COVID-19: My Psychological Safety Mask

COVID-19: My Psychological Safety Mask

TRIGGER WARNING: Anxiety, schizophrenic symptoms and COVID-19 discussed

I am anxious, and leaving the house is tough. You’d think that a global pandemic would exaggerate these problems, with a killer disease, we have yet to understand or come up with a vaccine for, on the loose. But this is not my experience.

But when COVID-19 hit, in all honesty, I was a little overjoyed and relieved that I wouldn’t have to endure the daily battle to leave the house. Like all of us, I was ordered to ‘stay at home’. Those questions: have I got my keys, what if I’ve forgotten my phone, do I have enough Diazepam with me for this journey, what if I fall and break my neck, are the terrorists out today, what if I need the loo, and so on were alleviated as I settled into a life at home.  

In my normal life, the constant tirade of ‘what-if’ questions burden my brain and more often than not see me cancel plans, turn back as soon as I get to the train station or simply not try and leave the house in the first place.  

That’s all changed… but I haven’t turned into a hermit. After lockdown initially lifted, I did start leaving the house and those what-ifs miraculously disappeared.

Now I wear a mask. In shops, on the train, and even when simply walking down the street. And you know what, it’s had quite an effect. I’m no longer paranoid that others are looking at me, I’m not longer scared of being judged or verbally attacked and as soon as I pop my pretty mask on, I heave a sigh of relief. After years of fears, I can finally leave the house without too much trouble. Sometimes I even forget my prescribed emergency Diazepam.

I wonder at the psychology behind my declining anxieties. I remember when I was a child, I thought that if a person couldn’t see my face, I couldn’t be seen. I wonder if the comforting feeling I get when wearing my mask relates to this. Wearing a face covering makes me feel safe. Not just from the virus, but from the over-the-top, often catastrophising anxiety-driven thoughts themselves.

Funnily enough, as a person with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, I’m not over concerned about actually catching the virus. Obviously, I’d rather not, but that would be a rational event to be worried about and, in my experience, anxiety is not rational. Feeling safe behind my mask is not about feeling protected from the virus, it’s about feeling comforted and covered up which, to me, is bizarrely more significant.

Self-conscious and, I’ll admit, often bordering on the self-loathing; when I wear my mask I feel less pressure to be ‘pretty’, less expectation to wear make-up and ‘make the most of myself’ and, most importantly, I am less concerned about strangers’ opinions of me. They can’t really see me after all. My ‘stranger-danger’ fears go back to when I had schizophrenic symptoms of paranoia. I would hallucinate strangers shouting at me that I was evil and looking me in the eye wishing for me to kill myself, and worse, feeling they must kill themselves.

And the somewhat lighter symptoms of anxiety I have experienced more recently are akin to this. Essentially, I am afraid people will look at me and think I’m bad. Just from gazing at my face I worry they will be frightened. There is nothing technically frightening about my face. It’s a pretty normal sight. But, as I said, anxiety is not rational.

Wearing a mask has relieved my anxieties. Of course, I am devastated by the effect of COVID-19. It’s a frightening world right now. I feel my reduced symptoms may be rather out of place and perhaps a little controversial, but I wanted to find something positive to say at a time when negativity and fear are rife. Perhaps right now it is healthier to focus on the smaller positives we find in life, rather than focus on the larger issues and unmanageable problems we currently face as a world. Just my two cents.