I hope this column is something that everyone can relate to. It is not coming from a place of judgement, anger, or frustration. It comes from a place of curiosity…I am curious about this subject and what the rest of you may think about it as well.

It’s about the masks. The masks we have been asked to wear…yet again. I have reflected on what wearing a mask means to me for a while. How it affects me, why it affects me and how do I deal with the feelings of “being asked to mask again.”

I was surprised about how strongly I felt this, after so many months of not having to “mask up.” We did it for what felt like so long, and then freedom! Not having to wear masks indoors felt glorious. You would think that doing it again would be no big deal. Yet, it felt like a punch in the gut. I felt the fatigue, the oppression, the darkness that COVID brought to my life, closing in again.

After thinking about it I realized that it goes so much deeper than just the pandemic “mask.” I think that I have felt like I have had to wear a mask ever since I was old enough to learn how to relate to people. Anyone who has struggled with depression or anxiety knows what it means to wear that mask.

Not the cloth kind. The kind we wear when we need to seem fine, but we are not. The kind we wear when we are expected to smile, laugh, be productive, or just co-exist in society – when it takes all we have just to get out of bed, shower, and dress. It is the mask of “I’m okay” or the mask of “I’m happy” or “I’m….” you can just fill in the blank. Your mask is confidence, one that says “I can do this! when you are feeling insecure, or scared, or alone and you just want to disappear.

So now we wear masks again, and it hides how we feel.

Just like the flesh and bone masks some of us, me included, have worn at various times throughout our lives. These face masks we put on are not cloth, paper, or fabric. They do not have pretty prints or cute designs. They don’t shimmer and shine like the holiday mask I bought on amazon. The ones with the glitter.

These masks make it hard to breathe. It is hard to breathe when our real-life mask does not match what is going on inside our bodies.

That is what it brought up for me. And to be fair, we do have to wear masks in life sometimes. If I am having a difficult day at work, I still need to be present, polite, and positive for my clients, even if I don’t feel that way. And that is okay. But I have spent a lot of time, on my own, and with the help of others – to learn that it’s okay to let my outside match my inside – most of the time. To learn to not wear my mask when it would be denying how I was feeling or lying to myself or someone else.

Why did the pandemic mask make me think of my flesh and bone mask? A few days into the second round of mask-wearing I realized what it was. The mask – both kinds – made me feel disconnected from people. And after such a polarizing year and a half, I did not want to feel that way anymore. So, what can I…what can we do to still feel connected, even with the mask? I thought about ways to not let the mask “win.”

Here are a few things I have tried to implement:

  • Smile harder, your eyes will show it.
  • Make eye contact as often as possible.
  • Say “hi” – even when you do not want to – it may be the difference in someone’s day.
  • Wear the mask – even though you don’t want to – don’t make the retailer, employee, or co-worker be the mask police.
  • If you like something about someone – tell them. It does not matter if they are a stranger.

These are all things that can be practiced even when we don’t have to wear the masks again. It can cultivate an atmosphere of kindness and oneness. And when we are left again with just our flesh and bone masks, hopefully the smiles we have on the outside will match our insides.