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To Those Who Judged Me for Wearing a Mask Before COVID-19

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To all the people who have crossed my path (without wanting to walk alongside me) in the past years when I have worn a mask in public,

I have been told by specialists to wear a mask of grade ASTM 3 or higher whenever I am around people due to my hypogammaglobulinemia, multiple immunodeficiencies, and the immunosuppressive medications I’ve taken for 19 years.

This isn’t meant to call you out or to judge you; I don’t have that power. This is simply meant to draw a comparison between then and now, in hopes that when a comparison is made between now and next, much more compassion will be shown.

You have told me that you’re embarrassed to be seen with me, that I am “scary-looking.” You have said I attract too many stares, or that I should take my mask off because I would look prettier without it. You’ve said I look “too medical.” But mostly you’ve refused to be around me when I’m wearing it.

Now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, you:

  • Post pictures of your cute designs, whereas excitedly showing off my new mask prints never garnered as many likes, only those of my cageless face in my sterile room.
  • Use endless streams of hashtags about being in isolation before it was cool or preparing for this for years because you are an introvert or like being able to stay home all day. Yet you haven’t experienced what it is like to be in neutropenic isolation in the hospital for weeks, not having friends visit you for years, and being homebound or hospital-bound when no one thinks of you.
  • Take selfies in masks like they are going out of style and receive comments saying that covering half of your face makes your eyes pop, when previously I was told my mask made me look like a monster.
  • Make self-aggrandizing remarks about being above others for having a mask currently worth its weight in gold (which some would give anything to own) without wearing it over your nose or chin, taking it on and off, not creating a seal, getting it wet, etc. when you used to put me down for even attempting to preserve my health.
  • Complain after calling me foolish, and various choice derogatory terms, for pre-warning my fellow high-risk friends that there may be a mask shortage on the horizon.
  • Have made masks the new normal when previously I was considered anything but.

Please. Destigmatize masks. Celebrate the medical marvel that keeps us safe and protected and (for those with severe immunodeficiencies) gives us some semblance of a normal outside life. Show off the uniqueness of prints that bring joy and celebrate personality rather than hospital-blue chic, but please make sure it’s for the right reasons.

While I am happy that soon you will no longer have fogged up glasses, cuts on the bridge of your nose, and sore ears, please be compassionate to those who silently yet visibly continue to carry on and will not be able to unmask their faces to the world when the pandemic is over.

Welcome to my normal

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Getty image by Puhimec.

Originally published: April 20, 2020
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