Monday, May 10, 2021

The Person Behind the Mask

By Patricia Simon

Masks help stop the spread of COVID-19 to others. The CDC recommends that people wear masks in public settings, at events and gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people. Masks protect you and me.

In 1896, Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote, “We wear the mask that grins and lies. It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes.”

Before COVID-19, we all wore masks in different ways and for different reasons. Now we are wearing masks both literally and figuratively.

A mask creates a whiff of mystery. It’s almost like everything about you is a mystery. Nothing is what it seems. We escape by wearing a mask. It’s a safe haven. It’s a way of hiding your face from society.

It’s difficult to be understood when you talk wearing a mask. Words are all jumbled. For those with a speech impediment or hearing issues, it is very challenging and frustrating.

At home learning has created social and emotional distancing. If you don’t want to be seen or heard, you just log on and become just another student.

Behind every smile there is a story. But, what has been the impact of wearing a mask that covers your smile?

What will the eyes of the innocent child see when the masks are removed? For the person with a craniofacial issue they will now be exposed. People will now see their face.

A mask somehow gives you control over your life. It allows you to decide when to reveal your real face. However, it also signals that you have no control over other people’s reactions. Removing ones mask reveals ones vulnerability. It creates anxiety. Removal of the mask creates surprise, shock, stares.

As the country begins to open up, masks will be coming off. There will be in-person confrontation. We will see an increase in bullying. A mask allows bullies to hide behind a false sense of power.

Children and adults are struggling. We miss the human touch, hugging, playing together, and socializing in person.

This pandemic created a situation that no one could have anticipated. At some point, we will rise above this pandemic. In the interim, we need to be proactive.

Erica Klauber, Executive Director of Children’s Craniofacial Association (CCA) has stated, “It is time that we, both at CCA and as individuals, realize that we can’t just take care of ‘our kids.’ All kids are our kids.’ We are not just serving the craniofacial community; we are starting a revolution of self-acceptance, diversity-awareness, and inclusivity, in students across the country. We are all in this together, and together we rise.”

As leaders in the craniofacial community, we need to come together. We have expertise of specialists from a variety of medical fields.

There are more questions then we have answers. What has been the impact of wearing a mask for over a year? How will we help navigate through these unchartered waters? How do we help the person suffering from depression and isolation?

We need to emphasize that they are not alone. Help is out there.

Now what?

As a community, we can’t work in silos. We need to share information and resources. We need to collaborate.

As the government concentrates on distribution and administration of a vaccine, we need to look at the needs of the community. Now and in the future.

We need to be forward thinking. We need to make sure that parents and educators have the tools to help make this transition easier.

What tools are already available and what tools need to be created?

We have reinforced the concept of being KIND. Now we need to make sure that people know that there is a heart behind the mask. It’s, “We, not me.”

For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone. -Audrey Hepburn

Patricia Simon R.N., was born in 1961 with a cleft lip and palate and has undergone many surgeries. She has dedicated her life to advocating for those affected by cleft lip and palate. Simon is passionate about educating and helping others to provide quality care to patients affected by clefts and craniofacial differences. She published four books about Simon and his friends. Patricia is a member of the Board of Directors for the Children's Craniofacial Association.   

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