huggingIt’s something I don’t talk about often. Because it is both awkward and not easily understood. As a person affected by cerebral palsy, an advocate, and a teacher in various respects, I often find myself writing about issues that affect people with disabilities. I’ve tended to shy away from this one. Until now.

On this blog I have often talked about the day-to-day business of my life. Caregivers help me in and out of bed. Caregivers help me in and out of the shower. I tend to see caregivers in a day more than I see anyone else. And as accommodating as I try to be with the people that work for me; as much as I try to make their job fun, there are many reasons I also need to keep things between us as professional as possible.

So that means I often miss out on something I consider to be very important. People don’t hug me nearly as much as I would like.

It’s understandable to some degree. When interacting with people with disabilities, lots of touch tends to be medical. Helping with a transfer in and out of a car. A physical therapist that takes a person through several rounds of stretches. Some people need to be turned at several times throughout the night to prevent pressure sores from developing on their body. And the typical population doesn’t need that kind of touch, so when it comes to people with disabilities, that is where the touch ends.  After all, people doing all of those things are only just doing their jobs.

Because I was born ten weeks premature, I spent the first six weeks of my life in an incubator. My parents tell the story of being able to look at me through a glass door for only fifteen minutes per day. And while I realize that was the way things were done at the time, and nobody intentionally was being malicious, I have wondered often if my “fear of abandonment” issues and bouts of depression have anything to do with the fact that I only received medical touch for a month and a half right after I was born.

Countless studies have been done on the benefits of hugging. It reduces stress and increases self esteem and lowers blood pressure as well as doing lots of other good things.

In an article called “10 reasons why we need at least eight hugs a day” published on the Mindbodygreen website, Marcus Julian Felicetti said several interesting things that I thought related specifically to people with disabilities.

One of the things he said was that “Hugs strengthen the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the Solar Plexus Chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which keep you healthy and disease free.” Boosting the immune system of people with disabilities can only be a good thing because lots of us are so medically fragile.

He went on to say that “Hugging relaxes muscles. Hugs release tension in the body. Hugs can take away pain; they soothe aches by increasing circulation into the soft tissues.” I can say from personal experience that when I am having a bad day emotionally, my body is a mess physically. When I am angry or upset or frustrated, my spasm gets so intense that it is hard for me to move, and even on a good day finding ways to relax my muscles can only be positive when it comes to my comfort and ability to function.

Finally, Mr. Felicetti said that “Hugs teach us how to give and receive. There is equal value in receiving and being receptive to warmth, as to giving and sharing. Hugs educate us how love flows both ways.”

One of the things I struggle with as a person with a disability is that I have to depend so completely on other people in order to do basic things. Some days it is easy for me to feel like I am taking all the time. The thing that lights me up about hugs is that they are mutually beneficial. They decrease blood pressure and increase self esteem and do all kinds of other beneficial things for both the parties involved. That means when I am hugging someone, I am not just taking. I am giving as well. That matters to me.

About this time last year, I had a caregiver I was very close to. He was a little older than the caregivers I typically hire and he had a degree in Christian ministry. We bonded pretty quickly. He had compassion about so many things, but one of the things I appreciated most about Joshua is that he used to hug me often. After we got to know each other well, sometimes when he was here and I was working on my computer, he would spontaneously come over to me and give me a really big hug. Whenever I questioned it, he would say “just because.” It was pretty awesome.

Unfortunately, he moved to Texas about six months ago.

I have written before about how lonely and isolating disability can be sometimes. And I know, at least in my life, how powerful non-medical touch can be.

I want to be engaged. I want to be connected.

Some days what I really want is just to be in touch.

P.S.  An afterthought.  If you want to hug someone who happens to be a wheelchair user effectively, get on your knees before you begin the hug.  We can reach you better that way.  🙂