At the beginning of this pandemic, I had high hopes for people. Everyone seemed to be understanding and compassionate…. we were all thrown into this craziness and together we would rise above it. Encouragement flowed like wine at Ladies’ Night at the spa; support for our struggles was as sweet as milk and honey. It seemed as if the quarantine and the life thrust upon us might have the ability to help us become better people… better parents, better friends, better humans in general.
But as the weeks have turned into months, it seems as if the compassion and understanding we were blessed with has all but shriveled up and dried out. Now, with tired hearts and spirits, I see people casting stones at others, hatred spewed out like acid, and self-righteousness dripping from everything- the posts we share, the videos we watch, the articles we read, and even from our own words said to others that we call our friends. What has happened to us? Where did our compassion, mercy, and understanding go?
One of the biggest areas I see this now is the debate regarding face masks. This hot button topic seems to bring out the worst in people. While I am sure there are a few people out there with stories of hate directed towards them for wearing a mask, I have seen far more hatred directed towards those who don’t wear a mask. It seems as if the loudest argument I have heard and read is that if you are not masking, you don’t care about people or their lives. If you don’t mask you are not pro-life. If you don’t mask you are a far-right Trump worshiper who is unreasonable, stubborn, and uneducated. Ultimately, it seems as that if you don’t wear a mask you single-handedly will bring about the ruin of the entire planet.
People make assumptions regarding the reasons people are not wearing masks. From my observations it seems as if most people who are pro-masks believe that those who don’t wear masks are simply against masks because they are rebellious… patriots who are bucking the system. And maybe this is the case for a small few. But I would venture to say that most people who are not wearing masks are not simply rebellious but instead have other reasons, maybe even ones they can’t (or won’t) verbalize, as to why they feel so passionately about not wearing a mask.
I don’t wear a mask anywhere. I have not and will not. I cannot. But I am one of the lucky ones… I have a medical condition that makes it physically dangerous for me to wear a mask. I have mentioned before that I suffer from both Acute Intermittent Porphyria as well as Lupus. With AIP my body has problems getting enough oxygen to my organs. As you can imagine, this causes terrible things to happen in my body. When I enter into a porphyric attack this stress on my body can then cause a Lupus flare. Sometimes it’s the other way around and the Lupus causes the Porphyria to act up. One of the ultimate problems you can have with Porphyria is death… that makes it very, very dangerous for me to inhibit the amount of oxygen my body is getting, especially since it struggles to get the correct amount of oxygen to my organs without any impediments.
So, how does that make me lucky? Well, because I tote around a letter from my doctor, I am exempt- without question- to wearing a mask. When I tell people I have a physical medical problem (and so far no one has asked to see my letter), I am greeted with a smile and told to carry about my business. I have it easier than many others who can’t wear masks for non-physical medical problems. I am still judged by others, but as far as being able to go in stores or other places that require masks, it’s easier for me than someone who doesn’t have that letter. People are a tad more sympathetic because of my physical medical problems. Now, if I were to tell them that I still would not be wearing a mask if I didn’t have Porphyria or Lupus, I would lose much of that sympathy. They would think that my decision to not mask was because I just don’t care for people or I’m a Trump worshiper or that I don’t care about science. And yet, none of that is true.
Why then wouldn’t or couldn’t I wear a mask if I didn’t suffer from these two diseases? The reason lies with the mental problems I suffer from. I have written before about being abused in my youth and younger days. Of course, there is other abuse I have never written about or shared. This abuse has affected so many aspects of my life including the why and how I do things. The thought of having to cover my face takes me right back to my abuse. Forced masking asserts that I have no control over my own body. The feel of something covering my mouth and nose, of pressing on my face, and of constricting the air I breathe takes me into moments of past abuse. It puts me in the arms of those who hurt me. It creates fear and panic in my heart. It is painful both physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for me. But if you saw me without a mask and didn’t know my story, you would never think for a moment that I was suffering so much. You would assume I was just defiant and don’t care about others.
I have to assume that if there are 2.9 million cases of child abuse reported every year , that there are many people out there like me who are suffering when it comes to taking away our bodily autonomy. This number only includes the cases that are reported. We know that there are many, many more that go unreported. Think about the way that number snowballs through the years and how many people that means are affected by abuse. It’s a staggering number.
