Sooo pro-mask, yet I didn’t wear one during my haircut yesterday
October 2, 2021 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I have GAD and am low-hanging fruit for Covid-related (and lots of other) fears. So, I’m almost always careful, emphasis on almost. I have a very low risk tolerance, and I try to act in ways that will make me less worried, regretful. Except when I don’t. I feel like I create anxiety-producing situations — as if my brain needs more — most recently during this just-okay haircut. Looking to hear others’ experiences with making a COVID-related choice that you were not happy with yourself for.

I know that only time and a COVID test in 5 days are how to learn the outcome of my dumb mask-free hour. (None of the ~10 folks in the place wore a mask. This is not an excuse, just explaining the environment.)

I’ve had a lifetime of anxiety after (and during and before) the fact, and COVID has added to my collection. I’m just so frustrated with myself for making a bad decision, knowing it would leave me feeling this way, especially because my partner has an immunodeficiency. They are being supportive and doing their best to understand my fears. Thanks for listening and sharing your experience and feedback.

(I take meds and have a therapist and a cat, fyi.)
posted by Lucy Goosie to Health & Fitness (25 answers total)
Can you be specific what your question is? It might help you get better answers and be less chat-filtery.
posted by penguin pie at 9:49 AM on October 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We are scrupulously masked when out in public. There have been moments, though, when we found ourselves unexpectedly unmasked. It can happen. All you can do is learn and redouble your effort to always mask. And accept that you’re human, and you will make mistakes.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:52 AM on October 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I guess my question is if you’ve done something like this, how did you move forward and keep from doing it again?
posted by Lucy Goosie at 9:55 AM on October 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It helps me to remember that both risk level and precaution level are spectrums, not yes or no questions, and pretty much all of us fall somewhere between the extremes. Doing one relatively higher risk activity doesn't flip a switch that disqualifies you from being a conscientious person or mean you're guaranteed to get sick.
posted by eponym at 10:03 AM on October 2, 2021 [15 favorites]

If you're vaccinated and case rates are low in your area, the chance you'll get sick is fairly low, and if you do, the chance that you'll get seriously ill is also low. But is there something you can do to protect your partner, just in case? If you don't live with them, avoid seeing them until you can get tested? Stay in an Airbnb or with another friend for a few days, or if that's not possible, wear a mask temporarily inside? If you saw them yesterday or this morning, on the small chance that you were exposed, you're probably not infectious yet, though you could possibly be soon.

I regret getting the J&J vaccine when I knew that it was less effective than the other vaccines, but there wasn't much I could do about that. With masks, specifically, I would try to give yourself a little bit of a break- earlier this year even the CDC temporarily said that vaccinated people could be unmasked indoors, and if you're in the U.S., cases are dropping in most places.
posted by pinochiette at 10:10 AM on October 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: We’ve all spent the last 18 months plus making constant risk/benefit decisions about masking, distancing, etc. There’s also the strong social pressure aspect to contend with- I can say that I’ve not worn a mask when I probably should have due to the “no one else is wearing a mask” pressure and regretted it afterwards. But it’s not an all or nothing thing! Not wearing a mask for an hour or so is not a direct ticket to Covid, and making a choice you regret doesn’t negate all the precautions you have been taking, preclude you from making a different choice in the future, or make you a bad person.
posted by MadamM at 10:12 AM on October 2, 2021 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not a Christian (though I was raised such), and I find the attitude "go and sin no more" to be highly useful in these situations. It's already happened, you'll face the consequences and it will probably be okay, beating yourself up about it is way less useful than figuring out how you want to act now and in the future and thinking about ways you can support yourself in those choices, etc etc etc.

Right now it kind of sounds like you're trying to put the entire consequences of a systematic problem on your imperfect human shoulders. The thing you did is very normal to want to do. We're so long into this thing, and it's natural to fatigue and succumb to a situation here and there.

But I'm sure you're not relying on masking alone, right? You probably also got vaccinated, which while not perfect is very good. Also, honestly most people are using masks that aren't very reliable PPE. Don't get me wrong--that's still good. It still blunts community transmission, and that's important. But I guess what I'm saying here is even the ideal of masking that our community uses isn't some talisman that keeps people from getting COVID. It's just one in a broad array of strategies, alongside testing and ventilation and social distancing etc etc etc. It might help to think of it as "I did something that was more risky than my normal targetted level of risk and in retrospect I don't like that" rather than a binary safe/not safe determination that you violated.
posted by foxfirefey at 10:14 AM on October 2, 2021 [8 favorites]

It might help to look at why you made that choice. Was it the pressure of everyone else being unmasked? Was it because you worried it would be hard to cut your hair with the mask over your ears? Were you not thinking and forgot the mask in the car?

