I’m in a writing mood today. I have a couple of topics in mind, neither of which are particularly fun subjects. Nevertheless, both are on my mind, and since I don’t have a shrink anymore, I’m going to spill my guts. So here goes…
I’ve noticed that there are a lot of “preachers” on social media. Some people can’t help themselves. They like to get up on their soap boxes and spread their messages. Sometimes the messages are useful, reasonable, and sensible. Sometimes, they’re the same thing over and over again, which is irritating, even if the message makes sense. Many times, the messages are sanctimonious in nature, and more likely to piss people off than get them to change their behaviors.
I realize that in writing a blog, often with subjects about my own pet peeves, I kind of do the same thing. I mostly try to limit my preaching to the blog. That way, people can choose whether or not they want to read it. I think this technique also works better for me because a lot of times, what I want to communicate won’t fit on a pithy meme. Most of the time, people who take the time to read a blog post are already in agreement with me, but sometimes they’re not. That’s okay, of course, as long as the discussion is respectful. Most of the time, at least on my blog, it is. On Facebook, however, the comments can get pretty shitty in a hurry.
I remember before Facebook became a part of my life, way back in August 2008, I wasn’t constantly bombarded by preachy messages from my friends. Somehow, I was blissfully unaware of how much other people were watching everything their neighbors do and coming up with cute memes with which to shame and criticize them. Every day, there’s something out there from someone– a mini lecture on how we should all be living our lives boiled down to the fun “meme-size” that doesn’t quite encompass all of the facts of a situation.
Until COVID-19 struck, the most common “social media evangelism” was often about children. I’d see posts about pregnant women who drink booze and how absolutely wrong that is under all circumstances. Or– guaranteed– if someone posted a picture of a child in a car, there would be at least half a dozen critiques on if or how the child was strapped into a carseat. It seems like everyone is an expert on every subject, and everyone feels entitled to share their opinions as if they were facts or judge other people for their personal choices, even though they rarely have the whole story.
Right now, the hottest subject for social media preaching is the wearing of face masks. Face mask donning is currently a controversial subject. Over the past few weeks, the official advice has rapidly gone from not wearing them unless you’re sick or working with sick people, to maybe wearing them, to everybody MUST wear them (although there are some exceptions and a lot depends on the country). I have been watching this progression with interest, especially since public health is a pet subject of mine. I spent a couple of years studying it in graduate school and used to work as a technical writer in the field of epidemiology.
As of Monday of this week, face masks became mandatory in Germany if you’re in an area where “social distancing” isn’t possible. The rules and consequences of not obeying the new face mask rules vary depending on the state. At this point, Bavaria, which has been hardest hit by the virus, is the strictest about the face masks. Berlin’s rules are comparatively lax in comparison.
I’m just gonna say it. I find the prospect of being forced to wear a face mask depressing and oppressive. They kind of remind me of gags. I know they’re not gags, but they look like them, and I hate the idea that people will be expected to wear them from now on– for an indefinite length of time. The masks obscure people’s faces and make communication more challenging and, for some reason, that makes me feel anxious and depressed. They’re hot, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and make breathing more difficult, although I’ll admit that breathing is surely easier when wearing a mask than when one is sick with COVID-19. It bugs me that face masks have now become a “fashion accessory”, especially when a lot of them are just that, and offer little in the way of real protection from germs.
I hate the idea of having to sit on a long haul flight while wearing a face mask, especially when I know that airplanes are filthy and have been for years. Flights are already uncomfortable and unpleasant enough without adding face masks and flight attendants in PPE suits to the mix. It’s also pretty much impossible to do things like eat or drink while wearing a mask. Since those are things I like to do when I’m in public and with other people, that pretty much means I’m going to just stay home, and that is a depressing prospect for me.
No matter how many times my well meaning friends share pictures and diagrams of how the viruses might be stopped by masks, I know that viruses are unbelievably tiny and can stay airborne for at least a couple of hours. And if you have fogged up glasses and the sides of your mask are gaping, that means that something is getting out from behind it– something tiny and airborne. The masks will probably stop large balls of spittle and mucus that have viruses attached to them, but they certainly don’t stop everything. Given that so many of the masks are homemade, there’s a wide variety of materials being used to make them by people of varying skill, and they are of varying efficacy in stopping the spread of germs. Maybe the masks are better than nothing; but then again, maybe they’re not. Especially if people aren’t laundering them properly or trying to avoid touching them while they’re wearing them.
