Pat Blythe – Mind and body in isolation…..losing the connection

We all need touch…..human touch. A handshake, a hug, the brushing of legs, a gentle pat on the arm in conversation, holding hands, arms around shoulders, brushing hair from a face, the playful tug on your ear from a baby….it’s all about touch. It’s what we crave. It’s what we desire. It’s reassuring. It’s caring. It’s affection. It’s love. It’s unspoken words. Touch is how the blind “see” us. Touch is what connects us to ourselves and each other and we’re losing that connection.

In the 1970s comparative psychologist Harry Harlowe conducted isolation experiments with baby and juvenile Rhesus monkeys to produce an animal model of depression. Within a few days of being placed in what he referred to as the “depression pit” the young monkeys would stop moving and remained huddled in the corner. Every time I read about this experiment it breaks my heart. However, it did prove two things; how vital touch is and how it really connects us.

A scientific study…..

Now, nearing the end of April 2020, millions of people around the world have been in isolation for six or more weeks with no physical contact with family, friends or simply being part of a crowd. We can bang as many pots and pans as we like in unity, shout in conversation across the street, make music from our balconies or pick up the phone to hear a loved one’s voice but slowly, loneliness sets in both physically and mentally. Recently two neuroscientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Livia Tomova and Rebecca Saxe, produced results from a study they began three years ago….a study on loneliness. “It is the first study in humans to show that both loneliness and hunger share signals deep in a part of the brain that governs very basic impulses for reward and motivation. The findings point to one telling conclusion: our need to connect is apparently as fundamental as our need to eat.”

Even the direct touching of food makes eating more enjoyable….our babies are way ahead of us…..

The serendipitous timing of the study’s release was not intentional. Who could have possibly envisioned the unimaginable would become a reality? Although the paper has not been peer reviewed it is gaining worldwide attention due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A secondary study on whether social media could satisfy social cravings during the current situation was put on the back burner due to lack of funding. Looks like that will change. If you would like to read the details of the study you can go here

Connecting in the year of COVID…..

So here we are, self-isolating, questioning, cranky and miserable but trying to do what’s right. All media, social and otherwise, has been rife with remonstrations regarding our “whining” and “whinging”. Our wish lists include all the things we miss…..hugging, kissing, dining out, concerts, movies, walks through the parks, going to the beach, visiting our elderly or comforting our dying in homes and hospitals…..touching. Yet we are frequently reminded how lucky, fortunate, blessed, even privileged we are. We’re “not roughing it in the trenches”; we’re not going through (insert disaster here). We should be ashamed to be so petty. Bollacks!!!!

Human beings don’t just need the physical touch and connection; they require it, quite literally, to survive. We are not solitary creatures by nature; even those who prefer solitude require human contact at some point. We are, inherently, social animals and we depend on the “herd” to subsist. Zooming, Skyping, FaceTiming, etc. actually don’t really do the trick. Oh…..they’re fine as a temporary, once-in-a-while measure but screen time, over time, does not (in the vernacular) “cut it”. It’s a case of diminishing returns.


James Coan, a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia…”Touch quiets the brain’s emotional activity, but connecting via video conference requires an extra circuit of the brain to get the same effect…videoconferencing can help, but it will require more work from the brain than physical presence would.” Coan adds, “humans have this dire need to connect. Our brains have learned from brutal evolutionary lessons that social isolation is a death sentence.”

The brain, the body and touch…..

We are born totally defenseless, unable to survive without the care and feeding of those able to provide it. We cannot speak except to cry. We cannot move except to flail our arms and legs. We are completely vulnerable. As we grow we connect and bond with and within our tiny world. As it expands, touch is what guides us, soothes us, warms us, welcomes us, feeds us and nurtures us. This does not change as we mature into adults. We gently touch to steer or guide. We hug to soothe, warm or welcome (or say goodbye). Our souls and our hearts are fed, nurtured and enriched by touch.

Twin siblings hugging their newborn twin siblings

Any kind of isolation over a period of time will begin to rewire and totally fuck with our brains. Isolation is itself a negative feeling. The days begin to run together, your brain begins to numb, we become couch potatoes as our energy levels drop, getting dressed, putting on makeup becomes forced, our anxiety levels increase, we get irritable, frustrated and ultimately depression sets in. With no defined end in sight, those with existing mental health issues will find our current situation even more stressful, exacerbating their own mental struggles to the point of self harm, acting out or suicide. Our governments and health care authorities are so focused on distancing and isolation and “flattening the curve” they (and we) are forgetting too many of our most vulnerable.

