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Unable to wear face mask due to PTSD and Panic reaction

Valued Contributor
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In late March 2020, I tried & could not wear a face mask. I panicked. I’m unable to wear one since.
Traumatic memories and feelings came up, & now, just thinking of putting on a mask brings up those memories & feelings.
Not being sociable, I thought I‘m OK with being home more. Physical limitations + psychological reactions & I want to be by myself, but I had been trying to get out, joined groups, even thought I had made a few friends.
So much has changed. Now COVID-19 and restrictions, even the ‘eased’ restrictions in SE Qld still mean that masks are required indoors, in other people’s cars, public transport and crowded outdoor places.
I can’t drive. I can’t be sure how far apart I am from others. I am living pretty much as if in strict lockdown.
It is one thing to choose how to live, another to have this isolation forced upon me.
I want to be careful; not put myself at avoidable risk. Finally got 2nd vax dose. But, that does not fully protect me from being infected & infecting others. It’s better (not 100%) at preventing severe illness, and I would be glad to never have to be in ICU, on ventilation. I wonder if I would need to be tranquilised to tolerate that?
I am so angry at that abuser, (I want to swear here), because, after all these years since, I now have this! It puzzles me. I was able to go to a dentist (eventually), & I learned to deal with the panic and wanting to flee. & I had some surgery, a colonoscopy too, and I managed those, including having a mask give anaesthetic to me. But was I given something to help me relax beforehand? I can’t remember.
As much as I have done to deal with past abuses and now this; unexpected. When I panicked it was perhaps even more of an impact than the original abuse, because I could withdraw into my head & feel cut off from what was happening.
Impossible to do now.
If I could, I would do it again to wear a mask & get on & do what I need. Yeah, I would save up my distress; feel & deal later.
I have been dealing with this for year+½, yet, just thinking of putting on a face mask brings up those memories and feelings.
The way things are going, I think I will live a ‘COVID-19 restricted’ life from here on until there is barely any COVID-19 around & masks no longer have to be worn. When?
My community worker is away, Dr will have a break after that, & I’m feeling abandoned, not part of life, ignored & forgotten.
I’m sure that’s untrue, & wonder, how many others are not able to wear masks, & feeling side-lined too?
19 Replies 19

Community Champion
Community Champion

Dear mmMekitty~

First off the link in my post to you about Sumo's start is now live so you can click on it and go there.

I guess the way I look at the PTSD, depression bouts and permanent GAD is that the exercises I've done do hurt, yes, but they are my working on the injury done to me, in exactly the same way one might learn to walk again after an extended stay in hospital wiht lots of scar tissue. It is me doing it as part of necessary therapy, stretching and pushing, not the original culprit punishing me again.

I'm a fan of SF and Pratchett. Have you tried any L.E.Modesitt Jr books? They span everything from Fantasy to Hard SF. Also Charles Stross who has a similar range including a series on the British public service using spells.

With both of htese authors if you are unfamilar with the and to not like their work in one genre, try another. I mention them as they are amazingly flexible.

Excuse me if this is something you already use, that's the free PD audio book site


Which has an amazing range of books, al free, all usable on any device. Many collections of short SF stories plus 15,000 more works. One has to watch out for the readers of some works, who are hard to understand due to accents, often another copy of the work will have been read by another. All books are read by amateurs.

I would think your psych has this dilemma whenever going on leave for all the people he works with. I guess in your case he has the confidence in you that you will make it though, either by 'hanging tough' (do not like that phrase - maybe just 'coping' would be better). You are a resourceful person so even if you had troubles in the interim he may well expect you to be able to use existing resources, from this Forum, our 24/7 phone line (1300 22 4636), Lifeline (131114), etc.

This time try for giggly, better than tears:)

Sumo sends his very dignified regards


Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hello Geoff,
I can see enough to spot the tiger, but I'm choosing to imagine a happy ggrrrin!
I love Bigkitty/s too.

How I think people might be looking at others not wearing masks is all about me still feeling under scrutiny, my appearance and manner, clothing, behaviour, all of me negatively judged and still be subjected to even the imagined negative judgements coming my way.

You might imagine one could get used to it, & ignore it - not so far,

I tell myself, I KNOW their opinions are THEIR opinions - not mine. It is ONLY what I think and decide for myself that ultimately matters. If I am comfortable with my appearance, my decision to go out looking however I chose (so long as I am not harming anyone), I am permitted that.

So far as I can determine, the only people who might have the authority to challenge me are Police, official Security at venues, hospital staff? I have discovered States make their own rules. Some are v unclear in the initial searches I have done.

