But I’m not Ready! Shedding Our Masks and Maintaining Change as We Return to Work, School, and Those All-Important Social Connections

A COVID perspective, 2021

I’ve been watching the news and kind of keeping up on vaccination rates.

It seems like just about everybody who wants a vaccine and is ready to get it, has one. Those who don’t are either hesitating due to a fear they may have, do not want to get it, or just haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.

But they are available, for those who want one, from what I can see.

I’m referring to the COVID vaccines, of course.

As a mental health therapist, I talk with people about what’s bugging them, what’s going well, and we work together to come up with ideas about how to help things they’d like to be different go a little more smoothly, and things that are going well to help stay that way or get better.

The primary groups of people I work with are teens, parents of teens, and people who may be struggling with life transitions or working to have fewer symptoms from depression, anxiety, or ADHD.

I also really like to notice random things people say, and tend to talk to people I see either at the grocery, while waiting in line for an appointment, or to the person sitting next to me at Pilates class.

A year ago, we were (sort of) getting used to wearing masks. It was right about this time that I purchased 5 from a local retailer, in some colors I wear, to coordinate with my outfits.

I wear glasses if I want to see well or read, so I began commiserating with other people who wear glasses that I saw around me.

‘Have you figured out how to wear a mask without fogging up your glasses?’ I might ask, as my glasses fogged from breathing into my mask, and I noticed someone else’s were also fogging, but less so.

‘My husband can’t wear that kind of mask with glasses either. He has to wear the kind that comes up on your nose’, I remember a kind soul telling me during one such experience.

I noticed that some faces tend to pull the mask down below a person’s nose as they speak, and some people have voices that come through the mask clear as a bell, while other people seem to experience a very much muted effect once the mask covers their mouth.

I recently read back over a couple of articles I wrote in March and May 2020, wondering what kind of differences this mandated isolation may cause for people. How our work habits might change, and how kids doing fewer activities might change family dynamics.

I met with someone earlier in the week, and we have been meeting in person since late fall. She was the second person this week who mentioned wearing lipstick ‘again’, and now transitioning to caring about the bottom of her face when she is out where other people can see her.

I had a teen that I meet with discuss that a downside of wearing masks is the acne it causes underneath the mask, and the upside is that the mask will then cover the acne so people do not see it.

Now that schools are beginning to open up (depending on your area, of course), and sports are having fans again, some of our old habits may come back, or may be altered.

How do we transition from working from home without commutes?

One thing I’ve noticed, as a social person, is the camraderie I feel with other people who are also social who have had a hard time with the lack of social interactions in the last year.

At Starbucks, where I continue to frequent, I have gone inside a few times, and even sat outside at a table for a moment taking a break from working or while talking with co-workers.

I saw someone sitting at a table I hadn’t noticed was there, and we spoke briefly about the benefits of being able to do some work at a coffee shop, and particularly the benefits of that somewhat hidden table where he sat.

I hesitate before I walk into stores or buildings, as the Texas rule is that a business may decide whether or not someone needs to wear mask inside. As I do that, I have had a couple of other people hesitate with me as we look at each other and either put on a mask, or continue inside with the mask at the ready in our hands.

Someone asked me yesterday what I was reading, as I walked outside for a brief break from work. We talked about the book, titled ‘The Body Keeps The Score’, and she wrote it down to help her remember to read it.

One goal I have, as an almost 2 year resident of the state (or country, as I like to call it) of Texas is to increase my in person social connections. I attended church last weekend, and was approached by a few people to welcome me.

I mentioned that I was new-ish to the area, and that this is the type of church I was brought up in. For those wondering, I was brought up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I spent a lot of time there, and feel comfortable attending the service even when I didn’t know anyone.

A woman approached me, and shook my hand. I was startled, but shook it back, and introduced myself to her. Her name is Abbie, and she also introduced me to another new friend, Stacy. We spoke for a few minutes, then dispersed to other activities of the day. We briefly talked about being glad that we were given the option, if comfortable, to attend the service without a mask.

I could smile at them, and they smiled back.

A social connection, even if just for the moment.

I’ll be really interested to hear, sociologically, how this generation of kids, 20 somethings, and middle age adults are affected by this last year of health concerns and social isolation.

in 2008-2009, we had recession that affected a lot of industries and people. Going back a little farther, in 2001, there was an attack on multiple sites in America that we frequently refer to as 9-11.

My own children, being in there almost mid-twenties, have now lived through a major life event at around the age of 3, a recession that affected both of their parents’ incomes during 2008-2009, and now a pandemic that prevented them from having an in-person graduation from college.

When I called my son early last May, I asked him if he was celebrating graduating and getting ready to move onto his next steps.

‘Feels more like a funeral’ he said, matter of factly. He and his brother walked around campus and took some amazing pictures, that included very few people.

As I watch my friends’ kids go through their own college graduation ceremony this year, I have some conflicting thoughts.

I see the proud smiles on the parents’ faces, the giant gowns the graduates wear with mortar boards and tassels, and think ‘my kids didn’t do that. My kids shared a graduation gown that their friend bought, and took turns taking each other’s pictures’. My son’s girlfriend was a great help in getting those pictures taken, and appeared in a few.

I asked her this year, as I was able to be with all three of them for what would have been the weekend of their college graduations, if she wanted to take a picture in a graduation gown. She said, quickly-

‘That depends. Could I wear one in a color I like??’

I appreciated her candor, and couldn’t help but remember the downsides from my own in-person graduation from Indiana University. My husband and I sat by each other-and commiserated. We would marry just over a year later.

It was hot, it was too crowded for all of the proud parents and grandparents who attended, and I couldn’t understand what was being said due to the echo in the football stadium at Indiana University that day in May, 1993.

The person who stated to me, earlier in the week, that she wasn’t ready to wear makeup like lipstick regularly, and wanted a little more warning that we are coming out of the pandemic, really stuck with me.

How are you, as a person who was affected in some way by the past year’s change in pace, preparing for upcomg changes as some things go back to in-person, and some things remain remote?

How are you maintaining your peace, and social connections, as you may have to return to your office for a set number of days?

What are you going to continue to do, that you’ve enjoyed doing for the past year, that you didn’t make time for before March of 2020?

I hope you find a way to ride your bike if you like to do that.

I hope you continue with your mental health therapy if that has been helpful to you. I also hope you continue to allow your child, who may participate in a lot of activities and have a lot of success, but also be anxious, depressed, or have an ADHD brain, to continue with their mental health therapy.

I’m really glad I don’t have to wear a mask as often anymore, at least for the moment. I really like to wear my very large glasses that help me see from different focal points, and they just aren’t as fun when I am coordinating them with a mask.

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