Mask Anxiety Is Real. Let’s Talk About It.

When I was a baby, I hated pacifiers. My parents say that the moment they put one in my mouth, I’d spit it across the room. My mom claims I could make those pacifiers fly far. Olympic gold medal far (or maybe my head is getting a bit big in considering my supposed infant capabilities). My parents gave up trying with the pacifier eventually. There was no way I was keeping one in my mouth.

Little Britta circa her pacifier spitting out days

I’ve been thinking about infant-Britta’s dislike of pacifiers a lot lately. It’s a useful comparison to the present. Why? Because upon donning a mask in these pandemic days, I usually find myself angrily desiring to tear it off my face and scream out my disgust as I fling it across the room in a way that is only socially acceptable in young children throwing temper tantrums. To put it bluntly, I hate masks. I don’t say that in a playful, “this is a mildly uncomfortable hatred but I’ll take one for the team” kind of way. Nope. This is full blown, anger fueled hatred. I despise masks. I loathe masks. In the days of COVID-19, I want to f-ing burn all the masks. Even the cute homemade ones. #sorrynotsorry cute homemade mask makers. I don’t discriminate in my hatred.

I’ve been trying to grapple with this anger in the past few weeks, because I know enough about psychology to know that anger is usually a mask–no pun intended–for deep pain. I’m not a licensed psychologist, mind you, so please don’t take my armchair psychology as gold. I am, however, a teacher, and I do think that gives me some brownie points in Basic Understanding of the Human Psyche 101.

So yes, I hate masks. And I’m angry about masks. And last weekend, as I donned my required mask before heading into the grocery store, my anger abruptly dissolved into full blown anxiety as I started hyperventilating…

…and I commenced to have a panic attack in public.[1]

— — —

In the wake of this anxiety and anger, I went to the internet. Because where else do we twenty-first century dwellers go when we have questions? Particularly when all the libraries are closed…

There are nearly 8 billion people on this planet, and I knew I couldn’t be the only one with mask anxiety. I delved the depths of the internet and was disappointed to come across only a few articles and a chat thread regarding this issue. The large majority of the little I saw referred to people with PTSD struggling to wear masks.

Okay, well I don’t have PTSD that would inflict an anxiety-induced reaction to objects covering my nose and mouth. However, I do have a history of being sensitive to any outside stimuli interacting with my body–perhaps owing to the fact that I identify as a highly sensitive person (HSP). HSPs often have very strong, visceral reactions to stimuli that non-HSP’s barely notice. For instance, my parents had to cut off all the tags on my clothing when I was growing up, because I would constantly scratch at them. I’ve grown out of that sensitivity and have no problem with tags as an adult, but my body has always had strong reactions to various outside stimuli. Baby Britta spitting out pacifiers is a clear testimony to this. Strep tests are the bane of my existence, because those two seconds the doctor is swiping the back of my throat from bodily fluids are two seconds of intense claustrophobia. Even covering my head completely with a blanket in bed is intense and uncomfortable. God, I hope I’m never in a situation where I’m bound and gagged. The anxiety of being bound and gagged would only be intensified by the claustrophobic feeling of not being able to breathe properly.

I also know that there’s a lot of mask shaming out there happening right now. And that is not helping my anger and anxiety. In classic grade school fashion, the moment I feel shame, the more I want to be defiant (I’m a teacher remember…you can’t not work with nine year olds and have at least a basic understanding of the shame/defiance dichotomy). Furthermore, the more I feel the mask shaming, the more I feel anxious. I ask myself–do I really have to wear a mask on a walk in my neighborhood when I know I will make sure to stay safely stay six feet a part from anyone I encounter at all times? I don’t think I do, but I’m also not a mask expert. The mask shamers would claim I do, but they’re not mask experts, either. I wonder–is it okay if I don’t cover my nose when I wear my mask? That is literally the only way I won’t hyperventilate. I feel guilty not following protocol completely, but I also don’t want to have a panic attack in the middle of Giant.

There is so much we don’t know yet about the Coronavirus, and that is causing people to act in extreme ways–I believe the people who shame others for not wearing masks are one side of that extreme. The other side of the extreme are those people protesting business closures and government restrictions, paying no heed to social distancing as if there is no pandemic at all. There is also so much contradictory advice about masks out there, too. The CDC contradicts WHO. Some medical professionals advise wearing masks anytime you leave your house. Other medical professionals think masks are only necessary in busy areas. With so many contradictory statements going on, it can be hard for people to make up their minds. Many have decided that, amidst a lack of consistent data, wearing masks at all times is the safest measure. Others are of the opinion that a lack of convincing data is the very reason to stay unmasked unless required. Because of my own mask anxiety, I have opted to wear a mask only when it is necessary/required. If the District of Columbia declares that masks are required for leaving the house, I will comply with that. However, that is not the case now, so I will use my own judgement about when to mask.

