Touching, Seeing, Talking
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Illustration by Dzana Serdarevic. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives – help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Fiction

Touching, Seeing, Talking

On Self-Isolating and Mental Health
Agata Pyzik
Reading
time 17 minutes

It’s 23rd August 2020, I’m in a Berlin strip bar in Mitte, slipping artificial dollars under a dancer’s strings after she finishes her pole dancing. I never thought I’d utter such words, but it’s true.

What is most striking about my visit to this bar is not that it is the first time I’ve left Poland (or Warsaw) at all since 10th March, not even the fact that I’m there in a strip bar, watching the strippers pole-dance, but the fact that I have touched a fellow human being, a complete stranger, for the first time in six months. It is a very peculiar and unexpected sensation: the dancer’s skin is moist and silky, probably a combination of cosmetics and sweat, and I feel, bizarrely, like I’ve profaned her skin; that as a heterosexual woman, who is there completely by chance, I am not supposed to – I shouldn’t be touching her. I saw myself as more of a threat to her health than she to mine. All the women dancing that night are disinfecting the pole before every dance. The bin is full of paper towels, there’s a bottle of disinfectant standing next to it, and the girls, sometimes wearing anti-COVID-19 headgear while dancing and stripping, are probably the weirdest sight I’ve encountered since the pandemic began.

Yet they were there and I was there, too; we shared physical space. What I hate most about this pandemic (and there’s a lot of things I hate about it) is how hyper-aware of what I’m doing it has made me. As a highly neurotic person, suffering at times from a combination of PTSD, OCD and borderline personality disorder, I try to think about what I’m doing as little as possible. Thinking has always been paralysing. Thinking stops me from doing things I want to do, just like in that Smiths song (Ask). I tend to have pervasive clusters of thoughts, which usually result in giving things up: giving up my social life, giving up seeing people, giving up chatting up somebody I fancy, giving up being silly and being myself. And only when you can be silly can you be free. You can’t be silly with COVID. You can’t fool around. You can’t spontaneously touch someone. You can’t leave the house on a whim, even if you spent the last few hours anguishing over whether you should leave the house. In order to release myself from my very

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