Help me wear a mask
April 11, 2020 7:20 AM   Subscribe

I live in NYC. I like to go for a daily socially-distant walk. I do not go in any stores or enclosed places, and I remain waaaay more than 6 feet away from people, but know I should still wear a mask just in case. Problem: I am having problems finding one I can deal with having on my face for more than a few seconds.

When I put a mask on, I get this panicky feeling like I can't breathe and am going to suffocate, even though I know I logically that is not the case. When I feel that way, I breathe harder, which makes it worse, so it's a bad cycle. The masks I have tried are homemade fabric masks of different weights (light t-shirt fabric, scarf, a paper napkin, a heavier t-shirt fabric) and I also tried a surgical mask, and it's the same: a sense of panic as soon as it covers my mouth and nose.

I'm not sure what this is about (but I've always had this issue with having my face covered: I can't wear a scarf over my face in the winter even if it's like 2 degrees out) but what do I do? I wonder if I'd do better with a stiffer design? Maybe it's something about the softness of the fabric, and the fact that inhaling causes it to come closer to my nose, that's the problem?

Does anyone else get this feeling, and does anyone have a recommendation for a style or material of mask that may work better?
posted by millipede to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Can you try a duck bill mask design? They've got a larger surface area and are designed to keep the fabric further from your mouth as you breathe. Also, they cover a smaller area of your face.

I have not tried this particular tutorial, but it was put together by a physician and looks doable. If you don't have a sewing machine, you should be able to sew this one by hand.
posted by pie ninja at 7:24 AM on April 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

A bandanna might work better than a scarf. Or, could you try walking at an odd hour (5 or 6am, maybe) and just hold up a scarf temporarily if you pass someone? I've been walking at 6am and not seeing anyone.
posted by pinochiette at 7:25 AM on April 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think you might just need to practice? Take the mask that seems the most comfortable, and practice wearing it when you're at home watching TV or whatever. I suspect that your body will get used to it. They're never gonna be comfortable, but I suspect you can train yourself out of the panic response.
posted by brainmouse at 7:36 AM on April 11, 2020 [12 favorites]

Yeah, I was going to suggest trying a different shape of mask. For example, if you have a nose that sticks out, it might call for a different mask shape than a lower-profile nose. There are patterns for masks that have a vertical seam in the front of the face, rather than the horizontal pleated kind... the vertical-seam ones look like they stand away from the face and hold their shape more. (And better if it's made with a stiffer material that holds its shape well rather than puffing in and out.) Mefi's own web-goddess did this little comparison of mask shapes - the third shape is the one I'm thinking might work better for you?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:46 AM on April 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also, you can put a little stiffener in the seams to keep it away from your face even when you breathe in. A bit of wooden chopstick, strips cut vertically from a plastic yogurt tub?

I wear a cold-air mask in winter that’s meant for exercise, hence giant gulps of air, so it has the stiffener. Works for me.

However You might be responding not to skin contact but to the extra breathing effort, and a mask that’s permeable enough not to cause that is probably too permeable to be much good for this. Some good, definitely.
posted by clew at 10:30 AM on April 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Some sort of clear stiff plastic attached to a billed cap might work, like this. I probably would DIY it to a baseball cap or a stiff brimmed hat, then attach a scarf to the bottom and sides beekeeper-style to make this into a complete face covering and keep out airborne contaminants.
The main things are:
1) The finished product needs to be breathable to some extent. No one wants to pass out from suffocation.
2) It needs to stay in place. The few I've seen on Amazon are reported to come apart unexpectedly where the clear plastic attaches to the headband.
3) It needs to stay clear. I have a dickens of a time with my glasses fogging up while using a filtered surgical mask. If you can't seen through the plastic, it's no good.
4) Easy to put on and remove.
5) Comfortable to use in heat, cold, windy conditions, etc.
6) And of course, it has to actually protect the wearer from contracting COVID-19. Breathing through a filtered surgical mask does that. This design may not be effective.
I'd check with a medical professional before using it.
posted by TrishaU at 11:43 AM on April 11, 2020

I also have a panic attack when my face is covered. Very claustrophobic. Perhaps a bandana that is tied at the back of your head, with the V shape covering your mouth to your chest? Like you're going to rob a bank (don't try that). Here's a link to a seller (unnecessary, just the visual). /empyre -denver -black -face -mask -bandana.html
posted by kittygrandma at 11:45 AM on April 11, 2020

Response by poster: Comments so far:
1) re: my walk timing--I'm limited because I have 13 month old twins. But I make it a thing to be VERY FAR from all people. Like, if I am on a block and I see a person coming towards me in the distance, I turn around and go another way.

2) re: nose shape. I totally do have a pointy sticky-outy nose. I wonder if that's part of the issue! I love the comparison of mask shapes link. That duck bill one already inspires less dread in me. HOWEVER, I am not a crafty person: I am not neat nor detail oriented enough to make a thing that works. Also, 13 month old twins. I need a place I can purchase something, not directions to make something.

3) re: bandana. When I said scarf, I meant bandana. Too soft and it moved in when I breathed and I hated it.
posted by millipede at 12:01 PM on April 11, 2020

A face shield similar to a translucent welder's mask, which sits away from your nose and mouth? You drape fabric around your neck like a cowl, and draw that up to to cover gaps.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 1:33 PM on April 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

So I asked an actual ICU/front-line convid doctor about this and the 6ft away thing is because 6ft is the estimated distance your spit can basically get to another person. These things are usually on normal distributions so there's like a 1% chance you have a "super spitter" or the wind will pick up but I'm guessing based on my conversation with him that 6ft is probably already on the safe side of things.

I'm purposely not keeping up on the various new laws on where you need masks or not need masks (unless I need to go out! just as a sanity check don't like keep the news on 24/7) so I don't know what the law is exactly but assuming just walking and not entering stores is okay and you're really keeping that distance away holding up a mask if you happen to pass someone will probably be just as effective.

But in the end 6ft really means you shouldn't need a mask because you're beyond the transmission range. If you see someone coming put on the mask but I bet the 5 seconds passing a single person at walking speeds has incredibly low transmission rates if actual studies were done on it.

I would think washing hands after entering your building would be a bigger factor in transmission, but I'm assuming you're already doing that.
posted by geoff. at 2:11 PM on April 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

+1 for a homemade duckbill. I’m a farmer who runs a farmers market stall in BK, and I’ve ranged from an R95, a bandana, and a summer scarf. All made me breathe heavily, which fed cyclically into that panic thing.

An ANGEL of a customer brought me a baggied-homemade one today! It was a literal breath of fresh air, and I had almost no problems doing physical labor in it for 8+ hours.
posted by functionequalsform at 4:10 PM on April 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I used to work in surgery and do not like things in front of my face. Nthing a mask style that gives you more space in the front, in a stiffer fabric that stays put. I preferred a pleated style with a nose wire and sticky top, and puffed it out as far as possible around the nose/mouth area, but I really can't see that working as well with fabric.

I recently ordered a stiff, vertical seam mask with nose wire from Etsy as a best bet for my own comfort, but it looks like the seller isn't making them anymore.

Beyond that, yeah, it's just something you have to get used to.

Personally, I stopped feeling claustrophobic and tolerated them for hours in all sorts of stressful scenarios, but still tore those things off the second I could.
posted by moira at 7:25 PM on April 11, 2020

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