& just because some restrictions are eased, doesn't mean I can't use my own judgement. If I was living in the south-eastern states, I would be waiting until there are far fewer people being newly diagnosed each day. If I could be wearing one, I would not be removing that mask yet. Dodging people is too difficult for me, so, unless I was to walk around with a 3m diameter fence, assuring personal distance was respected, I'm not going out much.

I have chosen to be v careful.

As for my P.Dr, as he reminds me, it's not my responsibility to concern myself with his welfare. I'm not paying him for that. (me giggle), not to monitor the boundaries - his job; not to censor what I say to him, for fear he will be upset, angry, or anything. He doesn't burden me with how he feels from moment to moment, or when I am not there. When I mused about whether his room was still painted the cool blue colour, he would neither confirm nor deny. If I ever get to go back there, I might be in for a surprise.

I still find it hard to say the hard things for anyone to hear, especially when I feel vulnerable to my anxieties, slipping towards depression, old thoughts & feelings,&...

Confrontation is scary. I am easily intimidated.

Criticism, disagreement, telling him I don't like [blank]

He don't have to do anything, not say a negative word, for me to think. I'm doing that myself.

Though my feelings suggest not, I just have to keep telling myself, years of experience would indicate: I can get through this, too.


Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor
I like your perspective:
“I guess the way I look at the PTSD, depression bouts and permanent GAD is that the exercises I've done do hurt, yes, but they are my working on the injury done to me, in exactly the same way one might learn to walk again after an extended stay in hospital wiht lots of scar tissue. It is me doing it as part of necessary therapy, stretching and pushing, not the original culprit punishing me again.”
I’d like to put these words into my favourite quotes Word doc. It doesn’t have many profound ones, but I think your words are. Now I want to use a bit of my proverbial concrete and plant them in my brain.
Or, better yet, let these words be a seedling, to nourish and grow.
Sometimes I am aware deeply the feelings I have are, and it seems I might think all the good things anyone might like, but my feelings will still be the same.
Is the only difference between when I was a child and now that I now can acknowledge and own my feelings? Is that all I really have learned, or not quite. One other thing I know is that the secret he said was mine as well as his was never mine. He said that for his own protection.
I will bump into you elsewhere, I’m sure.
mmMekitty 🙀

Hello mmMekitty, people of all varieties have the option of telling us what to do, and yes, many do this, but for a long time I don't give an iota what the person says to me, especially if their words are against what I feel, if I did then I'd be a total mess, what they say is their opinion and I can't deny this, so if people say things to you that's their choice, but you have your own thoughts on what you want to do because don't they do the same if you make a comment to them.

Take care.


Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi, Geoff. I welcome your thoughts.

For a long time, since I was a child of around 12 years old, when things really started happening, I responded by closing myself up, I learned to wear a mask of indifference and even believed I did not care. I denied so much, even how and when I lost my virginity.

I tried to be like most teenagers I saw around me, not understanding how many of them may have been abused too, and tried to have at least one boyfriend. I realised years later, I had told him I was still a virgin, even though that was taken three years earlier.

I imagined nothing could get beyond my imaginary barrier. Not in, not out. I felt it necessary. I was convinced I would be at the least, sharing the blame for things done to me, or disbelieved.

Later, I would likely be told not to talk about it to anyone, just as I was told following my attempted suicide (I'm going to get another email now!), and therefore had no support then.

Secrets abound!

& then, learning I could not trust my own father to keep his hands off me.

My (ex-)ste-mother was unapproachable, had been emotional/psychological for as long as I had known her. No help there.

I kept every location where I might spend time separated in my head. Home, school, neighbour's house, anywhere else I spent time. Also within each, I kept events segregated as well. For example, I would not consciously know of how I had been abused at home, while I was at school.

When I left home, I was so into this self-protective mode, I kept doing it. I didn't recognise I was allowing other people to abuse me too. And when I did, it would be months into the relationship. Escape time!

A couple relationships were much more involved, over something like 14 years each, overlapping. One was with a previous Psychiatrist, breaching therapeutic boundaries.

I was barely existing, moving through feeling untouched and as an observer of life. This state of existence cannot and would not hold up forever.

I am sensitive to how I am regarded by others. I had to admit the words I heard were felt very deeply, like bricks flung at me. Sticks and stones, my bum!

So I didn't permit myself to be aware at all.

But wouldn't it be better to find a middle ground, or learn how to be judgemental about how people treat me? I might think, I disagree, or I understand where you are coming from, maybe even take a little on board? All relevant to each situation.

I am not this disarmingly gorgeous cat - I admit: am human, just not happy about it.

Dear mmMekitty,

We’re so grateful to have you reach out to our community this morning and are so sorry to hear everything you have going on at the moment. Times like this can definitely get overwhelming and a scary space. We hope that you find our forums to be a safe and supportive space to talk through your thoughts and feelings. Our community is here for you. 

