We are in the middle of a pandemic, a major coronavirus outbreak all over the world. There are lockdowns and restrictions and rules that every country, every person, must follow. One of those rules is that we have to wear a face mask when out in public. On public transport, in shops and in restaurants. Everyone is told to wear a mask.
It is not optional like in the beginning, it is now the law. The law states that you must wear a mask unless you are medically exempt. If you don’t then there are consequences.
There are lots of reasons you can be medically exempt, but not all of them are visible.
Me, I am medically exempt. To look at me you wouldn’t think so, but I am. Why? Because wearing any sort of face covering makes me extremely anxious and triggers my PTSD greatly.
Don’t get me wrong, I tried. At the beginning, before it was made law, when the masks were optional, I tried to wear a mask. I didn’t just write it off completely. I mean I wanted to try. Short bursts were fine. Popping into the local store, running in to pay for diesel for my partner, all OK. I can just about manage those OK.
But then one of the drivers on one of the buses I get to work told me I couldn’t get on without a mask. Luckily I had one with me and put it on. Riding that bus journey to work was one of the worst experiences I have had in a long time.
I had something covering my nose and mouth that triggered my anxiety. Now, in reality I knew that I was able to breathe through the mask, however, once it was on my face and I was triggered panic set in, my PTSD was creeping in, what if it stopped me being able to breathe? What if I started to panic in front of all the other people on the bus and flashback to my past? I had no option though, I couldn’t take the mask off, I needed to get to work. I closed my eyes and tried to ground myself. Somehow focussing on my breathing and gaining a little control, I managed to make it through the journey. Never again.
Why was I triggered by just a simple face mask you might ask? It is only a piece of light material. Why? Because throughout all the years that my abuser was hurting me, one of the most repetitive things he did was to cover my head or hold my face down into things to stop me making noise.
He would cover my face when I was crying out in pain from being raped. He would push my head into a pillow as he climbed on top of me, to make sure I could barely breathe, so that he could gain control. Sometimes I would get to the point where I genuinely thought I was going to die. Unless you have been in that position, you have no idea what that feels like. Wearing that mask, brought all of those memories and feelings back. The fear that I could not breathe, the fear that at any minute I was going to pass out and never wake up. The fear of having control taken from me.
Never again. I never again want to feel that way but the thing is, I am part of a Management Team in Retail. We have to wear masks now by law. We have to set an example. But I can’t. I cannot go through that every single time I put the mask on and I know I will not cope with wearing it for 8 hours a day, five days a week. My anxiety just won’t take it.
So, I got a letter from my doctor with my PTSD and Anxiety diagnosis’ and managed to get a ‘’ Face Mask Exempt’’ Lanyard.
Now whenever I ride the bus, go into a store or I am at work, I can just wear this lanyard and I don’t have to wear a mask. Relief.
But here is the thing I can’t get over. People stare at me and give me dirty looks as if I am just deciding I don’t want to wear a mask for the fun of it.
Don’t get me wrong, not everyone looks at me this way, most people seem to be understanding of the fact that some people are indeed exempt and cannot wear a mask. But the ones that aren’t understanding, look at me as if they expect me to stand there and tell them the reason I am not wearing one.
Sure, I mean why wouldn’t I want to tell you that the reason I cannot wear a mask over my face is because when I was younger a bad man used face coverings as a way to gain control and rape me?!!
These people, the ones who look down at me, actually make me believe for a split second that I am doing something wrong by not wearing a mask. Every time someone looks at me that way, for a brief moment, I think to myself that maybe I should just put myself through the hell and try to wear one. But then I remind myself that I am not doing anything wrong. I am exempt for a reason and it is a bloody good one. How would you like to be triggered and reminded of something so horrendous that it actually takes you back to that moment? Back to where you can actually feel and relive everything. I am pretty sure if you were in my shoes you wouldn’t want to cover your face either.
There are lots of reasons that people are medically exempt from wearing a mask, and although you cannot physically see mine, it is a damn good reason.
So please, if you have been one of those people who look down at those of us who are not wearing a face mask, take a minute to just think why it might be, because it may well be that it is someone like me, who has been through something so horrendous but something that you cannot even begin to imagine and just maybe you could show a little compassion, instead of judging me.
Fask masks trigger are a trigger. They take me back to my childhood.
And that is a place I am trying to forget. That is a place I never want to return to ever again.
Thanks for reading.
** The image is my own **