I have a friend who crocheted her mask, which left the face covering with sizable holes in it. When one of her other friends asked her if she planned to put a lining in the mask, she said her intention was simply to comply with the law of wearing a face covering in public. This friend is a scientist and, like me, has her doubts that the masks are much more than a measure to comfort the masses and make it look like something is being done to stop the spread of the disease. I saw her get into an argument with a face mask “Nazi”, who was adamant that the coverings were/are absolutely essential in all cases and must be mandatory (for how long?). It reminded me a lot of the arguments I’ve seen among “friends” on Facebook, lecturing others about whether or not someone else’s child should be wearing a jacket outside, or whether or not someone was disabled enough to use a handicapped parking space, even if the person had a legitimate placard and a hidden medical condition that was no one else’s business.
I have noticed that some people feel quite fine in lecturing the masses about wearing face masks, the same way they might lecture a mother about how to strap her child into a carseat or whether or not she should allow her child to be alone outside. I’ve also noticed that when a person does experience a negative consequence for not following the popular advice, people are quick to cheer about their misfortune. Someone posts about coronavirus being overblown and then gets sick? Cue the cheerleaders who crow about karma and laugh with glee. Someone lets their child play in the yard and the child is kidnapped? There will always be a contingent of people who think the parents deserved to have their child abducted. They lose sight of the real culprit of suffering and blame the victim.
Many of the people sharing their opinions have only been informed by the media and memes that are being spread on social media. They haven’t taken the time to read up on the subject in legitimate scientific publications or read opposing viewpoints among people whose business it is to deal with communicable diseases, nor do they even know all there is to know about the other person’s unique situation. They assume the person is just ignorant or being stubborn, and sharing one more pissy or directive face mask meme or “efficacy chart” is going to change their minds and/or behaviors. Or worse, they take the attitude that the face mask is the silver bullet and don’t try to stay home or do a better job of washing their hands.
Some folks are also using ridiculous comparisons to make their points.
I’ve seen the above meme shared in English and German. I don’t think it’s a very good comparison to our current situation. Whether or not you even have the ability to pee on someone has a lot to do with the equipment you have. I don’t know about you, but as a woman, I’m not able to aim my piss at other people. And most people aren’t running around peeing on people, anyway. That’s generally the kind of thing one must do on purpose. The virus is invisible to the naked eye and spreads through the air and on surfaces. It’s very hard to control the spread of it. Pee, on the other hand, can generally be controlled… at least by those who aren’t incontinent. Moreover, getting someone else’s pee on you, while certainly gross, probably isn’t going to make you deathly ill the way COVID-19 might. I also don’t like the rude, derisive tone of the above meme. I don’t think it does much more than insult other people who may not agree with wearing masks. Things are tough enough as it is right now. We don’t need to add to the stress by calling people “dummies”. Especially when legitimate scientists agree that maybe the people who aren’t on the face mask bandwagon aren’t actually dummies.
Because I don’t want to get sick, nor do I want others to fear me making them sick, I’m simply going to try to stay in my home as much as possible for as long as it takes. This mostly works for me, since I spend a lot of time alone anyway. Staying at home is the very best way to avoid catching or spreading the virus. I just hope I don’t develop agoraphobia or some other mental health problem by staying isolated. This is a bonafide side effect to social distancing. Some people have become despondent and yes, there have been suicides. God help the person who needs to speak to someone and be reassured during this time. Maybe they can score a Zoom session with a therapist, but that human touch will be missing.
There have also been suicides among healthcare professionals who face the daunting task of trying to help people who are extremely sick with COVID-19. Frankly, I can understand why some people are feeling anxious enough to consider suicide right now, especially those who were already suffering from social anxiety disorder before this virus hit. The idea of being forced to live this way for an indefinite length of time is scary and upsetting. Lecturing people about whether or not they wear a mask isn’t helpful, especially if you present them with “facts” you got via memes from Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and nowhere else.
My personal feelings about the face masks don’t mean I won’t wear a mask if it’s required by law. It just means that I personally don’t believe that they’ll necessarily do a lot of good. This is just my opinion, and I could certainly be wrong. I often am. And if it turns out that masks really are helpful and it’s been proven and peer reviewed by scientists, I’ll admit I was wrong. But I’ll wear a mask only because I don’t want to be fined, harassed, or lectured, not because I’m jumping on the social media bandwagon. And if I’m going to have to wear one every time I go out in public, I think I’d rather exit this existence anyway. It’s no way to live, and makes me really glad I never had children.