We hope you know that there is always help available to you, whether it's from our professional mental health counsellors Beyond Blue (available 24/7/365 on 1300 22 4636) or our friends at Lifeline (13 11 14) or the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467).
Keep checking back in with us whenever you feel up to it. 

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Thanks, you just keep sending emails, I'll keep writing. It is one thing that keeps me going. There are some words for which euphemisms are just not going to work.

It has taken me a long time to accept the words which describe how I was treated, how I feel and how I responded. It took me long enough to understand that right from the start, the silence and secrecy had never been mine to keep. Not a damn bit.

And I don't have to be afraid of being upset or in distress about feelings and memories. Really, that is all they are - feelings and memories; nothing more - maybe, oh, you know, sometimes I'm not sure.... it's like the feelings and memories have spikes and claws, weight and mass, a toxic breath as well, and they make a whole lot of noise...

Thanks for your concern.

Hello mmMekitty, it's not easy to know when you're in the middle ground, but it's something you might believe you have achieved, but do others accept this or do they still believe you're struggling.

This is a problem we have to encounter, because when you start trying to crawl out of your demeanour, we have to believe that we can see a light at the end and any comments which might be aimed directly at us, we have to be able to reject them and believe in ourselves and that all positive comments are rewarded and any negative remarks we're able to ignore.

Take care.


But wouldn't it be better to find a middle ground, or learn how to be judgemental about how people treat me

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi Geoff,

If I was not clear:

It does seem, I can't be as cut-off & have my invisible two-way barrier anymore. Sometimes I wish I could have it back. But doing that would mean I would not be as alert as I need to keep myself safe. BUT, not hypervigilant, expecting the absolute worst behaviour to come from anybody and everybody either. I need to have some sense of how other people's behaviour may impact me, in order to make that judgement about whether I will accept it, as non-harmful, or say eff off to those who would harm me.

My only intimate relationship is with my PDr, and it is platonic. I have not really understood precisely what the 'therapeutic relationship' is or if what we have is an excellent example of one or not. It has been the best of all relationships I've had. He does nothing, as far as I can tell, inappropriate. Importantly, we are not friends.

He reminds me our sessions are for me, not him. when I mention I am concerned about how what I am saying might effect him. Let him worry about that. His feelings are his responsibilities. But we can talk about my reluctance to say some things, whether it is my fear he will judge me, (for example), as stupid, childish, disgusting, or literally incredible.

Or if I disagree or would want to argue, I realise, I am concerned he will be angry, & worse, make me leave. He does prod me at these times.

Geoff, you can be responsible for looking after your feelings, or get some help with that. Alongside that, I don't want to be insensitive to your feelings.

I don't think it would help if (in person), I was so sensitive I would burst into tears if you wanted to talk about something very upsetting to you. I want to ensure, you are not manipulating my emotions in order to use me, take advantage of me, or even do me great harm. I need to see signs of this sort of thing from such people.

Afraid of getting close to anyone; I feel safer at a distance. So, I thought I would be fine with keeping physical distances, lockdowns, & being alone more. Easy!

I've my moments all the same. I am having a really big one now. I don't expect anyone here to fix that. I'm learning: feelings are neither GOOD or BAD. + they are human.

I second guess myself heaps. Which others are going to look and wonder if I am suffering? I still don't think anyone cares, as long as I don't show it, no burden me.

I have a lot more work to do to feeling okay with myself.

Thanks, Geoff, answering helps to reflect & clarify my thoughts.


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Valued Contributor

A few people have spoken of their experiences with the masks. I am very grateful for their comments.

Yesterday, On another thread, ‘Vent and Let It Go’, I read about someone else, who has an experience which (along with other effects (has caused them to be intolerant of things on their mouth, & they, too, are unable to wear a face mask.
I wasn’t expecting to read what was written in that category, in that thread.
I was triggered again. Like an ambush from behind a tree, as if I finally heard that someone else felt as I do, experiencing what I do.
In an instance, I am glad, if that’s the right word, & dismayed to be able to sense someone else knows all about what I feel. I don’t want anyone else to experience what I did & have it affect them in the same way, but then again, I do, because I don’t want to be the only one, alone, in this.
I find I feel deeply for them. Able to visualise the scene in a shop where they were confronted and abused by the staff members.
I dread such an occasion.
My helper keeps trying to encourage me, saying how it will be alright. & maybe so, but I am still afraid.
I’ve lost any sense that I could in any way defend myself.

There was already turmoil last night, before this. I think that belongs somewhere else Another thread? 'What if ... questions.' in this catergory.