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Illustration of person wearing a mask with empowering word bubbles
Credit: Tatiana Ayazo

My client Clara was having a difficult time. She told me she is feeling overwhelmed by the rapidly changing guidelines about how to stay safe from COVID, and especially the shifting requirements about masking. 

“I feel like everywhere I go no one is wearing a mask, and they look at me as if I’m a freak.” She continued: “Everyone is over this — and I can’t be. I am so tired of it.” 

I empathized. It is a stressful and confusing time, and people with immunocompromised systems continue to be at risk. That makes it not just confusing, but frightening. 

I asked Clara what wearing a mask meant to her. “It means I’m different — I’m not like everyone else — and now it’s like I’m waving a flag that makes me stand out even more.” 

Ah yes — this seems to be the heart of it. So many of my clients already feel “different,” or not like everyone else. They are watching what they eat or drink, they are taking medications that have side effects, and they don’t always have the energy their friends and family have to go out. In so many ways, they already feel “not like everyone else” — and here comes a big visible symbol of that. 

“Clara,” I asked: ”How important is it for you to stay healthy?” She looked at me as if I was crazy. “It’s my life,” she answered. “You know that.” 

“Yes, I do,” I replied. “And I know you have made a lot of sacrifices and important decisions to help yourself be as strong and empowered as you can be.” 

“Yes,” she agreed.  

“In fact,” I continued, “I’ve seen you be a bad ass about a parking space, and take on your doctor when you felt she was patronizing you.” She nodded. “So I’m wondering — where did that attitude of my way or the highway go when you wear a mask.” 

Clara was quiet for a few minutes. “I don’t know,” she reflected. 

“I don’t think anyone can shame you if you are feeling that empowered self,” I said. “I know you can’t have that attitude all the time — but it is your life, your body, and you are going to do everything you can to protect yourself. It can be hard to feel so vulnerable or different, but I know you — and I know your strength.” 

Clara nodded. 

It wasn’t the end of our session, and it wasn’t the end of Clara’s journey with her illness and pain, but it was a place of shifting her attitude. She remembered her hard-won wisdom that in her life it was “me first” no matter how anyone else looked at it.  

She has a right to be safe and take exquisite care of herself, and wearing a mask is a part of that — even if no one else knows why she’s doing it. Clara realized her attitude made a difference in how she experienced her masking. She found herself smiling at others wearing masks, realizing she didn’t know their back story either. 

It is a frightening and stressful time — and wearing a mask is only a part of all the issues that are a constant fact of life with chronic illness. Note what helps you to de-stress and makes it easier on yourself. Continue to make the practice of caring for your body, mind, and spirit your number-one goal — no matter what kind of static you get.  

You are worth it. 

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