I've made plenty of mistakes like this, and most of them I walked away with an idea that "yeah, that wasn't worth it. I don't mind being the only masked person in the room" or "next time I'll walk back to the car when I realize I don't have it, even if it 'wastes' time."

If your reason for not wearing it was social pressure or flawed logic you're worried about experiencing again, having the decision firm in your head ahead of time might help.
posted by gideonfrog at 10:16 AM on October 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

What were you thinking? Was it an actual accident, like you showed up for an appt. and had forgotten your mask?

Or did you have a mask and decide not to wear it? And if so, what was that process like. Was it due to discomfort? Physical or social? Was it a desire to 'cut loose'? Or 'just this once won't hurt'?

Because all of those things are rather different from a "try not to do this again" perspective.

Don't beat yourself up over the past, but altering future behavior depends on understanding what happened and why you did what you did. So I'd recommend working on that first.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:16 AM on October 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

It's really good that you came here for some support and I'm sorry you're in this situation. Don't beat yourself up. We are all doing our best in a really horrible situation. A mask is one of many strategies and the best thing you can do here is be kind to yourself and don't make the same mistake moving forward.

As someone who is immunocompromised and who has a romantic partner, I would have a hard time with my partner asking me for reassurance about this kind of thing. I've noticed that a lot of friends and family members want me, personally, to reassure them when they behave in ways that are not covid-safe. They are looking for absolution from a person who is objectively higher risk than they are and it has driven a wedge in a lot of my relationships. Aside from your therapist, do you also have friends that you can lean on for the emotional support you need right now? I'd encourage you to try to reach out for support from people who are not your immune compromised partner.

The site goes a long way towards assuaging my own personal fears of contracting the virus in different situations (although I haven't been anywhere except a doctor's office and a few trips to the grocery store since 2020). I see my girlfriend only after she has fully quarantined for 2 weeks and this works well enough for us both. Is it possible for you to fully quarantine before you see your partner again?
posted by twelve cent archie at 10:26 AM on October 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

Oh man, I have been there.

I buy about 80 percent of my daughter's wardrobe from consignment sales, and about 80 percent of that 80 percent comes from one big sale the next county over. Because my daughter was between sizes and hard to fit (and also old enough now to speak into her wardrobe), I decided to bring her with me to shop on opening day of the April sale. We went in the early afternoon, expecting to miss the opening stampede—and we also expected that reasonable covid precautions would be taken. Nope and NOPE. It was extremely crowded and only about 20 percent of folks were masked.

I should have turned around and gone home and used it as an example of doing the right thing even when it's hard. Instead, I freaked out about having to buy a whole seasonal wardrobe at retail prices and decided to forge on ahead.

I thought the shopping part was bad, but waiting to check out was even worse. The line stretched out the back of the store into the parking lot—but at least we were outside. Then they decided they wanted to get everyone in out of the heat, so they brought the entire group inside and shut the back door. Probably about 80 people were crammed in the former back room of a sho story. I nearly lost it at that point. I went to find a worker and asked if we could please at least prop the door open to get some airflow, and the woman seriously looked at me like, "Why? What's the deal?" I got some spiel about it being a hardship because then they'd need to station someone back there to prevent shoplifting. They finally begrudgingly cracked the door a few inches, but my kiddo and I were in line over an hour with hardly a masked person to be seen. I couldn't believe I'd been so irresponsible as to risk both of our health over discount clothes.

I have been dealing with severe pandemic-related anxiety, and this just about broke me. I'd had one vaccine and my daughter had a mild case of covid at the end of January, and we were both masked, so we weren't entirely unprotected, but it was scary to be in such a packed environment for so long. It felt foolish, and I couldn't stop beating myself up over my choice.

I made sure we got tested twice, once after day 5 and once around day 12. Neither of us got sick. Rather than looking at that outcome and feeling like perhaps my fear was overblown, I felt like we dodged a bullet.

It did help me understand that being cautious meant making hard choices, and that might mean speaking up or bailing if I genuinely felt unsafe. But it did show me that one slip up does not necessarily lead to tragedy either. We actually let our daughter participate in her summer dance recital unmasked, and I think this showed me that not every single risk is a guaranteed tragedy.

