Overcoming Fear When Face Masks Are The Expectation
At the beginning of the year I was asked to speak on a panel that Nemours Children’s Hospital was doing for Denim Day. I was excited for the opportunity to speak on this panel, but when everything started getting cancelled because of Covid-19 I expected this panel would be cancelled as well.
I was surprised and excited to find out the panel would continue as long as we didn’t have a fever or other symptoms of Covid-19, we maintained distance during the panel and instead of there being a live audience, we had a virtual audience.
I thought a lot about what I wanted to say on this panel because I felt like it such a unique opportunity to share parts of my experience with these medical professionals. I wanted to make the most out the time I had to speak and share some the things that were missed when I would go to hospitals and doctors when I was younger.
The day before the panel I received an email saying that we had to wear a mask the entire time we were at the hospital, including while we were speaking. I immediately panicked… I hadn’t worn a mask during all of this craziness with Covid-19 because I can’t wear mask. I can’t have something covering my mouth and nose because it makes me feel like I can’t breathe. After having your face covered by someone while they’re assaulting you, it’s difficult have anything over your airways.
I decided to try to look at wearing a mask while I speak as a challenge and something that would help me overcome my fear of wearing a mask. I knew it would be difficult, but I wasn’t going to allow a mask to keep me from speaking. I also wasn’t going to ask for an exception to wearing the mask while I spoke because I know it’s a policy for everyone right now and I don’t want to be treated differently and give special exceptions because of what has happened to me in the past. There are times where I need certain things and I’m fine with asking for them when I need them, but this wasn’t that type of situation.
The night before the panel I couldn’t sleep. Upon arriving at the hospital, the morning of the panel, I was screened and was given a wristband and then I was allowed to park. I went in and had my temperature taken again. I was given the dreaded mask to wear and had a quick screening before I could sign in. I officially checked in and then had to drive around to another part of the hospital and by then I was late. When I walked in the doors on the other side of the hospital, I had another temperature check and then finally I made it my destination, the auditorium.
Once in the auditorium, the program had already begun so I sat down and tried to forget everything that had just happened. I tried to focus on how to breathe with the mask on until it was my turn to speak. When I got to the podium and I started speaking, I quickly realized that speaking with the mask on was a lot different than breathing with a mask on. The more I spoke the hotter my face got and the hotter my face got the more I started feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I began feeling like I was being suffocated again, like in the past. I got to the point where I felt myself beginning to panic and I had to stop speaking before it went too far.
I finished speaking and sat down only to feel Immediate disappointment in myself come over me. I was so disappointed in myself for not saying everything I wanted to say. I felt like I let myself down as well as others. I wasn’t just representing myself on this panel, I was representing the Victim Service Center because I went there to speak as a Speakers Bureau Member. This was the first event I spoke at for them and I felt like I let them down after everything they’ve done for me.
After the immediate disappointment I thought about everything else that was going on for me while speaking. It was my first time ever speaking with a mask on. It was first time speaking at an event since I got braces and I still struggle with speaking clearly with them. I ended up being late, which automatically gives me an anxiety. I was speaking at a place where I did not know one other person there, normally I know at least one person, or I will try to bring someone with me when I’m able to. After thinking about all of these other factors I stopped being so hard on myself. I went from being disappointed in myself to being proud of myself. I was proud of myself for still getting up and speaking and making it through without anyone being able to tell that anything was wrong.
This experience has taught me not to be so hard on myself, especially when I am doing something that is challenging for me. We are all experiencing different things right now and instead of focusing on what we can’t do or what we could have done better, we need to acknowledge what we are doing despite everything else going on.