What we need more than ever now in the U.S., is Empathy. This is all so new and scary for everyone. We as a society don’t know what we’re doing and are making it up as we go. There’s still so much to learn about COVID-19, and it’s particularly challenging to learn about something while it’s wreaking havoc on society. The New York Times published an article a few weeks back entitled: “Children May be Afraid of Masks: Here’s How to Help“. Yeah, but I’m a grown ass adult and I’m afraid of masks, too. And I know I’m not the only one. Not out of 8 billion people.

It looks like masks are going to become the new normal for the forseebale future. Which I hate. Yes, I still want to burn the masks. And yes, I know that feeling of hatred says more about me than the mask itself. But, hatred aside, I do wonder and worry if people are becoming a little too dependent on them. I do truly worry that masking gives some people the illusion that they can go out and do normal, non-pandemic activities as long as they have a mask on.

Still, in the vein of being realistic, I understand that I’m likely going to have to begrudgingly accept the mask. And I know that that (begrudging) acceptance is not going to come overnight. Growth of any kind takes time, and that includes not feeling the intense anger and like I’m going to hyperventilate every time I cover my face.

My plea to humanity during this time, then, is this: some of you may derive a sense of safety from wearing a mask. You may valiantly feel like your saving your fellow humans by covering yourself. And that’s fair and valid. That’s why we’re told to wear masks, after all–to to protect others. But please know that some people feel even more unsafe wearing the mask. For whatever reason–whether it be from PTSD, because they’re particularly sensitive to outside stimuli on their body, or because they feel a lack of control by donning it (this is definitely me, too, not just the outside stimuli part). That person going on a walk or run without a mask on probably isn’t out to infect their neighbors with COVID-19. It’s possible they don’t see the value of covering up if they know they’re going to be staying six feet a part from the people they encounter (this is me) or they have such severe mask anxiety that they choose to put one on only in places where they know it’s required (this is also me). Or, they have unresolved anger/pain about other things that they are directing towards the mask–because it’s always easier to place blame than look inside (definitely me).

Everyone has a story. These are scary times. Empathy is of the essence. Understanding that mask anxiety is out there and empathizing with it is one more way we can come together as a society, one more way that we can navigate and get through this new reality together.

[1] I was, thankfully, able to manage my panic attack on my own. I removed my mask, which was the source of my hyperventilation, and found a place away from others to call my mom, who helped me calm down.

Present Moments: Late Fall 2017

In the western world, it takes guts to live in the moment (a certain level of financial security, too, I would argue, though that conversation is for another time).

We live in a society that is built around the future. A society of five-year plans and 401Ks and the putting away of funds for the arrival of unborn children who are many moons away from conception.

To an extent, I believe that’s all well and good. Taking responsibility for one’s own life does require planning. Yet,  there is such a thing as planning to such an extreme that it becomes debilitating. Anxiety is rooted in unnecessary and unhealthy worrying about the future, and we live in a society where anxiety is running rampant.

Mindfulness is all the rage right now. Some might say it’s a passing fad, and perhaps it is. That said, I do believe in the concept of mindfulness. I’m in a good place right now, and I attribute that to mindfulness. I’ve been working to relentlessly follow my intuition, to do what feels right for me regardless of what others might think of it (if I want to lay on my bed for three hours and do nothing, and I have the time to lay on my bed for three hours and do nothing, I’m going to do it); I do yoga everyday, and I only commit to people and activities if I genuinely want to and/or believe it is in my best interest.

Subbing is going well for me. I’ve had a couple streaks where I haven’t gotten work, which admittedly have been stressful, but for the most part, I’m going into schools every Tuesday through Friday. I’ve been mostly switching off between two different schools, and I’m developing good relationships with staff and students at both. They are conveniently located close enough to my house that I can easily walk to one of them, and I hop on a nearby bus line to get to the other. I occasionally go to other schools, but I’ve been enjoying the consistency of switching off between the two schools I frequent. When I first started subbing, I was really worried that going to different schools everyday would be unnecessarily stressful; while I do love switching things up in theory, I function best in consistent environments. Building relationships with these two schools, then, has been so perfect. I still get to enjoy switching things up regularly, but I’m doing so in two settings that I’ve grown comfortable in. On days that I don’t get subbing, I remind myself that I always have VIPKID to fall back on. I still do VIPKID on Monday mornings, and I tutor a third grader in reading Monday afternoons.  Continue reading “Present Moments: Late Fall 2017”

To Live in the Present

Last Monday, while walking to my first day at a new job, a guy running on the street stopped to tell me I looked lovely. What a way to start off the week and the first day of a new job. Additionally, I had been feeling unusually anxious that morning, so the comment brightened my mood considerably.