My husband and I are double vaxxed, and we're eagerly awaiting the approval of the kids' vaccine. But we are not locked down as much as we were last year. My kid is in school in person in a county that is defying our governor's executive order prohibiting mask mandates. All three of us mask up every time we leave the house and expect to be in proximity to other people. We will continue with this level of caution until the numbers drop to below where they were in the summer. In retrospect, I've come to view that "slip up" in April as something that reaffirmed my commitment to act with caution as far as what we can control, but it also helped me understand that locking down and never encountering people wasn't going to be a viable long-term strategy. I think at some point I would have needed a "mistake" to learn these things, so I try to focus on that rather than on regretting my choice.

I hope that helps. This is all so hard.
posted by timestep at 10:33 AM on October 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

As to how to keep it from happening again: I taped a note to the dashboard of my car to remind me to mask up; you could also put a note by your door or wherever you gather your things to exit the house.
posted by serendipityrules at 11:06 AM on October 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: if you've done something like this, how did you move forward and keep from doing it again?

I'm guessing you are vaccinated, and you did something that increased your risk a small amount. This is out of character for you, and you're going to get tested. Look at this as a learning experience and think about what led up to it, and what you can do to address that next time. Were you worried about making a scene at the hairdresser? Call beforehand next time to talk about masking, and/or find a new hair person. Were you feeling lonely and it was exciting to be in a "normal" atmosphere? Plan an unmasked activity outdoors with people to get that same sensation in a safer way. Were you nervous that wearing a mask would provoke comments/confrontation? Map out your exit route and have a plan in place for what to do if someone responds to a mask with criticism.
posted by rogerroger at 11:08 AM on October 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like you have beaten yourself up sufficiently and don't need to do so anymore. I'm going to bet that because of how much you've thought about it since, you're not going to forget a second time. You don't need to worry about that because you have already worried enough. This is something no one has ever really had to think about like this before so we're all doing an amazing job of keeping it together, and if we slip up that's a normal part of adjusting to something new. It'll be ok.
posted by bleep at 11:15 AM on October 2, 2021

Do you tend to treat your partner as a parent figure--meaning, look to them for support and guidance but also treat them like an authority and/or put their wishes and preferences ahead of yours? If so, this may be a kind of "rebellion" which can often be the other side of the coin when you parentify a partner.

The stereotype of this is a hetero male who makes his wife into his mother by both expecting her to be the "adult" in the relationship and then by rebelling by, e.g., staying out "late", eating a poor diet, not doing as asked, or in the more extreme cases, infidelity.

Sometimes people who are partnered with people with disabilities treat the disability as the "authority" and, rather than proactively engaging in positive self-care and boundary setting (e.g. "I really need to get out of the house and spend some time socially, how can we make that work in a safe way?") they toe the line, treat the partner as the "boss," get resentful, and then act out.

Then when they act out they continue the parentification by asking the person with a disability for reassurance and acceptance, i.e., they approach them as they would a supplicating child, who needs comfort and support after their rebellious acts (appropriate for boundary-testing children, not as great for boundary-testing adults.)

Generally, if you see your partner as an "authority" who can't be approached about your self-care needs rather than an equal, dealing with that proactively could help you not feel like rebelling in this particular way.

YMMV but this is a possibility I've seen. To be clear this is not something the partner with disabilities is "doing" to their partner but often a failure of communication with a soupcon of codependency or overfunctioning thrown in for good measure.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:31 AM on October 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

Also, look, having an immunodeficient partner is actually really really hard right now and I want to acknowledge that. At the same time, I think it's important for you to be really dutiful about proactively meeting your needs in a safe way so that you don't feel like you're on-duty 100% of the time. Your partner kinda can't do that for you so you need to step up and be good to yourself rather than trying to be the perfect partner and then cracking under the pressure.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:33 AM on October 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

In early summer, I was vaccinated and the CDC relaxed the mask guidelines. I stopped wearing a mask to work or grocery stores, booked a trip, and started going to sit-down restaurants. Then I got sick - turned out not to be covid - but I had a few days of getting multiple tests and doc visits and worrying that I might have spread it to others.

After that, I went back to wearing a mask all the time.

