Wearing a face mask: an annoyance and an act of solidarity

 

By Pooja Singh, UHMP graphics and social media coordinator

May 5, 2020


 

The other day at my fast food job, I almost threw my mask off and cried because I felt so overwhelmed. Every morning, I walk into work with so much enthusiasm and positivity for myself and the rest of the staff. However, it really gets difficult to keep it up until the end of the day. 

The face mask has become my friend and foe. I am grateful that we have them, but lately, I sigh even at the sight of it. It gets hot the moment I put it on. The constant feeling of not being able to breathe is maddening. The feeling of running out of breath when having to speak louder to be heard clearly while taking orders during THE WHOLE DAY drives me to insanity. The elastic from the mask starts to feel like a blade behind my ears under the drive-thru headset. The burdensome pressure from the mask makes me wonder if it will crook my nose by the end of the pandemic. 

As much as I want to blame the mask for my feelings, the truth is that I wish it was the only reason. 

But...

It’s also the pollen in the air and my allergic eyes that I am not supposed to touch. 

It’s the occasional glimpse at the news channel in the lobby that never fails to depress. 

It’s the overstimulated, germaphobe, global health student brain of mine that is constantly on alert and overthinking the efforts for the pandemic.

It’s the dilemma of wanting everyone to be safe and stay at home, but also knowing that most of us have mouths to feed and bills to pay. 

It’s the few inconsiderate customers who don’t seem to care for our safety or who aren’t polite in addition to treating us like we already have the virus. 

It’s the worrisome news of people testing positive in my beloved coworker’s neighborhood. 

It’s the constant reminder that any of us could get the virus at any time or, even worse, spread it. 

It’s the bittersweet nostalgia of days when things were normal and our workplace was filled with more people, carefree smiles, greetings, hugs, talks, socialization, communication- things I love the most about my job.

Thankfully, we still joke and laugh, even sing and dance at work. We also receive heartfelt gratitude from the customers. 

In fact, I think the pandemic, while stressful, has strengthened us and our solidarity. We truly are in this together. So, back to the silly mask - we complain about them together but wear them gladly for one another. My heart goes out to all the inspirational health workers whose mask-bruised faces I see on television. I can only imagine the difficulty of their present experiences. Physically and mentally, this pandemic has created a challenging time for all of us.  

I try to stay positive, but I also spiral down at times. I think it is even more important that we take care of our mental health. I think what we can do for ourselves and others is to have a support system and become a support system.

My support system is amazing. The other day, as I was saying, I almost threw my mask off and cried feeling overwhelmed. My coworker walked in, spreading that necessary love, enthusiasm, and positivity that slipped away from me that day. The energy was contagious. 

I cried, but, this time, in relief.

Pooja Singh graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in 2019 with a degree in global studies and biology. She is currently working in fast food to save for her master's degree program in global health and community development.

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