Wearing a COVID-19 mask triggers my trauma

amelah el-amin
Oakland Voices correspondent Amelah El-Amin wears her COVID-19 mask.
amelah el-amin
Oakland Voices correspondent Amelah El-Amin wears her COVID-19 mask.

Oakland Voices asked our correspondents about their experiences since being forced to wear face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the age of twelve, a person I thought was a doctor at the time  told me to breathe normally as a mask was placed over my nose and my mouth.  

Today, I know it was an anesthesiologist and not a doctor who gave me instructions to prepare me for an emergency surgery. The surgery was to remove a cyst from my right ovary that was causing extreme pain. I remember being told, “Breathe deep. It’s just air!”  Then suddenly, the air inside of the mask changed, I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. The next thing I remember is waking up!  

That experience created a panic inside of me that is still present today. Anytime anything comes close to covering my nose and mouth, an instant flood of panic overcomes me. 

When the presence of the coronavirus made wearing a face mask a necessary part of our daily lives, I battled with the idea. The very thing that could help sustain my physical health also put my mental health at risk. 

While some resist wearing the mask for reasons ranging from ‘Rona disbelief to vanity, my struggle was and still is the risk of me losing my sanity. Everytime I cover my mouth and my nose together with anything, the fear of at some point I will be unable to breathe kicks into full gear. 

In recent weeks, I have emotionally re-lived what the 12-year-old me did so many years ago.  Even now, 70-plus days into the shelter-in-place order and the necessity to wear a mask, my panic attacks, though much less, are still very present. 

I find myself doing less and less outside of my home as to avoid the requirement to wear the mask.

Author Profile

Amelah El-Amin is a mother, grandmother, and African American Muslim human rights activist. She has been serving our community for over 25 years. She co-founded Mu’eed, Inc, a non-profit which has coordinated Humanitarian Day in Oakland for the past 11 years, a program which services homeless residents and low-income children. In addition to feeding the hungry, she advocates for elderly. Amelah El-Amin is a correspondent for Oakland Voices.

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