It's okay. I made decisions based on the information I had at the time, and having received the additional information of how much I'm still concerned about getting covid (plus cases spiking in my area, etc), I'm now making different decisions. I figure I've taken my risk level from medium low to pretty low. Not quite as super low as a hermit with a booster shot, not nearly as high as someone who refuses to vaccinate, mask, or avoid crowded indoor spaces.
posted by bunderful at 11:33 AM on October 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The risk calculation that you made during the haircut is not the risk calculation that you would ordinarily make. But honestly, it’s not odd that you’d make an oddball calculation some time or another.

We all have to make constant risk calculations now due to Covid and have had to for 18+ months and will have to for the foreseeable. Out of all those hundreds/thousands of risk calculations, there is bound to be at least one outlier. This was your outlier.

I don’t think it means anything about you making pervasively risky decisions or anything. One data point on its own doesn’t mean much of anything. And you have a plethora of examples of being more cautious — that is your norm.

So in terms of “not doing this again,” I would honestly expect you to stick to your usual MO and continue being cautious. I certainly wouldn’t try to drastically change things over one outlier event — that’s more likely to do harm than good, since your risk calculations have generally been very consistent and reliable. And maybe in the next two years you’ll have another outlier or maybe not, but that’s just life and every living person not always being entirely consistant.

Also, people have been conscientious and yet caught Covid and gotten really sick or died, and people have been reckless and not gotten it or have had a super mild/asymptomatic case. Covid isn’t a “punishment” for shitty behavior and not getting Covid isn’t proof that your response is ok, because the pandemic is much bigger than the consequences one person suffers or doesn’t suffer. You can’t entirely control something like Covid, all you can do is your best.

And it’s also not fair to yourself to equate “your best” with perfection. That’s how you move forward — remember that you’re not in total control, even over yourself, and ultimately you’ve just got to do what you can and hope for the best.
posted by rue72 at 11:42 AM on October 2, 2021 [3 favorites]

I feel like I create anxiety-producing situations — as if my brain needs more

I'm taking this literally.

So...have you and your therapist come up with a theory why you are deliberately/not deliberately creating situations that
a) induce anxiety and
b) give you a reason to beat yourself up later?

It's a common coping mechanism. People do it because it feels helpful in some way. Like, if they have a reason to beat themselves up, they can forestall other people beating them up. Or being in regular panic mode helps them not have to think about painful $thing. Or, to punish themselves for something they feel guilt about. There are many possibilities.

I think it might be helpful to consider the incident in this light, because the covid incident sounds like it might just be part of a larger pattern.

BTW The one reason I have for not going with my gut on covid rules is peer pressure. I have a really hard time sticking up for myself if other people are being laissez faire about it.

As for what to do now, I tell myself that blame is a waste of time and self indulgent instead of helpful for anyone. Prevention is helpful. Not making the same mistake twice is helpful. I think it's important to visualize how I would react next time a similar situation arises. I imagine it in great detail - what I'll say, how it'll feel, how it ends up favourably for me. Practicing "in my head" makes it easier to say the right thing when I encounter a repeat of the situation later.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:47 AM on October 2, 2021 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your thoughtful, helpful responses. Much appreciated and needed.
posted by Lucy Goosie at 1:12 PM on October 2, 2021

Best answer: Just to build on eponym's comment about binaries, one thing you might find useful is the idea of a risk budget (I think it's an idea that appears on It's not about trying to do nothing wrong at all ever wrt covid precautions. It's more about the idea that we all, inevitably, take a certain amount of risk, and the best thing to do is to keep that small or moderate, over the course of a day/week/month/whatever. Maybe you had an hour where you spent quite a lot of your budget. So maybe you balance things by being a little more cautious for the rest of the week. I've no idea how accurate that is epidemiologically, but might help you mentally to deal with things through moderation, rather than absolutism?
posted by penguin pie at 1:16 PM on October 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Based on my own experiences with slip-ups and also with just... adapting to changing situations where I have needed to increase my exposure, two big things:

One, get out of using "should" in your head. You WANT to wear a mask for your haircut, even if it feels awkward, because it helps you know that you're protecting your partner. Or maybe that's not quite the reason/situation - do that pivot, and make the question "what do I want to do?' instead of about screwing up. It's empowering. Shift your emotional center of gravity so your choices have a hope of rooting in your own internal strength, instead of an external pressure that might be rebelled against or can be overwhelmed by other external pressures.

Also, then your discomfort with the unmasked haircut can really reinforce that decision and desire to be safer in the future. Instead of an argument with yourself or berating yourself, it can be a way to deepen your commitment: "wow, yep, even though no one else was wearing masks, it did not feel good for me to take mine off, and I want to do differently next time".

