Thirty years ago, the World Federation For Mental Health designated October 10 as World Mental Health Day. In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was devastating the planet, an article was published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, to mark the day. It summarised the mental health risks posed by the catastrophe:
“The threat of infection, repeated lockdowns, social isolation, and economic uncertainty have created widespread fear and anxiety …. Many people who previously thought themselves unaffected by mental health issues have discovered that they, too, are vulnerable. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions have often found their difficulties increased. The precise neurological and psychiatric consequences of infection, meanwhile, remain unknown but demand careful monitoring.”
Mask mandates were a contentious matter, provoking sustained anxiety. Protesters decided on principle that they would not submit to wearing a mask, even if it was, supposedly, for their own good. Now that the wearing of a mask is voluntary, some of us who choose to continue the practice have found ourselves under attack. Even from friends, both real and virtual!
Facebook friends are quite an assortment of characters. Some are real-real friends. The majority are not even acquaintances. They are strangers who send a friend request. I used to ignore all of these requests until a rather unfriendly man confronted me. He demanded to know what I had against him why I had deleted him.
I realised then that some people take this friend thing very seriously. So I started to accept requests indiscriminately. I now have 1,400 ‘friends.’ That’s totally ridiculous. Most times, when reminders come about the birthday of these bogus friends, I have absolutely no idea who the person is. I just ignore the reminder. I send greetings only to friends I actually know.
A week and a half ago, I posted on Facebook a video and pictures of myself digging cassava and sweet potato in my garden. Several friends acknowledged the post, celebrating the fruits of my labour. Surprisingly, one response was a reprimand: “Why are you inhaling co2. There is no one around so why are you masked. You taking this thing too far my friend. I Love you.”
This was an actual friend so I took the time to answer: “Someone was around taking the photo. It’s not a selfie. And, in any case, I prefer CO2 to COVID-19.” My friend’s missionary zeal had affected her judgement. She, obviously, had not noticed that both my hands were engaged. If there really was no one around, I would have needed at least one more hand to take the photo.
CLEARING THE AIR
I didn’t even bother to make the point that I was not inhaling CO2. My friend wouldn’t have believed me. But facts are facts. In an article posted on the University of Utah Health website on August 30, 2021, Dr Cindy Gellner contested the myth that wearing a mask increases the inhalation of carbon dioxide and causes oxygen deprivation:
“Let me help clear the air on this one. It’s not true. Here’s the science behind the truth. Carbon dioxide poisoning or hypercapnia from re-breathing the air we normally breathe out doesn’t happen because carbon dioxide molecules are extremely small, even smaller than the respiratory droplets, which is what we are protecting against when we wear the masks. They cannot be trapped by cloth or medical masks or any sort of breathable fabric. Those tiny molecules just pass right through the material.
“Surgeons, nurses, respiratory therapists, all of us in the medical profession, in fact, wear our masks for hours and hours during the day. Studies done by having surgeons wear oxygen monitors during their entire time in the operating rooms show that masks have no effect on the amount of oxygen they have in their bodies.”
I readily admit my anxiety about getting infected with COVID-19. I’ve taken the precaution of stocking up on colourful KN95 masks that complement my outfits. It’s covid couture. One of my real friends in Germany, Ellen Koehlings, keeps me supplied. She’s the co-editor with Pete Lilly of the Reggae/Dancehall magazine Riddim. Last year, they celebrated its 20th anniversary. A truly remarkable accomplishment!
Over the last two years, I’ve gotten quite a few requests for television interviews, especially on the subject of Jamaica becoming a republic. The first thing I say is that I need to wear a mask. Some production companies don’t agree. Their loss! But most of them, both local and international, have no problem with the mask.
Earlier this month, Jackie Jackson, ID8TOR, Founder and CEO of Interactive Multimedia Ideation Métier, invited me to be interviewed for her clever programme on TVJ, “The Psychology of . . .” Last season’s issue was “bad mind.” The hot topic this time is “bun” – giving and getting. The four-part series is going to be broadcast in November on Fridays at 9:30 p.m. I agreed on condition that I could wear a mask. But Jackie didn’t want to ‘date’ the programme. I reassured her that COVID-19 is going to be around for quite a while. Sensible people will still be wearing masks.
An article posted on the Harvard School of Public Health website on August 11, 2021 confirms that, “The expectation that COVID-19 will become endemic essentially means that the pandemic will not end with the virus disappearing; instead, the optimistic view is that enough people will gain immune protection from vaccination and from natural infection such that there will be less transmission and much less COVID-19-related hospitalization and death, even as the virus continues to circulate.”
We did the “bun” interview at the Regional Headquarters of The University of the West Indies where there was a brilliant poster exhibition, “Portraits of Jamaica”, by Greek graphic designer Maria Papaefstathiou. I took the opportunity to record a short video on the exhibition. My covid couture is very much in evidence.
These days, when I’m asked, “When are you going to stop wearing a mask?,” I answer with a question: “What is it to you?” I wonder why out-of-order sceptics have such an investment in stopping others from wearing a mask. Could it be that they are masking their own anxiety about the risks of not wearing a mask? After all, misery loves company. If I feel like it, I also say, “My mask is my burqa. I wear it religiously.”