Social Masks are Back Up

A person is crying and partially covering their face with a white mask. “Social masking” or “masking” is a phrase used when describing how people hide parts of their natural personality to fit in with “normal” social culture (image from Wikipedia).

If you don’t know by now, I am a full-time college student. I attend Albion College. I am now a senior, which means I’ve been affected by this global pandemic since my sophomore year. Although I’ve come back to school after months of virtual learning and everything seems to be “normal,” it feels like anything but normal.

After all this talk about mental health improvement, awareness, and compassion, I come back and all of sudden everyone’s okay? All of a sudden we are back to partying in tight spaces without masks and holding hands? I’m a bit confused honestly. I know I didn’t come back to campus last spring semester, but did I miss that much? Did I miss the group therapy session that everyone seemed to have attended? Or have we been injected with some kind of shot, “ditched” the physical masks, and put back on our social masks instead ? For saying, “I’m fine. How are you?” instead of “I’m not okay. Can we talk?” Yeah the shot may protect me from COVID-19 but what about all these feelings ? Anyone got some kind of shot for those too?

I have to admit. I miss having rant sessions in the classroom about how the world is falling apart because that’s almost how I feel every single day. It felt nice to normalize the chaos. It was nice to take things at a slower pace. It was nice to finally talk about the elephants in the room like mental health awareness and racism. But where did these elephants go after putting the spotlight on them? I can still feel them. Can you?

Coming back to Albion reminds me of the things that I built. I built a reputation of this fiery, fierce, dominant, and brilliant student. I built confidence in my words and thoughts. I built an ego.

After thinking about the way heartbreak has affected me, I’ve realized that getting my heartbroken was my first egoic wound in a long time. What I mean by this is that it’s been a long time since I’ve actually expected someone to be there for me and they couldn’t be. This is the first time in a while where I expected someone to say “yes” and they said “no.” I’ve spent months after that injury trying to rebuild that ego mostly because I knew school was returning. I knew that I was coming back to the place, where I was supposed to be dominating, without my social mask. I knew that mask had been broken. I couldn’t bare the idea of people seeing me as weak despite all that I have been through that has weakened me. But what if I embraced this new feeling instead of hiding again? What if we all did?

As a girl who believes in Astrology, and with the full moon in the constellation of Pisces, I feel so many things resurfacing for me that I can’t hide anymore. I’m thankful for this time because, to me, it’s the universe’s reminder that I am not going through these things alone. She’s listening to me. She hears my silent cries, and she wants to give me space to let it out. She reminds me that my ego was simply an illusion waiting to be broken by reality. She reminds me that there is always a new moon waiting for me on the other side of all this breakdown and release.

I’m hoping that as I admit to the things that break me a little bit everyday that they might encourage you to allow yourself to break a little bit too. I am not asking you to break in order for you to stay broken but to start allowing those broken pieces to be released so that they come back more whole or not at all. So…let’s take time to break shall we? I’ll go first.

Now, when I drink my morning coffee, I get sad because it reminds me of relationships that were torn or ended during the pandemic. When I have to return to my dorm room, it almost feels like a punishment because of how much time I’ve spent in my room all these months. I now get anxious when I have to take my mask down around people because I feel like my appearance is being judged almost instantaneously like a new Instagram post. I struggle to raise my hand and speak in class because there is no screen to protect me from rejection. When my peers would rather ignore my presence for that of their phone, it feels almost like a betrayal because I hadn’t seen my peers in person in so long. When I see the new changes around campus, I feel out of touch, as if someone had switched around the belongings in my room. I see the new freshman and I resent their bursts of energy and fiery egos like mine once was. I resent how the pandemic has seemed to age me out of my old self into this newer version that I am still struggling to get to know.

Can someone say sensitive? Yeah, pretty much. At least I’m sane enough to admit that things have happened from the time that the pandemic unfolded until now. I am brave enough to admit that I am still struggling despite things “going back to normal.”

We’ve addressed the social elephants in the room through social media rants and classroom time, but I wonder how many people are still carrying around their own elephants beyond those moments of spotlight ? How many people are longing for a sense of normalcy that simply is not there?

We may not have class time to rant about politics. We may not feel like we have the space to complain as much as we used to but that doesn’t mean we have to put our social masks back up. It’s okay to be human, to grieve, to break, to rebuild, and possibly repeat.

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