Living On the Psycho-social Edge: COVID-19 pandemic effects

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have daily flashes of “Hey, this is coming to an end so relax”, to, “Holy crap! Am I catching it? I’m feeling something…”

Each morning when I awake, for example, especially if I’ve had little sleep, I check myself for symptoms, sometimes without thinking about it. Such dedicated vigilance! Regardless, as now a knee-jerk reaction, due in part to daily exposure to thousands of media warnings and those of inquisitive but caring relatives, I have conceded to the messaging.

On the online CTV News site this morning, the statistics shown in The COVID-19 Brief, indicated that as of today:

  1. Globally, there were 2,990,559 cases worldwide, 875, 497 recovered, and 207,446 deceased;
  2. In Canada, there were 46,895 cases, 17,321 recovered, and 2,560 deceased;
  3. In Ontario, there were 14,432 cases, 8,000 recovered, and 835 deceased.

“Doctors worry of  potential backlog and further delays for patients once the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Some doctors privately speculate wait times for procedures could run a year or longer.”

On CBC Radio this morning, there was more discussion from experts about the widening stress effects on people who are self-isolating or ‘social distancing’, and who also repeatedly see or hear the Covid message. Some of these effects included domestic violence, verbal abuse, and even suicides. Most however, reflected resulting feelings of constant apprehension, helplessness, and resigned fatalism. Where hope had been compromised, high anxiety ensued. It was seen as a slow ‘turning out of the lights’ coupled with the fear of what’s coming next, and what can be done about it, for myself or my family.

When a neighbourhood, extended family, town, city and country share these legitimate feelings, it can have more widespread net effects, to wit:

  • the temporary (or in some cases) permanent closing of “non-essential” businesses;
  • greatly reduced employment levels, including the numbers of full-time and part-time staff;
  • remedial and enforceable government policies around social distancing in public, loss/recuperation of wages, re-deployment of hospital staff, access to healthcare, and distribution of PPEs (Personal Protective Equipment);
  • a redefining of Long Term Care guidelines;
  •  restrictions on the size of public gatherings (maximum of 5 in Ontario);
  • the closing of schools, colleges and universities, and other public institutions such as libraries and community centres

The human body as an organism is prepared to adapt to its environment in response to weather, microorganisms, chemical irritants and pollutants, and the psychological pressures of daily life. This constant condition of homeostasis becomes upset or out of balance when it is confronted especially with a new unidentifiable threat such as Covid-19. “Whether this [new] stressful situation actually induces physiological change depends upon an individual’s perception of the stress stimulus and the personal meaning that the stimulus holds. A person’s reaction, for instance, may not correspond to the actual dangers that the stimulus represents; that is, a person may overreact or underreact. Thus, there is considerable agreement that an individual’s subjective interpretation of a social situation is the trigger that produces physiological responses…A number of studies have shown that the human organism’s inability to manage the social, psychological, and emotional aspects of life – to respond suitably to a social situation – can lead to the development of cardiovascular complications and hypertension, peptic ulcers, muscular pain, compulsive vomiting, asthma, migraine headaches, and other health problems.” (pp. 75, 77, in MEDICAL SOCIOLOGY, 8th edn., by William C. Cockerham, 2001. Prentice Hall)

Covid-19 in other words, can make you sick over time, by just worrying about it. It is a crisis through time, and its magnitude is made clear by 1. “the intensity of the threat or actual loss; 2. its extent through important dimensions of the person’s or group’s life space; 3. the speed with which it occurs; 4. the degree to which the person is prepared to cope with the crisis or be overwhelmed by it; and 5. its duration or recurrent nature” (pp. 223-232, MEDICAL SOCIOLOGY, 2nd edn., David Mechanic, 1978. Free Press).

The psycho-social ‘edge’ of the pandemic affects everyone worldwide, as we are all living on the edge of an unfamiliar enemy for which there is no known cure – yet. As an optimist who has faith in science to get humans out of this mess one way or the other, I go to that hope AFTER I get up in the morning…if I had a restless night. Millions of us would not be here had it not been for relentless researchers discovering a vaccine for mumps and measles/rubella (MMR).

Naturism As A Lifestyle

Naturism is not:

  • just sunbathing
  • just visiting nudist clubs
  • just going nude in or around the house
  • just eating, washing and entertaining guests in the nude
  • just camping, hiking, or canoeing in the nude
  • just writing and talking about it.

Naturism is all of these things and more. It not only represents a value system shared by over 20 million people worldwide, it also represents a lifestyle, a way of life.

In more conservative Western societies such as Canada, England and the United States, naturism presents hurdles for those who embrace its gymnos philosophy – hurdles of public and private roles, image definition, balancing textile (clothed) and naturist behaviours, and of habitation arrangements regarding location, privacy and access.

As with other things people hold true or worthwhile, naturism is called upon to be defended or justified. Due to its basic value of body shamelessness, it is defended more frequently than believing in abortion, nuclear defense, or gay/lesbian rights. This is in part because strangers and even friends have never asked themselves: Are clothes necessary? Why? or, why must the moral majority prevail over this particularly primordial life ethos? What virtues has ‘civilised’ modern society gained over our ancient nude cultures to make our birth nakedness (as nature intended) now immoral, disgusting, lewd and to be hidden from view? What happened to those tens of thousands of years of body acceptance?

