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Trying to Be Proud of the Days I Wear a Face Mask

woman sitting on a horse and wearing a face mask

Yep, that’s me, the one on the horse with a big white mask on. Why the mask? I have cystic fibrosis and some pretty acute asthma, and it turns out horse riding is quite a dusty business. But I didn’t want to let that stop me from going on a trail ride with my kids out in gorgeous Oregon wine country recently, as a special birthday outing for my 12-year-old daughter.

I’ve been finding myself wearing a mask in public a lot lately. With all the wildfires we had in late summer, I started carrying one with me at all times in case smoke or ash rolled in. For a couple days when the smoke was at its worst I noticed other people wearing them, too, and smiled at them from underneath my mask. I understand, I meant for my smile to say. I know it’s important to protect our breathing. I know it can make you feel embarrassed and self-conscious, and I’m smiling to say, high five for taking care of yourself! If had it to do over, I would try to push through my own self-consciousness and say this out loud. Because as easy as it was for me to appreciate the others who were wearing their masks during the fires, it is still uncomfortable for me to wear one myself.

woman and her kids with horses in a barn

On airplanes I wear a surgical mask to help filter out any germs in the air, and as I walk back toward my seat, facing all those who are already seated, it can feel like pushing through a wall of fear. I try to smile broadly and try to break through that fear with warmth. I always explain to the others in my row that I’m not contagious, I just have fragile lungs that I need to protect. It’s easier with kids. They stare more, but once I explain why I’m wearing the mask, the awkwardness is gone. With adults, sometimes even explaining isn’t enough. One day when the sky was smoky, I wore a mask to the farmer’s market. Even though I explained why, the vendors who were normally chatty and happy to see me had a hard time making eye contact, and looked uncomfortable.

So on the day of the trail ride, I walked into the barn at first without a mask on, because it seemed easier not to deal with the awkwardness and funny looks. But when I saw all the dust swirling, I decided it was silly to struggle with my breathing just because it put other people off to see me in a mask. After all, I was there to have a good time, and I deserve that – to be in the world and interacting with people and enjoying my life, even with a mask on sometimes.

family riding horses on a trail

And to all those who see me, or someone else, wearing a mask, please stop and smile if you can. We’re doing our best to protect others or ourselves by wearing that mask. It’s a sign we are conscious of our health and yours, and it’s not necessary to be afraid. In fact, if you feel so inclined, maybe even toss out a friendly, “Way to go for taking care of yourself!” Because we deserve it.

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