Debating Whether I Should Continue to Wear a Mask in Public

How peer pressure can influence important health decisions

Jennifer van Amerom avatar

by Jennifer van Amerom |

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Over the weekend, I took my daughter to her first in-person birthday party in almost three years. Fate can be cruel sometimes, which is how I found myself at an indoor jungle gym. I forgot how loud children’s screams and high-pitched voices can be, especially when amplified by the warehouse-turned-gym hollowness.

Entering the gym, my daughter and I were the only ones who were masked. I immediately felt all eyes on us and even caught a couple of sideways glances, complete with the full force of judgment. It was as if we’d walked into an atomic bomb launch room and I was holding the detonation codes.

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“Do we take our masks off?” my daughter asked. Nope, I wasn’t just imagining the judgmental looks we were receiving from these strangers. She saw them, too.

“Leave it on if that makes you more comfortable, but I understand if you take it off,” I told her. What else could I say to my kid who just wants to fit in? At age 10, she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders because of my rare autoimmune disease, neuromyelitis optica (NMO). It’s an invisible disorder for many of us, including myself, except when we’re at home, spent and in agony — and my kid has a front-row seat.

It was I who caved first. The gracious hosts had booked a private party room, which is where I found all the other parents sacrificing their Saturday afternoon. Since I was the only one wearing a mask, I decided to take it off, though I still worried about catching a bug or virus.

My daughter was much braver than I was. She climbed, swung, and spun herself through the apparatuses with such joy, I didn’t mind giving up part of my day. And she did so wearing her mask the entire time, even though no one else did.

I wish I had more freedom regarding my health. For the rest of the week, I’ll try to stop the fear from creeping up and avoid playing the “what if I have COVID-19?” game. If my seasonal allergies act up, I’ll have to fight to prevent panic from setting in. Probably a million times this week, I’ll think I caught the COVID-19 virus again. For NMO patients, our fear of illness is real.

I wish I could wear a T-shirt that says, “No, I don’t think you’re diseased. I’m wearing this mask as a precaution because I am immune-compromised.” Or I wish I was at least as brave as my kid. Peer pressure is still a factor, and it might kill me, or, at the very least, make me quite ill again.


Note: Neuromyelitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Neuromyelitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).

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