Alexander Chouker, a physician researcher who studies stress immunology at the University of Munich, has seen radical changes in the bodies of people participating in simulations of manned spaceflight missions like Mars-500. “They were young and trained people not in a condition of real threat,” he says. “The pure fact of being confined affects the body. If you change your environment in a quite extreme way, it is changing you.” Participants, some of whom were only isolated for three months, experienced changes to their sleep, changes to their immune, endocrine, and neurocognitive systems, and alterations to their metabolisms. “Being confined and isolated affects the human physiology as a whole,” Chouker says.

With no visible light at the end of the tunnel the current pandemic becomes especially traumatic, according to Dr. Sue Varma, the founding medical director of the World Trade Center mental-health program at New York University. Studies have shown the “condition” of loneliness can trigger cardiovascular disease and stroke, obesity or premature death, equivalent to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.

Touch, food and sex…..

Touching food and eating with your hands can be a pleasurable physical experience, which is one reason why food and sex are so strongly associated with each other. It’s impossible to experience either without human touch. Before utensils, before Miss Manners and after the bottle or breast, we ate with our hands and sex was strictly physical contact with a partner. Phone sex, sexting, even sharing sexual pleasures using screen time or touching ourselves provides only temporary, limited satisfaction. Touch from others is the unspoken language we hunger after. There’s an immediate physical and mental reaction that only skin-on-skin contact will provide.

Stop and think about all the things you do with your skin. Nothing goes in our mouths, on our bodies or slips into our beds without being touched. Touch comes first…..always.

When Chris and I settled in for the night, some sort of physical connection was important. It didn’t matter what sleeping position we found ourselves in, invariably sometime in the night there would be a hand that had surreptitiously tucked itself under my hip or (or mine under his). It was like slipping your hand into a back pocket. It was our “sleep connection”….comforting and reassuring. More than six years on I still find myself reaching out in the night for somewhere to tuck my hand.

I am by nature a very tactile person. Whether I am deep in conversation with someone or relaxing with a special someone, touch is an automatic reflex for me. To rub a back, rest my hand on your arm, stroke a shoulder or even play footsies, touch is my way of communicating.

Our skin, with its thousands of nerve endings is our largest organ, the most exposed and the most sensitive. We take touch for granted, not realizing the effect its absence has on us on our bodies and our brains. Skin-to-skin contact is vital to our overall health. So to all of you who keep reminding us how good we have it and to just “suck it up” during this period of physical isolation, please keep in mind that depriving human beings of any kind of positive physical connection is literally killing some. Touch is not a luxury, it is a necessity. It is our connection to each other and the world around us. Touch…..our very lives depend on it.

Lots of music…..of course I couldn’t forgo a few “touch” songs. Some new music from local artist as well and a few other pieces just because……

Touch Me – The Doors

Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond

Invisible Touch – Genesis

I Touch Myself – Divinyls

Sometimes When We Touch – Dan Hill

Touch Me In The Morning – Diana Ross

An incredible tribute to a much loved husband, father, son, friend, musician…..lots of fun. Dance like no one’s watching….. Well done Karl Anderson!

Somebody Else Will – Elmwood Underground

Roxanne Tellier posted the following tune in her column this past Sunday. I’m reposting again because it’s worth reposting! It’s a wonderful song written by Shawn O’Shea and featuring Shawn and Rox on vocals. Recorded in their home, photo contributions from many of us are salted throughout the video (including yours truly)

When This Is Over – Macky featuring Roxanne Tellier

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″

I first saw this Oshawa-based band last year at CMW. I was totally blown away. My impressions have not changed.

Invaders – The Peptides

“Wrote this song during my own isolation at home just a few weeks ago. It’s kind of a simple message. “Stop the Spread…..Stay At Home”. Help the frontline workers. Give them our support.” – Avery Raquel

Isolation – Avery Raquel

Honeybee – The Whiskey Charmers

Escape (The Pina Colada Song)

From an old friend……

Riding a Cow – Spleen

Local Hamilton talent and fabulous guitarist…..

Monsters in the TV – Joe Towers & the Paranoid Planet

Capice – Flamingo Bãy

Time Won’t Let Me – The Outsiders

….and big thanks to good friend and bassist Greg Plant for posting this….the bass line is f%#king awesome!!!

Pete Townshend – Give Blood



Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

Contact us at:

dbawis-button7“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat little-red-headed-dancing-girlalso worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

8 Responses to “Pat Blythe – Mind and body in isolation…..losing the connection”

  1. thanks for posting the song, Pat! Much appreciated!


  3. Damon Hines Says:

    Thank him as always, Pat, a cup overflowing with warmth, humanity that’s as tactile as words substituting for feelings can be. 👍👍😘🎶😁💖😎💞😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: