Football, Coronavirus & The Human Touch

A picture taken from inside Arsenal football stadium. Post pays credence to Arsenal manager, Mikel Arteta

Mikel Arteta reminded us all of what we really needed most during lockdown.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been paying quite a lot of attention to the news lately. As figures rise and rise and more and more people are diagnosed with the novel Coronavirus, it seems as though more and more people are dying from it. While that’s generally not a wrong assumption to make, it also fills the world with doom, gloom and uncertainty.

Perhaps in all of this though, the one thing that I (and people like me) have been aware of is the impact of the loss of human touch. Within minutes of the UK’s new lockdown being imposed, many young people were filled with anxiety. Few people realise how bad loneliness can feel, until they find themselves alone. Few young people truly appreciate the plague that affects the elderly, perhaps even more often than the novel Coronavirus itself.

We often think of ourselves as strong and independent, and yet, when we’re alone, we begin to realise how much we depend on each other. Everything, from sex to small talk, depends on the involvement of other people.  As humans, we need an involvement with one another that can’t be replicated online, no matter how much our collective governments would like us to try.

Only this morning, our home phone rang; it was my father-in-law. Nothing was inherently wrong, but he was sad, lonely and missing human interaction. Before the UK was thrown into a lockdown, my mother and I walked and discussed the absurdity of it all.

“Stress weakens the immune system,” I said,

“And loneliness is stress”, she added. As people who have both worked in care for the elderly, we both concluded that isolating them from an infection could inadvertently and accidentally expose them to more harm than it prevented by weakening their immune system in the first place.

On Tuesday, the day after the lockdown was imposed, my mother’s lodger was released from his electronic tag.

“I’ve never wanted to hug an ex-prisoner so much and say bloody well done,” I said to Mum. He’d been charged with drug-related offences and had made a complete reform. He was no longer a menace to society; he was now a fantastic cook and took pride in working on the docks. There are few people that I get on well with, and yet he was rapidly becoming one of them.

One of the most complex parts of this isolation is quite how much I’ve missed my mother, my brother, and all that remains of my family. I still miss Dad, and I still think about Dad, but it feels cruel that a year ago we lost him, and a year on I can’t hold dear the two that remain. In a horrific sounding way, they may as well be dead, too. Without technology right now, I wouldn’t be able to see or hear from them. Sometimes, my brain can’t help but feel as though the video feel and the phone calls I have with them are a distorted reality, info bytes that I’m being fed in some sci-fi fantasy to make me believe that I have a family at all. My sense of reality is gone. Is Matt real? Am I real, or is my home entirely made up? Who even am I?

As I scrolled through the news for one last time before bed, I stopped abruptly on one article. A BBC Sports piece, of all articles.

“We are in a world where everything is social media, everything is a WhatsApp text” this was Mikel Arteta on his time in isolation after his positive result on a Coronavirus test, but really, he could have been speaking for all of us in lockdown, on the whole.

“How important is touching each other, feeling each other and hugging each other? I miss that with the people I love.” Oh, Mikel, I feel you there.

Coronavirus may kill people, but loneliness and depression kills people, too.

Only last night, I was scrolling through Youtube when I came across a video in which the creator simulated hugging the viewer to try and soothe some of the anxiety and stress caused by isolation in this current crisis. During a phonecall today, my mother told me about a nurse who had committed suicide after being unable to permit loved ones to be with those who were dying from Coronavirus. We don’t only depend on each other for our own happiness, but our own happiness, it seems, depends on being there for each other, too.

“Why don’t you write something about how no football has impacted you?” I urged Matt. He should write, you should write, everyone should write! Writing can be so cathartic.

The truth was, football was a passion of his, but I never thought there would be a time that football would resonate with me, too. Arteta’s attitude was almost enough to make an Arsenal supporter out of me, almost.

“People should be emotionally more open” urged Mikel, I nodded and agreed wholeheartedly.

If football managers can be so open and vulnerable about the need for human interaction, then why can’t we all? What good comes in denying ourselves something that, it seems, can define our very existence? That is as crucial for our survival as a species as air? Technology can do a great many things, but ultimately and quite simply, we still need each other, alive and in person.

Human connection and interaction is something that I, along with many other people with a passion (or a career) in psychology, have been fascinated by.

Everything, from drinking with friends, a friendly hug, and right through to prostitution, everything is about human connection. After all, prostitution is often called “selling love” for a reason, and the temporary fix and the need to feel it again is what makes it become an addiction. No matter what it is we do, people need people to survive. We’re social creatures.

I’ve always been a law-abiding citizen, and yet, I’ve been oh so tempted to sneak out under the cloak of darkness if only to see my family again, to laugh, hold them close and hug them. We often hear about North Korean defectors escaping to the south in the UK media, and yet here we find ourselves facing fines and jail if we dare to step too far outside of our home. Fines, jail or contracting Coronavirus don’t even feel like that much of a deal to me anymore, not compared to not seeing my family. I’ve had dreams of ‘defecting’ through the woods near me and meeting my family in the quiet neighbouring village. I understand why it’s being done, but this is the psychological impact that lockdown is having, even on me.

I do agree with Mikel that people need to be more open and receptive to one another once this virus passes over. “I’m fine” is all an all too well-known expression in times of psychological crisis, and we’re all too familiar with the truth of those words. Being vulnerable isn’t a weakness and needing someone isn’t a flaw. When the sun shines again, we need to be able to realise that we really do each other to survive. We are social animals, we are a social species – we are humans.

Until next time.

Stay safe & have fun.

Helen xx

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