That said, it was a bit of a strange occurrence for me. Generally speaking, talking to strangers in passing isn’t the most common thing in our society. That, and the fact that we live in a twenty-first century world where our eyes are glued to our phones most of the time; we make ourselves inaccessible to each other with our technology. So yes, this was a bit of a strange occurrence for me–but I realized I liked it. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if more people spontaneously complimented strangers throughout the day?

I liked this random occurrence so much and I thought it was noteworthy. I proceeded to tell my housemates about it when I got home and, being the millennial I most definitely am, also posted a Snapchat about it. However, I thought nothing much else about the occurrence after the fact. I merely saw it as one more noteworthy-than-average event in a string of random events that happen on a day-to-day basis.

Until Wednesday rolled around.

On Wednesday, I was again walking on the same street on the way to work. I, again, ran across the same guy. My walking to work route appeared to be his morning running route. We saw each other and there was recognition. He waved and then stopped me.

Him: “Didn’t I see you the other day?”

Me: “Yes, I think so.”

Him: “Well, you still look beautiful.”

Me: *blushes* “Well, thank you.” Continue reading “To Live in the Present”

#WeekendCoffeeShare–In Which I Settle In

If we were having coffeewe might meet at one of the plethora of little cafes within twenty minutes walking distance of my house in both directions. Perhaps, if we felt a little extravagant, we might be settled in for a nice, long brunch complete with not just coffee, but maybe a mimosa or two. Brunch is huge on the East Coast, at least compared to the Midwest, and DCers mean business when they do brunch. In addition to multiple brunch spots nearby, there are so many things to do see and do in my neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods. I can’t wait to explore more and find the best places for eating, drinking, and entertainment. Today is my day off, so I’m taking it slow but also want to give myself some time to explore more. When I was walking to the grocery store today, I stumbled upon two farmers markets within a few blocks of each other. I was super psyched about that and bought some local peaches from the one nearest to my house!

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I love exploring DC in general and am so excited to really get to know my neighborhood better!

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that my third housemate moved in earlier this week and she’s been great so far. Last night, we hit happy hour together at a nearby restaurant and it was great to talk to her and get to know her more. Overall, the dynamic of our house is shaping up to be really awesome and I think it will only improve when fourth Continue reading “#WeekendCoffeeShare–In Which I Settle In”

#WeekendCoffeeShare–House Hunting and Deep Thoughts About Life, Among Other Things

If we were having coffee, we’d be talking about house hunting.

I’m staying with my college friend right now, but her lease is up at the end of July–so I need to find a place by the first of August. I’ve been scouring the internet looking for housing opportunities and I’ve been feeling a lot of stress.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that I thought I had one. A place to live in DC. I met with the roommates and we seemed to get along well, I liked the location, but the application ended up falling through. I took it real hard and had a bit of a rough day on Tuesday, as a result. Towards the end of the day, I realized–there are so many other housing options in DC. So many people looking for roommates. So many rooms opening up. I had gotten it in my head that this house was the only one…but it’s not. I feel so rushed because there are only a couple weeks left of July now, but a lot can happen in a couple weeks. I’m certain I’ll find a place. Plus, this house was the very first one I toured–it honestly seemed too good to be true in getting into the first place I toured…and I guess it was. Something else will come along in time.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that I’ve had a mix of good and bad days this week. House hunting is stressful…especially on a time limit…and I’m eager and anxious to get into a place of my own. I think, another part of me is anxious about actually settling down. Though I Continue reading “#WeekendCoffeeShare–House Hunting and Deep Thoughts About Life, Among Other Things”

When You Simultaneously Yearn for and Struggle With Change (Spoiler: This is Me)

Once upon a time in a far away land (also known as my college town on the Minnesota prairie), I sat in a psychiatrists office–anxious, nervous, and really, really scared. For the past few months, my life had been turned upside down. Since January, I had been experiencing severe anxiety that often times bordered on depression on a daily basis. It was now late March and there seemed to be no end in sight. My mind was going to dark places that I had never experienced before and I was terrified. My life had never before been clouded with so much darkness and I had no idea how to cope.

