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Sharing – People Aren’t ‘Addicted’ to Wearing Masks, They’re Traumatized

I’ve written before about how hesitant, and anxiety-ridden I have been since we completed our second vaccine. I don’t know if I expected to suddenly feel safe and ready to be out in the world again, but that was definitely not what happened. This, pretty much describes my reaction too.

“But in general, there are two groups of people who are most likely to return to normal life more slowly—and their reasons have to do with mental health and trauma, said Steven Taylor, a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia. They are people who had mental health concerns before the pandemic, like anxiety or OCD, and those who had highly stressful or traumatic experiences: people who had COVID themselves, have long COVID, or lost someone due to COVID. These groups deserve our compassion, and patience. “

I’ve been describing it to friends and coworkers as “the inability to just turn off the fear of other people and their germs”. Because, in some ways, that’s exactly what it was. I’ve spent a year plus barely leaving my house. Sure, I worked from home even before the pandemic, but it’s an extreme sport now, going into the back yard is an adventure into a strange and exotic place, let alone being around other people.

Yesterday, however, I did manage to get out and meet up with a friend and former coworker. I won’t say it wasn’t awkward. But, it wasn’t as awkward as my anxiety had built it up in my head, mostly because I think we both knew it was awkward, and went out of our way to figure out what we were comfortable with. We met in the office building where she works, wearing masks. She asked if I wanted to keep being masked walking to lunch, and we agreed to not, and to sit outside to be safer. And she asked before giving me a hug after lunch.

It was an important lesson to me, that we need to navigate this together with the people we care about, and meet them at the level where they are comfortable. It’s not about racing to be the most “normal” group, it’s about making sure everyone comes along, and is comfortable, because we’ve all dealt with various levels of trauma over the last 14-15 months, trauma that will show up in a variety of ways. There’s nothing wrong with people who are slower to feel comfortable, they are just doing what they can. I’d rather meet them where they are, and where I am, than not see them at all anymore, or shame them about their own hesitation. It’s not a race.

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