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Personal space: The joys of social distancing

Siobhan wearing mask on bus

Siobhan Johnson, Administrative Assistant for the Intermediate Care Service based at the Avenue Centre in Reading, tells us what it's been like for her as someone with sensory processing differences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Siobhan’s experience

A lot of people can have difficulties with processing information they receive through their senses. This means that they can be under-sensitive in some respects, and/or over-sensitive in others.

These sensory differences can be experienced in varying degrees and create difficulties. 

For example, someone with hyposensitive sight might have poor depth perception and this can make them seem clumsy, while another person may be unable to ignore certain smells, meaning they're hypersensitive.

I have touch hypersensitivity, which can mean I get very edgy around people touching me, although I'm quite touch-centric when it comes to my close family, such as my husband and mother.

I can manage a handshake if it's suitably brief, but I don't even really like hugging friends. 

During situations where someone is touching me, however well-meaning the gesture is meant to be, my mind starts up the `flight' process, as if I'm in danger.

I can start to feel anxious, and if I end up in a crowd or similarly overwhelming situation, this can escalate to a panic attack.

In pre-COVID times, the way I reacted to being touched could make things a little awkward.

People would clap me on the back or lay a hand on my arm, as a gesture of support, and then be confused as to why I froze up or started trying to edge away.

Now that it's the norm to be hyper-aware of touch, things are a lot easier for me.

My reality, the discomfort when someone crosses my boundaries, has now become everybody else's reality too.

It's quite liberating how nobody outside of your household or support bubble is supposed to even be within touching distance.

For instance, my journey on the bus has transformed for the better. Being awkwardly crammed in with strangers is no more as we must sit apart and give each other adequate room. There are even stickers telling you where it's appropriate to sit, which is a genuine joy! 

This pandemic has obviously been a tragedy that is probably going to remain with all of us for a lifetime, but I think the fact that we're all learning to give each other a bit more space is a definite positive.

I hope that, when COVID-19 is being written about in history books, we're all still this appreciative of each other's personal space.