. We must be Sisyphus, ever struggling, always tired, never ‘there yet.’

And tonight I’m pondering it specifically in relationship to my own attitudes towards self-work. My struggle for the myth of progress within myself, has created a situation where I have become a slave to that progress, and now I suffer greatly for it. That is its greatest irony. The flaw of my consciousness that pits me against myself.

So once more, in order to understand this, I turn to the innate wit and knowledge of animals. And again, to one of the most unthinking of animals; the snail. I do not wish to be a slave to self-work. It makes me suicidal and at best, it makes me absolutely certain that life is without a point. That is not something they teach you about in therapy, and – I believe – it is not in the curricula of therapists either. That self-work can lead to death if it is not balanced with an unconscious, ‘animal’ care of the self.

It can’t all be conscious thought and maintenance. That is to be a slave to consciousness. And without consciousness, we wouldn’t have mental illness in the first place (no, really; the most unconscious of animals don’t even have ‘mental illness’ in their lexicon for a reason). It is a grand irony then, that the very thing that makes us so dysfunctional by animal standards is the very thing we – sometimes wrongly – depend upon to regain function.

Animism has taught me differently. Consciousness has its place, but so does unconsciousness which makes up the vastness of the bodymind in the first place, and informs our ‘free will’ so that we will nothing that our unconscious doesn’t ask of us first. And I have learnt more from the instinctive and innate world of other species than I have from any book or any other human animal. Consciousness will have its place in my healing, but right now it has made me a slave of the healing process, and it will be my unconscious that frees me.

I am tired of being a Sisyphus to my own mental health and mental illness. I will try to go a Snail’s way. I will let the great stone roll down to the bottom of the hill and leave it there. I will go and innately find food and shelter, rest and play, rain and crispy green things. Not in the name of progress, not even in the name of health, but because that is what animals will sometimes do. And if health or progress comes of it, then I am sure the therapeutic world may be happier, and my friends and family might be happier, and I might even benefit from it in the long-term.

snail as totem - by Ravenari

But if nothing comes of it, at least in the short term I cannot say that my life is pointless any longer. Because there is nothing pointless in the rain and green crispy things, in rest and play, in food and shelter.

And because there is a great deal of pointlessness in being Sisyphus, rolling my stone of ‘self-work’ up the hill only to see it fall to the bottom again representing yet another allotment of heavy work for the tired and overworked; the endless, eternal suffering for the myth of progress.

02. all you need is - by Ravenari

Seeing the world through many eyes.

So. I have a fractious and somewhat controversial disorder. I have two mental disorders actually, but one is far less fractious and controversial (until you look at treatment methods and then phew! The controversy comes back). I have post-traumatic stress disorder, and dissociative identity disorder. I could hide those diagnoses from everyone because…that’s what people do. They hide this stuff. They hide it from loved ones and employers and clients and even medical professionals (I know I do, sometimes, because dealing with the stigma from medical professionals is its own kind of special pain).

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