Furthermore, I had no idea why this was happening. At this time, I was in the middle of my third year of college and I knew that, in a year and half, I’d be graduating. I was, admittedly, quite nervous about my unknown, post-college future. I had also come out of an extremely unhealthy relationship a few months prior. That said, I couldn’t understand how my previous relationship or my nerves about the future landed me in such a dark place, questioning my very existence daily, hourly, every single minute of every single day.

So, there I found myself in the psychiatrists office. Looking for help. Looking for answers. I had been in counseling at my university all semester and though it was helping, I wanted something more. I had tried anti-anxiety medication and within a day of taking the first pill, I became so severely depressed that my mind and body felt numb to the world. I could barely function and I was terrified. I went off the medication as quickly as I started it; I needed something more and medication wasn’t my answer.

So, I found myself in this psychiatrists office where, after an hour-long appointment of questions and discussion, I walked out with a diagnosis–though I was told I would need more than one Continue reading “When You Simultaneously Yearn for and Struggle With Change (Spoiler: This is Me)”

This is a Post Where I Make Important Realizations About Myself. That is All.

Today is a day of clarity.

Let me tell you why.

These last few weeks have been…strange. Strange in a way that I haven’t really been able to put into words. I was very aware of feeling off, but I didn’t really know how to describe it to anyone–let alone, myself–so I didn’t. I wasn’t ignoring the feeling, per se. I was more confused than anything. Being in a new town, in a new job, in a completely different country–it is all so much, and processing everything has been really hard. Unable to describe my own feelings but yearning to write, I turned to fiction to soothe my nerves…yet, I was still on edge…because although nothing was seriously wrong, I still didn’t know how to describe all these feelings going on inside of me.

But…I think I can now. After a much needed weekend to myself (seriously, I’ve done next to nothing, and it’s been amazing), I feel like I have the space to distance myself from these emotions and really consider them.

Let me explain:

Being in Chiang Mai during my October TESOL course was easily one of the highest emotional periods of my life. The amount of joy and happiness I experienced during October 2015–for such a consecutive period of time–was simply unheard of for me before that. It’s not that I was unhappy before my TESOL course. It’s not that life was terrible before TESOL. In fact, it was the exact opposite. My last year of college was an amazing period of personal growth. My last semester of college, specifically, was easily my best semester of college. A period of my life that I will always cherish. This past summer, working as an espresso bar barista at a gas station, of all places, was also an incredible experience for me. I pushed myself in new ways by working in the food service industry, and I can safely say that some of my coworkers fundamentally shaped me into the person I am today (and that is looking back to three months ago). I loved my job as a barista and will always cherish the, albeit temporary, home I Continue reading “This is a Post Where I Make Important Realizations About Myself. That is All.”

Culture Shock–In Words

I’ve grown a lot in the past couple years.

I talk about that a lot.

I preach about it, really.

Just last night, new friends of mine were commenting on my maturity for a twenty-two year old and I just said in reply, “Well, I grew up a lot in college.”

And I did. I did grow up a lot in college. I found my confidence and my independence and my strength and college and I am so thankful for that.

But today? Today I am feeling vulnerable.

Today, I am sitting my new apartment in my new town in Thailand. It’s the weekend after my first week of teaching English and I have no plans but to explore my city and get to know the Continue reading “Culture Shock–In Words”

#WeekendCoffeeShare–My Brush With Fame, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN, and Other Stories

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that this week has been soooo busy. In a good way. But I’m exhausted and I haven’t even left the country yet!

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that I saw Passenger in concert this Tuesday with my friend Nicole. We went to dinner beforehand and arrived at the concert fashionably late (for the opener at least). The concert was amazing (aside from the obnoxious and very clearly intoxicated superfan right next to us who was constantly getting in our way). Mike Rosenberg, who is Passenger is so down to earth. Not only was he fabulous live (he sounded exactly like, if not better, than the recording), but he was really quite funny and engaging, also.  Continue reading “#WeekendCoffeeShare–My Brush With Fame, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN, and Other Stories”

What am I Doing With My Life? (Or, Getting Through this Awkward Transition Period)

I’m struggling for something to write right now and part of me is thinking “well, nothing interesting has happened lately.”

I mean, I’m an unemployed college graduate living at home.

For the time being.

I’ve been searching for jobs and preparing for Thailand, but life is rather uninspiring right now. Cool things are going to happen in the future, yes, but they seem so far off.

Of course, things have been happening. I have been applying for jobs and Thailand preparations are in progress. I spent all of Saturday with an old friend from high school whom I haven’t seen since December.  That friend happens to have four absolutely precious two week old kittens at her place, so, naturally, I spent the first Continue reading “What am I Doing With My Life? (Or, Getting Through this Awkward Transition Period)”