For some advocates today, naturism represents a kind of ‘social movement’, akin to Green Peace, Amnesty International, Pro-Choice, and so forth. It has several characteristics that help define it this way: 1. a defined philosophy, 2. a central political core (INF, FCN, INA), 3. active (several no deceased) protagonists (Erickson, Weinberg, Vais, Baxandall, Cunningham, Hill, Erlickmyer, Williams, Scheller), and 4. internal communication devices (INF Newsletter, Going Natural, ASA Bulletin, Australian H & E, Naturist Society N & N). It lacks however, several more defining aspects of a true movement: a) a shared and clearly defined set of strategies; b) effective charismatic and/or consistent leadership; c) a wide supportive economic base; d) unified human resources.

A ‘collective conscience’ across the world has never been achieved among naturists because:

  • in several European countries (France, Denmark, Germany, Holland Bulgaria) it has not been necessary to coalesce because most practical naturist recreational needs have been met through protective by-laws or local ordinances;
  • the sub-groups (ASA,BNS, INF, FCN, ANF, etc.) are fractured among themselves over issues of leadership, goals, and priorities;
  • relatively few precedents in law have been won in most non-European countries (except Canada), through collective or cooperative efforts;
  • there are great economic and inter-member organizational difficulties (travel costs, postage, exchange rates);
  • many member groups and federations of naturists are too busy fighting issues at home to lend time and resources for INF (global body) objectives.

In these ways, naturism differs from religions, cults, clubs and international organizations.

Nonetheless, most naturists, politically active or not, perceive naturism as a lifestyle, not mere recreation or short-term sunbathing. They live nude as much as fences, by-laws, and neighbours will allow. This conscious choice sometimes forces naturists into the social role of ‘marginals, living in two worlds. Textile cultures enforce dress codes in most public places, whereas naturist (and nudist) resorts or communities enforce the opposite norm requiring nudity most of the time (weather and first-timers excluded). Naturists see nudity as a rational or logical lifestyle for beaches, cities, towns, or countryside, because body taboos, shame, modesty and over-sexualizing the body are psychologically damaging. Naturists stridently distinguish sexuality from sensuality in their groups, and social norms are created to control for harassment of any kind. Latent norms are so strong for example, that male erections are extremely rare, and if they do occur, a man is encouraged to sit down or cover himself until it subsides. They are not shamed, but helped to understand there is a time and place (naturists do not cease to sexual beings!). Research has shown children brought up in a naturist family or community, become much better adjusted psychologically than their textile counterparts. They would never pay money to go to a strip-bar, or to engage in viewing pornography.

Optimally, naturists can find enough at-home privacy that their lifestyle is minimally interfered with. Even the smallest of properties with properly erected fences, can protect their privacy rights. Suburbia presents the ‘toughest’ challenges however, to naturist living because of the proximity to the public. Solutions sometimes take the form of:

  • telling your neighbours before you move in;
  • joining a nearby club or group and curtailing your back-yard practices;
  • moving to country property where you are completely out of view, and can install a lockable gate; (note: If you are private, but someone goes out of their way to see you, you are protected by law; also, in remote areas or parks the law protects you [Canada])
  • move to nude communities that have apartments, condos, modular homes, for sale or rent, e.g., Cypress Cove, Cap d’Agde, and dozens more around the world.

In her famous book, Therapy, Nudity & Joy, Elysium Growth Press, 1991, Forward by Ashley Montagu, Dr. Aileen Goodson describes the therapeutic use of nudity through the ages from ancient ritual to modern psychology. The inner fly-leaf states:

“Therapy, Nudity & Joy is a brightly-written exploration of body-shame —– how it develops during infancy and childhood and later manifests in potentially debilitating problems such as guilt, loss of self-esteem, intimacy disorders and general stress symptoms. Author Aileen Goodson brings a fresh perspective to what she refers to as ‘an hysteria in our culture toward the natural unclothed body and its functions.”

Finally, a text endorsement is included as follows:

“This fascinating book is a ‘must read’ for parents who want their children to develop healthy attitudes and behaviors about their bodies and their sexuality. The ability to understand nudity and sexuality as separate, but sometimes compatible phenomena, will protect against sexual exploitation, guilt, and low self-esteem.”

  • Loretta Haroian, PhD. Department Chair and Professor of Child and Adolescent Sexuality, The Institute for Advanced Study of Human sexuality, San Francisco, California

Naturism accepts wholeheartedly overweight or ultra-thin bodies, scarred bodies, young and old bodies, short and tall bodies, people with poor self-concept/body image problems, and black/white/all shades bodies. Naturists are poor, middle-class, wealthy, highly or not-so-highly educated, male/female/LGBT, physicians, supreme court judges, waitresses, pilots, truckers, hockey players, salespersons, Christians, yes…Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists/Humanists, and Hindu (I’ve met all of the above people described at resorts in Canada, US, England and France).

There are always risks associated with adopting a different lifestyle, naturism being no exception. The human body continues to be a formidable frontier for people bent on associating only carnal interpretations to social nudity. Women have gained the legal right in Ontario, and more recently in Montreal (February, 2016), to join men in being topless in public places. Equality rights and increased body acceptance are occurring, but disgust, patriarchy, shame, guilt, and exploitation are still associated with being totally or even partially nude. We have a long way to go. The media can be our best friends or our worst enemies in this quest.

“Naked is the best disguise”  –  Sherlock Holmes