I am fully vaccinated with a healthy immune system, but in spite of what the CDC says, I still wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
This is one of many habits I learned in the pandemic that I am having trouble letting go of, now that it may be drawing towards an end. In clinging to survival tools that were forged in this time of collective crisis, I am not alone.
Things I Started Doing in the Pandemic that I Just Might Keep Doing Forever:
- wearing a mask in indoor public spaces
- going on walks in the woods everyday
- ordering my groceries online
- writing poetry
- cooking regularly
- giving myself permission not to interact with the larger world
- being afraid of crowds
These responses are coming from a multitude of places.
First, the pandemic was itself a form of trauma, one that continually re-enforced the need for me to vigilantly guard my physical and mental safety. As the culture wars became about our very survival, and so many people refused to engage in public health interventions like mask wearing and social distancing, my understanding of humanity was reshaped, reinforcing my earlier traumas.
My trust in people faltered and fractured.
In response, I turned toward trusted LGBTQ community, toward coping skills that brought me peace, and toward myself.
In another post, I wrote about building a home, a safe space, within myself. In the pandemic, my literal home was one of the only places (outside the woods) that seemed safe. The pandemic heightened the contrast of outside vs. inside, which equaled danger vs. safety. This stark division helped me recognize that the outside world had always felt scary in ways I had denied to myself.
Before the pandemic, the world was scary because of my experiences as a trans survivor of trauma, as well as sensory sensitivities from my neurodiversity. Crowds, bright lights, and noise have always overwhelmed me. People have always been unpredictable and hard to read. The concrete realities of the pandemic validated these feelings and gave me permission to not only feel them, but structure my life around then for the first time.
By giving myself permission to disconnect, do projects, and get cozy in my own physical space, I began to create a space within my body that felt safe too. Wearing a mask became a tangible way to shield myself from others, to foster privacy, and to alleviate dysphoria.
And so, even in the midst of so much collective pain, things in my life softened and eased. I want to hold on to that softness.
So how do I, and others like me, who found moments of respite in the pandemic, move forward?
As always, we have a right to hold onto the things, however imperfect, that allow us to feel safe. We have a right to do only what our bodies feel comfortable doing. We have a right to move slow, to expand at our own pace. And too, we have a right to challenge ourselves to go faster.
Sometimes I think the generations that lived through the pandemic will retain quirks from this time that will be noticeable to the coming generations. Just like my grandma made ketchup soup her whole life because she lived through the Great Depression, I may always be wary of crowds.
And that is okay. There is humility in allowing hardship to change us. There is beauty in bearing vestiges of our struggles and survival.