A report in 1996 said that 80% of 21 year olds abused as children suffer from at least one psychological disorder . How people handled these disorders would vary tremendously. Some would go wild- drinking, doing drugs, having gratuitous sex, taking extreme risks, and doing things out of their normal character in order to drown out the pain they endured. Others, like me, would be the exact opposite- tight control over their bodies, not drinking, never doing a drug or even smoking a cigarette, becoming very scheduled and set in their ways, and getting upset when perfection wasn’t to be found; now trying to control everything since before it felt like nothing was in their control. I imagine there were also some who also simply ignored what had happened and didn’t let it affect them one way or another. Still, as the study shows, 80% of these abused children, now adults would suffer in some way mentally.
Here we stand over 20 years later and those 21 year olds are now in their 40s (I fall into this group of people). I would venture to say that many of those who were abused have never gotten help for their abuse. I would also venture to say that as we see forced mandates on us many of these people are feeling like I do… panicked and fearful. What control they have built over the last 20+ years is now being stripped away. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, mentally it is putting us right back into the arms of our abusers.
When someone says “I won’t let the government tell me what to do with my body!” or “You can’t make me!” they may actually be saying, “Help! I feel trapped! I feel abused! I feel like I can’t breathe because I am right back in throes of abuse!” Given the sheer amount of abuse that occurs, it’s easy to see how there can be a huge number of people who are vehemently opposed to wearing a mask. This is not to say that there aren’t a number of people out there who just don’t want to wear a mask, I’m sure those people exist. But it is to say that there are a huge number of people, who like myself, have suffered in a way that wearing a mask or anything at all across their faces is literally torturous.
Most people are not going to reveal to you that they were once abused. It won’t matter the type of abuse. People tend to keep those sorts of things very private. There is judgment, condemnation, and shame that often come with abuse. Who wants to have to relive that over and over again… especially for strangers who are accusing you of wanting to harm others? I know I certainly don’t want to.
Before you discount my words here, know that I hold a Bachelor of Science in Psychology (which means I have studied trauma and how people deal with it), a Master of Arts in Theology (which means I have counseled people spiritually through trauma), and I am a survivor of sexual, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse. I have been in the trenches of this war against body, mind, and soul. Healing is possible, but the trauma affects you for the rest of your life. Depending on how (or if) you deal with it, it can destroy you or it can strengthen you. But each and every day there are reminders of it in your life. When you introduce something like forced mandates which take your control away, it can wreak havoc on the healing you have worked so hard to achieve and it can exasperate the problems you have yet to address.
If the numbers are correct (which we have no reason to doubt them), then we know that a vast majority of people have suffered terribly from abuse. Those people you see who fight wearing masks are not cruel humans who want to bring harm to others, but instead are suffering victims who don’t have any other way to retain control over their bodies.
I was involved in a discussion online where someone said that she was a rape victim and she still was able to wear a mask… and if she could do it, other trauma/abuse victims should be able to too. I asked this question of her: There are some people who have lost legs who run marathons. Should we expect that all people who have lost legs are equally able to run a marathon? If not, why not? Could it be that those who suffer similar ailments or trauma do not always have the same healing? It could be that they suffer in a way that someone with a similar trauma has not. Assuming that all those who suffer from trauma in their lives can and should be able to do the same as others is not only uncaring, but it is dangerous too.
I write this piece because I want others to realize that just because you feel like everyone who is not wearing a mask is irresponsible, uncaring, and defiant, doesn’t mean you are right. If you care so much about people, as you claim wearing your mask shows you do, then extend kindness to those who are probably fighting a hidden battle that they haven’t told you about- that they can’t tell you about. We have come a long way in recognizing mental issues as true medical problems, but this pandemic has made it so that much of the advancement we saw in mental health awareness has been tossed aside. It’s shameful and hurtful.
Instead of assuming the worst in people, assume the best and figure out ways to reach out to others instead of isolating them further. Stop condemning and start loving… that is how you help heal the wounds you can’t see and that you can’t begin to imagine or understand. You wear a mask because you believe it helps to save lives; extend kindness and mercy to others who are not wearing masks and you may be helping to save their lives as well.
 Safe Horizon. “Child Abuse Facts.” Accessed July 29, 2020.
 Silverman, Amy B., Helen Z. Reinherz, and Rose M. Giaconia. “The Long-term Sequelae Of Child And Adolescent Abuse: A Longitudinal Community Study.” Child Abuse & Neglect 20, no. 8 (1996): 709-723.)