I have an immune disorder, so have been shielding at home for the last four months. Every time I leave the house for my tri-weekly infusion, I put on my mask before beginning my 10-minute walk to the local hospital.

In March, my first venture outside, having been at home only listening to the news, I was amazed by the lack of protective equipment worn by staff, visitors and maintenance professionals alike. There were no demarcation or instructive notices around the hospital grounds and buildings to enable a novice insider like me to navigate this new world. Here I was wearing my mask for protection, as instructed, only to find a major teaching hospital had fewer COVID protective boundaries than the M&S supermarket located in the reception area. I felt somewhat separate from my fellow humans and a little bewildered as to whether I should be covering my face, when those around paid no heed.

Three weeks later, things had changed slightly and I was greeted at the entrance to the clinic by a masked nurse who took my temperature and watched as I washed my hands. However, on entering the clinic, masks disappeared unless you were being treated by your nurse.

Now, four months on, the markings at the hospital are visible and I walk among many staff and patients masked like me, socially distancing in our attire. However, there are still many who choose not to wear a mask. Is this vanity, ignorance or immunological knowledge that I am not privy to?

Underneath the mask, warm air circulates and my glasses steam up. Looking around, I wonder why others are not also doing the simplest of things and wearing a mask themselves. Uncomfortable but necessary, or so I thought. What was it that made some people decide not to wear a mask? I console myself by thinking that we all wear masks of sorts whether they be visible (made of cloth or paper), handmade or industrial – or invisible to the naked eye but there nonetheless.

So what mask are you wearing?

Anxiety mask? – ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen but I know it’s going to be really dreadful…’

Hopeful mask? – A breathable one that states, I can manage; it’s going to be OK’

Freedom mask? – Invisible, declaring, ‘I don’t care; I’m just getting on with my life’

Forgetful mask? – Wanting to forget, ‘Oops … forgot my mask’, ‘I forgot we couldn’t go there’, ‘Give me a hug’, ‘Let’s get close’…

Distractible mask? – Playful avoidance: ‘Do you like this one?’ Choosing the design, creating their own and asking: ‘Do I look good in this?’

I do not plan to wear this ‘visible’ mask forever, but I will always choose to wear the hopeful, breathable mask. I have to manage my condition, as nothing and no one can take away my dodgy immune system. However, I can take care and do what I can between treatments to safeguard myself and hope for the best. So, ‘My mask and me’ will continue for the foreseeable future. Will you and your mask do the same?

Written by Jennifer Wainman.

Posted August 2020