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Lifting Mask Mandates Has Restored My Emotional Health

We dropped our mask mandate at work recently, as long as you are vaccinated and as long as you are comfortable doing so. I forgot how good it is to see people’s faces. I can also see my friends again after over a year of keeping my life simple: Go to work and come home, go to school and come home, go shopping and come home. I truly underestimated how important it is for me emotionally to see people’s faces again when conversing with them.

Growing up, I lacked emotional connection with those around me. Being consumed in my eating disorder, anxiety and other mental health struggles barred me from opening up. I felt shameful in my truth. I didn’t know how to stand my ground or be unapologetic in my openness as a teenager. I was not taught vital skills. I also was taught to conceal my emotions and hide what was going on inside.

In my child and adolescent psychology course I am taking right now, I am learning about how children develop in their biological factors and environmental influences. One component of childhood development is synchrony, where a child’s response matches another’s behavior, emotional state or biological rhythm. Essentially, a child mirrors behaviors and emotions they see in those around them, notably caregivers as those relationships are very influential.

In those around me, I learned to push down my emotions and pretend I was OK. I was trapped in this back-and-forth of reaching out and running away due to my habits and shame. Through therapy, hard work and time, I have learned to embrace recovery as I embrace my openness. I value sharing what I’m thinking and feeling because how else do we get our needs met as human beings? How do we truly connect with others if we are hiding ourselves away? Connecting with those I love emotionally matters a great deal to me now.

With where we are at in this pandemic, I am gleaming with joy as I can now see my friends, co-workers and bosses smiling, laughing and talking. I can hear the joy in people’s voices and finally see the joy on their faces again — how comforting. There is so much emotional connection lost in the mix since masks were mandated last year. At the same time I love rediscovering this human connection, it was my duty to wear my mask and I absolutely will wear it again if I need to.

Sincerity can also be lost as we all have had to wear masks during this time. Human beings are always looking for validation. We may assume we just need words to feel validated, but a person’s body language, facial expressions and tone absolutely impact how we feel when conversing. As someone who struggles with anxiety, it has made me feel anxious to not see a person’s full energy toward me as they wore a mask. It made me feel like I was always missing something; I felt uncertain if I had the full picture. This pandemic made me more mindful of looking people in the eye, as I searched for some sort of sign they were conveying various emotions.

Connecting with people in recovery means no longer being ashamed to look people in the eye. It means taking in every part of what people show up with, including a smile or an open stance. I am very thankful for everyone who worked tirelessly on the vaccines and continues to promote everyone’s safety and welfare during this time. As a human being, I am incredibly grateful I can see you smile again.

Unsplash image by Omar Lopez