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The Face Mask Mandate

We have all been mandated to wear face masks or shields and most do their best to comply for the health of themselves and others. For some people though, these masks create difficulties that most people don't realize or know about. I haven't heard much on this subject and it saddens me because the backlash can be hurtful, embarrassing or worse.

It can be uncomfortable and hard to breathe while wearing a mask. This is especially true for those with trauma histories who may have the additional struggle of wearing anything on their face and head or having their airways restricted. The wearing of a face mask can trigger many feelings, sensations and thoughts including suffocation, being restrained and/or loss of control. Having to worry about possible public repercussions and the humiliation that comes with it creates tension and a fear of how one might respond. This can lead to agonizing hours of role play where one is imagining themselves in a situation and trying to find the easiest way out or even dissociation, where the person can feel detached from themselves and their emotions.

Once triggered, an entire day can become derailed. For those struggling with trauma, this can result in hours or days of hurt, anger and despair or again, dissociation. Without a strong support system, one can plummet into the depths of depression that they may have been working months or years to escape from. Additionally, they are often faced with 'helpful reminders and suggestions' from the well-intentioned or attacks for 'wear the masks wrong' from some of the less polite. Believe me, it would be less stressful to comply than deal with people constantly pointing this out or announcing 'your not following the rules!'. Trauma survivors are fully aware, but the alternative is much more difficult to endure. The outright questions of 'well, why can't you just wear it properly? The rest of us are!' can be the most problematic. It puts a person who may already be fearful and stressed into a fight or flight response. They are not required to share with random strangers what their medical history is and why.

There may not be family or friends available to shop or run errands for them, so they try to shop when stores aren't as crowded. They do their best to be as quick as possible everywhere they must go and are careful to adhere to the 6-foot social distancing requirement. Some trauma survivors may need to get out of the house too because never leaving the house can be just as detrimental as a person can experience confinement and imprisonment. Additional feelings of loneliness, isolation and abandonment can arise and create other traumatic responses.

What can you do? Be as kind as possible to anyone you see that isn't 'following the rules'. Please try to remember, they may be doing the best they can and could be dealing with significant trauma and prying inquires only distress them further. Be patient and compassionate with others, and yourself if this applies to you.

How can you help? If you witness someone being subjugated to the ire of another, consider stepping in. The person you are helping will be more grateful than they can express for the show of support and it may help others become aware of the complications that can arise from one simple mandate.

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