Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Why Mask Mandates Are Ableist

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I caught your eye with that headline, didn't I? Let me start by saying that this blog post is not about the efficacy of masks or the severity of COVID-19. It's not a pro or anti mask post. If you're here to argue about any of those things, please read this with an open heart and mind. Feel free to leave a comment, but know that any comments that miss the point of this post or are just downright mean will be deleted because I don't want any wars to start in the comment section.

Ableism: Treating people unfairly because they have a disability (an illness, injury, or condition that makes it difficult for them to do things that most other people can do.)

I've become a social pariah. I'm not welcome out in public anymore. If I do have to go out somewhere, I feel like a criminal, constantly pulling up the bottom of my mask to get a breath or furtively tugging it down for a few seconds when no one's looking. I haven't been to a store in almost a year except for a quick stop at a small local store for milk or some other essentials that can't wait until my next online grocery order at Wal-mart. I still brave all of my kids' regular doctor appointments and therapies, but I pay for them, spending 10-15 minutes sitting in my van after walking out of the clinic, waiting for the world to stop spinning and going black around me and hoping that my crushing headache and nausea will let up at least a little so I can drive safely. I have a severe heat intolerance due to Dysautonomia and the way that the air heats up and becomes humid in a mask makes me very sick every time I have to wear one. My body simply cannot tolerate it. 

"You'll get used to it" is what people told me at the beginning of the mask mandate. I wish that were the case, but it's gotten worse each time I have to put a mask on. My 13-year-old could tolerate them at first, but now she finds herself blacking out repeatedly when she wears a mask. After she came home from school recently and told me that she had blacked out 58 times that day, we got permission from the school for her to wear a face shield instead although those give her a pressure headache. At least a headache is better than blacking out constantly. 

At this point, I've spent well over a hundred dollars buying different styles of masks, desperate to find one that will work for me. I've found that the only ones I can tolerate for even short periods of time are the blue surgical masks. I've tried a variety of face shields as well and while they are a little better for my breathing, they give me a splitting pressure headache and are very annoying if I have to move around much so I only wear them for the meetings I have to attend in-person. 

It's not a matter of not wanting to wear a mask or not agreeing with them. I'm not even going to tell you how I feel about masks in general because that's not the point here. The point is that I can't safely wear a mask. My life would be so much easier right now if I could wear a mask. 

People who live with a chronic illness know how it feels to be left out, to be told that they're lying about their health, that it's all in their heads, that the accommodations they need aren't important. But when I asked for help in dealing with my inability to wear a mask in several online chronic illness groups, I was met with anger, hatred, and bullying from the people who should have the most compassion for someone who does not fit the "norm" and is struggling with their health. The same people who have dealt with ableism and discrimination their whole lives because of their disabilities are now happy to inflict it on someone else because of their specific medical issue. This is the opposite of the inclusion we have been fighting for. 

I have been told that I'm selfish, that I don't deserve to be out in public even for much-needed medical appointments, and told that they hope I die from COVID (joke's on them. I caught COVID and survived.) These people, who say that they want everyone to wear masks to save lives, are wishing death on people who can't. You can't tell me that your priority is saving lives and then in the same breath, tell me that you hope I die. That's just not logical. 

I've also been told that if it's that bad, I should just get a mask exemption. I did actually ask my doctor about one last June, but the clinic has a policy against doing so. Also, businesses can create their own policies and if they have a strict mask policy, then having a mask exemption isn't going to help. 

There are a variety of reasons why someone would struggle with or be unable to wear a mask, from sensory issues to breathing problems. There are also a variety of ways that masks affect those people.

My friend Kristina said it perfectly... 
"We don't all have the same baseline needs, so just because one person can wear a mask does not mean everyone can."

Here are just a few stories from other people who can't wear masks.

Daphne, an author of multiple books, can't wear a mask because the humidity that builds up in the mask causes her to have an asthma attack.

When Seth from My Sweet Zebras wears a mask, it makes his Tourette's tics worse. He also has Autism Spectrum Disorder and his sensitivities from that keep him from wearing a mask.

Kristina has Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or POTS and has trouble getting enough oxygen. Wearing a mask causes her to develop post-hypoxia dystonia. Because she can't wear a mask safely, she has been forced to forego her last three echocardiograms (by a medical clinic which is supposed to be working to keep ALL of their patients safe, not endangering their health by refusing to provide much-needed medical care) and was kicked out of an eye clinic for lifting her mask temporarily to try to get a breath.

Stephanie has pectus excavatum and severe asthma. Wearing a mask makes her breathing symptoms much worse.

Barb has Bronchiolitis Obliterans Organizing Pneumonia. Her years of taking Prednisone to treat that caused her to develop Cushings Disease as well. When she wears a mask, it makes her breathing symptoms worse and causes her to break out with severe acne.

Emily has severe asthma and has an asthma attack when she wears a mask.

Brandy has abdominal surgery and is unable to comfortably take a big breath because of the scar. She was forced to wear a mask at a medical clinic or her appointment would have been canceled. She passed out because of the mask while at the clinic and woke up in a hospital bed unable to speak clearly. She was diagnosed with having had a mini stroke due to oxygen deprivation.

I'd love to hear your story! Leave a (kind, respectful) comment and share your story about how masks affect or don't affect you. 

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