It has been a rough few weeks aboard the SS Coronavirus, so rough that I slipped into a sort of hibernation in response. It took a spontaneous crying fit to wake me, the kind that made me realise nearly two years ago that I needed a change of environment and helped prompt my cross-country move. I am keen to rejoin the land of the living, but I am also constantly looking over my shoulder for anything threatening to pull me back. I’ve been surprised to find that a helpful tool in relearning how to live among people instead of living in my head is the polarising inconvenience that stamps this time: the mask.
My calendar helps, as I start to set aside time for calls with family and friends and try to honour the schedule. My WiFi provider is kindly chipping in, with a network that fails often enough to force me into coffee shops on occasion. Life is slowly restarting as I opt in more and more, text by text, appointment by appointment. It is an uphill hike, and more than most things, wearing a mask is helping me cover more distance.
It’s not really about their primary job, which is to curb the infection rate. With new-normal-novelty mostly gone and human adaptability kicking in, they don’t make me feel safer anymore. While I remain careful because the thought of getting someone sick makes my stomach churn, I am mostly unconcerned about my own possible infection. This is about the amount of energy it takes to break free of the bed-laptop-fridge-bed orbit and meaningfully reconnect with the world, especially as an introvert, and especially when you’re tired.
Masks are serving as a sort of social buffer. Not because I talk to people less; if anything I am louder and more articulate to make sure you can hear me (and that at least one person has said good morning and asked how you are today). The real benefit is that masks seem to help dull the stress of being hyper aware of myself, all the time. Of how long it took me to parallel park on a busy street, of how ungracefully I swung my laptop bag over my shoulder while getting out of my car, and then the way I managed to push the car door right into my leg as I tried to close it.
With a mask on, I’m so much more at ease with my awkwardness, mistakes and reportedly “intense” thinking face. I’m not obsessing about a stranger’s second glance and wondering if my skin is actually in worse shape than I think it is, because they couldn’t have seen that much of it anyway. It takes a load off my mind, one I thought was pretty small but I definitely feel lighter without.
It’s not anonymity, but it’s something like it. If it is possible to feel seen and conveniently hidden at the same time, and not metaphorically, that’s where I am. It’s also not a permanent solution — I will have to get over myself at some point and live with my lack of coordination — but it’s a surprisingly helpful aid in tip-toeing back into things and not letting them overwhelm me. Call it a silver lining, or a narrative my brain has spun to feel okay after feeling so far from that for a while; it’s amazing what our minds come up with to protect us.
I once read that some insecurities are narcissistic by nature because they come from the belief that more people are watching than is likely true. Maybe this is one of them. I am learning to do and be more than I question and analyse, and it’s a refreshing change not to care that much about knowing for sure. TL;DR: Whatever small, weird thing is helping you, let it help you. Crossing fingers that by the time its effect wears off, you’re better for the help it provided and you don’t need it anymore.