Am I really that vain? Wearing a face mask in public had me questioning my own ego, humility and vanity and I am not sure I have yet discovered the answer to these questions.
I am that person - the one who didn’t wear a mask until it was mandated by the governor. In fact, the regulation went into effect one Monday evening at 8:00 P.M. and I just had to make one final, mask-less trip to the store at 7:30 P.M. My reluctance to wear a mask was complex. I wasn’t actually worried about how I looked- at least not initially. I clung to the principal of personal liberties and constitutional rights and perhaps my own ignorant and/or stubborn understanding of the reasoning behind this safety precaution. What can I say? I was comfortable being comfortable. I didn’t want a new normal and yes, I felt invincible, too. I was irrationally convinced that I would not spread COVID to anyone and I sure as hell wasn’t going to get it, either. Was I being rebellious? Vain? Insensitive? Or was I just too-attached to my own freedom of choice?
When that fateful Monday 8:00 P.M. came and went, it suddenly didn’t matter. The freedom to shop with a face free of fabric was no longer; one way or another, I was going to have to accept this new reality. I found myself more reluctant to leave the house at all (probably a good thing given the social distancing guidelines). But when we were down to our last roll of toilet paper, I had no choice but to go on a town-wide hunt for some damn TP. I donned a bandana-scarfcontraption around my neck and headed out into the not-so-free world.
This new normal doesn’t feel normal at all I thought. I hate this. I didn’t like the way it felt and I was, much to my surprise, extremely self-conscious about how I looked, too.
I was embarrassed by my bandana-covered face and secretly hoped I wouldn’t see anyone I knew. How can I be so vain, I asked myself? I was completely aware that this one small act was far more important than my comfort level and looks. I knew this was an act for the greater good of humanity, yet, I was still focused on my own vanity. I was both surprised and disgusted with my response to mask-wearing. I wondered if I was the only one who was so incredibly uncomfortable with this new accessory. I searched for cute masks online and thought maybe if I individualized my mask and used it as a statement of individuality, then perhaps I would embrace it. My sister made me a cute red and white polka dot mask, but I still felt extremely uncomfortable wearing it in public. What was wrong with me? Why was my reaction so vain and selfish?
But here's the thing - this new normal that we are all expected to adopt? It isn’t easy. We will all react and respond in our own ways and we need to be gentle with ourselves and others as we adjust. There is no right or wrong response and there should be no shaming, either. Some of us may be at home telling our kids to take the rest of the year off from distance learning because we can’t accept that new normal. That is okay. Others may be thriving in the distance learning and working-from-home environment, but really struggling without our morning gym class. Don’t judge them either. And some, like me are looking around at the new world with face-covered masks thinking this just feels and looks weird and I am not okay with it. And that’s okay, too. The most important thing is that we don’t shame ourselves or others for any of these reactions because it just isn’t that simple.
Maybe it is not just a matter of vanity. Perhaps behind my discomfort of wearing a mask is fear and anxiety and the underlying question of how long will this last? Maybe the act of wearing a mask makes this all too real and tangible for me. Perhaps it makes me face the uncertain future as I ponder the unanswerable: How long will this really go on for? Will I ever be able to date again and if so, will I be wearing a mask on first dates? Will my kids play sports again? Will the gesture of hugging and hand-shaking ever return?
There are too many unknowns.
This new normal isn’t black and white and we wont always be able to make sense of our feelings and responses to this new way of life. In the absence of that sense and surety, all we can do is acceptance what is right now and try not to look too far into the future. So take a deep breath and accept. That’s right, in and out, in and out, in and out…. right into your mask.