Early in the Age of Mask Mandates I noticed a puzzling thing: I had adapted MUCH more easily to wearing masks than others I knew.
Masks leaves a large percentage of my friends feeling breathless or dizzy, they give people headaches or leave them exhausted after a short time. They hurt. My friends are NOT using these problems as excuses to endanger themselves or others by going mask-free, mind you, but they do suffer major discomfort to be safe and save others.
But me? I’m not suffering. I find masks relatively comfy. This surprised and puzzled me, because as a rule, I have major problems adjusting to new physical demands. (Just ask my very, VERY patient optician.)
So why has mask-wearing been such a breeze? The answer came to me, after much pondering, while washing my face after a 3-hour mask-wearing shift at work.
I don’t mind masks because I was a competitive swimmer for six years, and I’ve spent countless hours swimming laps for exercise in the years since.
No, seriously. Here’s what I’ve learned from playing in the pool:
- Swim caps & goggle taught me how to endure the literal pain of straps and seals diging into my head. Anything that presses near the ears or nose, covers the sides of the head, or ties above the neck in back can lead to mysterious, horrendous headaches. You learn which precises spots on your head will tolerate intrusions by trial and error, and even then, tiny adjustments make a huge difference. I do all that without thinking.
- Wearing goggles also taught me how to tune out the sensation of things grinding against my cheeks and sinuses. Yes, that matters. We all have lots of nerves there. New experiences and sensations are exhausting even when they’re nice ones. Masks aren’t nice.
- Lap swimming taught me how to override my body’s interpretation of pressure. There’s nothing natural about putting your face into water and convincing your lungs it’s FINE, GO AHEAD AND WORK. Inhaling deeply when your senses tell you there’s resistance goes against instinct and sets off an unconscious stress response. Cloth doesn’t create that much resistance to inhaling, but it doesn’t take much to make the experience stressful. And stress = headaches, weariness, and anxiety. Me? I just…tune it out.
- Swimming taught me breathing discipline. Exertion in water ups the volume on that constant “not enough air getting through!” message the brain is sending. There is no way to compete without passing out from O2 deprivation unless you re-learn how to breathe in specific resistance-avoidance ways.
Now that I’m looking for it, I catch myself breathing in through my mouth and giveing the breath a little deeper oomph than I “normally” would whenever my mask rides up against my nose. And then I exhale just that tiny bit more forcefully through the nose than I would without the mask on. Exactly as when I’m swimming.
- Competition taught me the importance of evaluating equipment. Comfort, looks, and performance all matter, but comfort has to be priority 1. If my cap gave me headaches, my goggles fogged, or my suit dragged, they weren’t right for ME, even if the whole Olympic swim team swore by them. Whichever one fits me best, meets the monimum specs and won’t get me disqualified.
Same for masks. I don’t understand anyone who accepts the first mask type as the Only Type. I went through 5 styles and 3 different material combinations to find ones that I can wear all day.
I am aware not everyone can afford that, but I think everyone should learn that they CAN find a different mask if the one they’re wearing is uncomfortable.
- Swimming also taught me how to accurately gauge a 6′ distance, to avoid touching my face, and to read people’s emotional state when half their features are obscured, but those skills aren’t quite as critical as the other ones.
Are masks the best thing ever? Ugh, no. I hear people better when I can see their lips move. I have a better chance of interpreting non-verbal cues correctly if I can see mouths as well as eyes and bodies. They fog my glasses. They make my face sweat. I constantly want to fidget with them.
But the kind of serious issues that make healthy people understandably unhappy about wearing them at all? Nope.
Last little point of interest: people masking up hasn’t significantly affected my ability to identify them. That isn’t a trick from swimming, though. That’s an unexpected silver lining to my faulty facial recognition software. I didn’t recognize people by faces before they wore masks!
So for me, a mask is just another head accessory, and I am thankful for that. I suspect I’ll be wearing one in public spaces for a quite some time yet. So it’s a good thing I love having the right accessories.
I am curious how all y’all are dealing with Mask Life. If you want to share which of your life experiences have helped you make your peace with wearing them, I’d love to read about it.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Until later!