A handful of days ago, I was sitting in a small clinic in my neighborhood waiting for a TB test. I was dutifully wearing my mask, and I was hyperventilating. The young woman assigned to give me my test was casually making small talk with me, waiting for me to calm down. She was being so patient.
“Why don’t you take your mask off for a second?” She asked.
“No, no, no,” I replied through tears. “I don’t feel comfortable with that. I don’t want to risk spreading anything. Or getting anything.”
She continued to wait. She asked why I needed a TB test (I’m a teacher who works in school–we’re virtual now, though I don’t know how the heck I’m going to go into a school with this mask issue). I told her I was an elementary education graduate student at a DC university. “Oh, I’d like to go there to get a master’s in public health!”
Her small talk really did help. I was eventually calm enough for her to take the test, and I was out the door in a matter of minutes, now with a snot-filled, soggy mask (do you know how gross it is to cry in a mask? If you haven’t had the joy of experiencing it, it’s gross). Yet, I felt embarrassed and shameful. Despite the patience the young woman showed me, I don’t consider it my finest moment that she had to wait for my body to calm down before she could administer a simple medical test due to my mask issues in the midst of this global pandemic.
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.
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…