By Teresa Swartz Roberts
Blog post 33. Copyright 2020
I wear a mask. When I take it off, I’m still wearing a mask.
I don’t wear a cloth mask because I am afraid or a sheep or making a political statement. I wear a mask to protect the people around me from a virus that might be hiding in my breath. The mask does let people know where I stand on whether coronavirus is a real threat just as my walker lets people know where I stand (pun intended) on whether people without disabilities should park in designated accessible parking spaces.
Masks have become a symbol, ammunition to lob at the other side of the civil war that is erupting in big cities like Atlanta, Georgia and small towns like Bethel, Ohio. Refusing to wear a mask is now considered an act of civil disobedience.
What does my cloth mask say about me? Mostly that I care about you. I also wear it because I care about myself. I do feel more secure about my ability to protect my own breathing space when I’m wearing my mask. And I care about my husband. My Honey is one of those folks with underlying conditions. Covid19 could be a big deal, not just a game-changer but a game over. I don’t want to carry home anything that might hurt him.
He feels the same about me, so he sucks up his extreme claustrophobia and stretches his mask from ear to ear to face the world, well, to half-way face the world. (As a Parkinson’s patient, I am not more likely to become infected with Covid19 but am less likely to survive the illness than others. I’ve asked in my Advanced Directive for Health Care not to be placed on a ventilator, and that complicates coronavirus treatment.)
I’ve known about my second mask for a little over five years. The moment I was diagnosed in a neurologist’s office in Braselton, Georgia, was the moment I first heard the term Parkinson’s Mask. Have you ever heard of RBF? That’s Resting Bitch Face, usually called hostile resting face in men. The Parkinson’s mask casts an RBF over my features.
When I wake up, I’m pretty much frowning with the lower half of my face and staring vacantly with the upper half of my face. I described it to a friend who said, “So what you’re saying is that you don’t like what you see when you look in the mirror first thing in the morning.” Exactly.
When the doctor used Parkinson’s Mask to describe what was going on with my face, I understood why I hadn’t been able to return my son’s playful silly faces the way I had done since he was a toddler. The face-making was a ritual we performed often, and I had missed it, unable to understand why my eyebrows would no longer knit together and my mouth would no longer make fish lips.
I can make fish lips now. Well, I was never as good at it as The Boy, but I can make a whistle face. It depends on the time of day, where I am on my medicine schedule, more specifically on how high my dopamine levels are. The meds do their part, and I do mine. Every day, I exercise my face. I have a routine of exercises that my speech therapist taught me, some that I learned in theater warm-ups, and some that my son helped me with.
Once I get my facial muscles moving, I can smile. I can give you the side eye. I can tell you how I’m feeling or maybe just how I want to feel. I’m a big fan of the research that shows body language can influence mood and thinking. I want to be happy and interested in the people around me, so I do my best to look that way.
I don’t have a whole lot that I can do for people these days. The least I can do is be pleasant, maybe a good listener, generous with my spirit. I smile.
Now I’m wearing a cloth mask that covers my smile.
I wrote a really bad poem in college that was about the theater. The opening line was, “I am afraid to come out from the world behind the masks.” I’m not afraid anymore, but I have what I consider a healthy respect. I wear the cloth mask.
Meanwhile, you can’t see it, but I’m still smiling underneath.
2 thoughts on “Under the Mask”
Teresa I enjoyed reading this June 22 post about masks – your thoughts on the masks we wear to protect others and ourselves during the pandemic and your experience of the mask of Parkinson’s. Thanks for your the transparency and authenticity so present in your words!
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Thank you, especially for describing my writing as authentic.