Opinion: We must regain our sense of feeling alive

Campaigner Sue Hessel wonders about sensory deprivation during lockdown.

Campaigner Sue Hessel wonders about sensory deprivation during lockdown. - Credit: Archant

I was allowed to see my mum in her care home for the first time last month.

I sat under a gazebo in the rain and wind as we called to each other through an open glass door. Mum has Alzheimer’s - the bizarre world in her head must have got a whole lot more surreal. She was upset. She hasn’t had a hug from her family - or seen a hairdresser - since March.

It’s been a long hard summer. What has been the effect of so much sensory deprivation? Have we lost our senses?

Senselessness seems to be a feature of Covid. Not just loss of smell and taste, but even our sense of sight has been changed - with many relationships only experienced through the screen of a laptop. Hearing has been silenced: with live choirs banned, we no longer experience the excitement and emotion of hearing those soaring crescendos and quiet diminuendos of collective singing.

For people living alone, physical affection has been forbidden. Yet touch is the most primal, basic instinct of all, deeply important to our sense of belonging to the human family. When babies are born they cry and we instinctively pick them up and hold them. Along with hearing, touch is the last sense experienced before death itself. Yet people have been dying without the comfort of their loved ones, our dead buried without inviting mourners to come together. And mothers have given birth without the company and warmth in those first few months of their own mothers and sisters.

Even if there is a second lockdown we need to find a better way of managing things, and use our collective sense of balance and imagination. Senses and feelings are vital for mental health.

How come the government has looked after the grown up’s playgrounds, whilst the children’s are still taped up and out of bounds? Off-licences were deemed essential from the start; golf courses, tennis club courts and fishing opened up eight weeks ago.

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Children need to play – it’s how they grow and develop their skills and relationships. How many children in London have no garden? This should have been an absolute priority.

Deprived of cuddles from grandparents, many children are frightened by the toll of deaths published daily. They won’t understand that statistics are complex and that many who died were already very frail. But they will fear they can contaminate and ‘kill someone,’ especially a loved family member, by their very presence.

This is a frightening idea for everyone and one that the authorities would do well to help people with. Some are so fearful they have barely left home since March.

Let’s use the fresh air of the summer months to help gain confidence again, to balance fear of infection with the joie de vivre that has become so lost. We must find a better, more human way to deal with Covid.

There is no point in saving physical life if we lose our sense of feeling alive.

• Sue Hessel is a psychotherapeutic counsellor and teaches counselling skills, specialising in attachment and loss. She also runs the Crouch End Carers Coffee Morning Group at Abide church hall.