Second thing: Are you getting your needs for interpersonal connection and community met? What is the tension that could be inspiring a rebellion against your inner voice of authority? Can you make that inner child a little happier?
posted by Lady Li at 9:51 PM on October 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think at this point it's very easy to find yourself breaking pandemic bad. Here's my list:

* eating indoors, multiple times, because I agree to go out with people at a restaurant with outdoor seating and surprise, they all want to eat inside! And it feels too late to object to this now.
* karaoke outdoors (originally unmasked, now masked), which isn't breaking bad, but....
* karaoke INDOORS, in a county without a mask mandate, almost nobody but me is wearing one.
* performing/working in an indoor theater (double masked, but see below)
* going to see Hamilton (double masked), which of course was full.
* going back to my work 2x/week, double masked.

I had a Covid scare in August when one of my castmates, who I had been next to off and on for a solid week, came down with breakthrough Covid after vaccination. None of us came down with it, mind you. Someone in the orchestra got it a week later. Both of these people are fine now, the theater hasn't had another scare to my knowledge. So between that and reading microcovid (which SCARES THE ABSOLUTE SHIT OUT OF ME NOW)....yeah.

Unfortunately, at this point in the pandemic, our brains are fucking SCRAMBLED for decision making. We're exhausted. We're vaccinated but now we're being told we're not all that safe any more so we have to go back to the same amount of paranoia we had before. Except not only are we not locking back down, EVERYTHING IS GOING BACK TO NORMAL, schools are 100% open but with masks (if you're lucky) and it's a total mindfuck between "we need to go back to the old paranoia like you're not vaccinated, indefinitely, with no hope" and "everyone go back to normal behavior, except with masks on if you live in a blue area."

So....yeah, even I, the most paranoid person you knew before vaccination, am now the most dangerous one you know. I'm going to get myself a booster on Tuesday, thank goodness.

Anyway....breaking pandemic bad is a thing we're sometimes doing these days. We're not at all sure how dangerous anything we're doing any more is. We're exhausted and unable to make clear, rational decisions any more. I can't shove myself back into the agoraphobic bottle again and my work is literally not letting me. A lot of us are having moments like you did, and get tested if it's a legitimate scare and hope for the best.

So far I'm okay. I hope I remain that way, especially after shot #3. Hopefully you will be too. But...yeah, this kind of mental lapse is happening now with us. If you can get yourself back to living in constant fear and behaving pandemic safe again, good for you. I just haven't been able to go back there again in my head. At this point I'm just...being risky and hoping I make it. It's a headfuck going on right now.

If you can use this to get yourself back to good behavior, then do it. If you can't, the best you can with pandemic scrambled thinking, get tested, maybe get a booster, hope for the best.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:51 AM on October 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh, BEEN THERE. On our way back from our first vaccine appointment my husband really wanted to stop for food and we ended up waiting indoors with a bunch of unmasked people all around us for our takeout way longer than we expected. The restaurant turned out to have a bunch of very, uh, political anti-mask signage (which we didn't realize as we'd called in our order on the way there) and while we wore masks the whole time we were standing in there, we didn't have any vaccine protection yet and it seemed like the cruel machinations of fate that we'd get covid on our way home from our shot.

For the week afterwards every time I sniffled or got a little dust in my throat I was freaking out. Like, why didn't we just wait outside? Or hell, just leave and refuse to pay; we were in there because they said it'd be 10 minutes and it took at least 30. But in the moment it didn't feel like we could. We had good reasons at the time, but in retrospect I wouldn't make the same choice again. And I guess learning from my errors is all I can do in this life.
posted by potrzebie at 4:18 PM on October 3, 2021

Person with GAD here. I feel this post.

I'm guessing at the time one of two things happened: A) no one was wearing a mask and you felt uncontrollable putting one on because you didn't want to stand out and/or didn't want the others to think you are insulting them, or B) you were having a good, low-anxiety day and made a risk calculation that normal-anxiety-day-you cannot get behind.

Either way, this feels like your anxiety is not adequately controlled right now. Swinging between high and low anxiety days sucks, as does not being able to make the choices you want to make because of external pressure. A lot of GAD sufferers have needed a medication increase since the beginning of the pandemic. Talk to your doctor about this incident.
posted by jessica fletcher did it at 5:25 AM on October 4, 2021

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