Could I be Mysophobic?
September 13, 2022 5:50 PM   Subscribe

My son thinks I may be mysophobic. Am I?

I currently work part-time, and wear a mask at work. I swim laps regularly at an indoor pool and do not wear a mask while I swim. I recently visited 2 friends indoors and we did not quick covid test, nor did we wear masks. I recently visited another friend and her little 2-year-old friend indoors, and we did not quick covid test, nor did we mask. I recently attended an outdoor garden tour where I came close to several people throughout it, and no one, including myself, wore masks. I always wear a mask when I go shopping. I will be 67 in a few weeks.

My son thinks it is not necessary to wear a mask or be so careful. He texted me, "Okay. hard conversation time. I love you very much and I think that your mysophobia is past the point that's socially and emotionally healthy. It may be worth talking to your therapist about. I'm worried about you."

How do I know if I am taking being cautious too far?
posted by SageTrail to Health & Fitness (74 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You didn’t mention if you’re vaccinated or not. That’s an important detail. I’d expect you to wear a mask if you’re not. If you are, that doesn’t prove anything, but it’s helpful to know.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:53 PM on September 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

I am not a doctor or anything other than good at pretending to be a human being. But if you are comfortable with wearing a mask that much, in that it doesn't diminish your quality of life, I think you should wear it as long as you like. You're legit helping cut down infection, and you're not hurting anyone, so ...
posted by The otter lady at 5:53 PM on September 13, 2022 [41 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, completely up to date on all vaccines, including the most recent bivalent.
posted by SageTrail at 5:55 PM on September 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

From your description it doesn't sound like you're taking it too far. I always wear my mask while I'm shopping, or anywhere public that's enclosed, and while there are fewer people still masking it isn't as if I'm the only one. Once you find yourself the only person masking then you're taking things too far but until then I think you're OK.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:56 PM on September 13, 2022 [7 favorites]

Did your son give you any examples of ways in which your phobia is getting in your way or hurting you? It’s a very caring, kind message and doesn’t jibe with what you’re describing. I wonder if there’s something he sees or believes that you aren’t aware of or haven’t included?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:00 PM on September 13, 2022 [28 favorites]

Your son doesn’t think people should wear masks. Thats. . . An objectively wrong viewpoint not based in science. If your need to wear a mask was impeding your life or your concern about needing to wear one was producing intrusive thoughts then it might be appropriate to discuss with your therapist.

The “not socially healthy” one is a red flag for me - if my interest in frequent but not ubiquitous masking makes me less socially appealing to people who are happy to demonstrate their lack of scientific understanding or concern for others/kindness, I’m okay with that.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 6:02 PM on September 13, 2022 [110 favorites]

This seems fine, and why does your son care? I’m probably going to mask in various crowded indoor situations basically forever. COVID aside, colds and flu suck, and it’s not like wearing a mask impacts the hellscape that is flying, or going to the grocery store, or most jobs, in any way.
posted by rockindata at 6:02 PM on September 13, 2022 [31 favorites]

From your description I think your son is out of line. Mysophobia, really? We are on the tail of a pandemic that killed over a million Americans and required major disruptive alterations to everyone's behavior. There were huge cultural conflicts over masking, and still are. People are coming out of that time at their own speed, at their own pace, and in their own way.

I just got Covid from my in-laws who -- I guess by your son's definition, don't have mysophobia, but I wish they did because this has been a major inconvenience.

It's totally fine and normal that you mask at times. People around the world were doing it before the Covid pandemic. Many people continue to do it now.

Unless there are details you are not share, I give you the Internet's permission to rest assured that you're fine.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:03 PM on September 13, 2022 [52 favorites]

Response by poster: I told him I may be offered a full-time job in an office environment (vs the sports facility where currently I work part-time) and I said I wondered if all-day, close-quarters like that might increase my covid risk.
posted by SageTrail at 6:03 PM on September 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

What you're doing seems about average in my (30s/40s age) social circle.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:05 PM on September 13, 2022 [19 favorites]

Wearing a mask is a wise choice. It is true that for someone of your age who is up to date with their vaccinations, the risk of severe disease or death from Covid is relatively low. However, the risk of significantly disabling Long Covid is still significant. For both outcomes, wearing a mask is a relatively low cost intervention that significantly reduces your risk. It also helps to reduce transmission in general, reducing risks for those who are at greater risk of severe outcomes and reducing Long Covid risk for everyone (not to mention reducing the amount of time people spend sick, which is unpleasant).

Unfortunately, many people have decided that wearing a mask is somehow a bad thing, mostly to justify their own desire not to have to do so. There's no harm in wearing a mask! Personally, having now seen how effective masks are at preventing respiratory infections (like flu, which is actually quite deadly despite how much people like to pretend it isn't), I plan to wear a mask in high risk situations indefinitely, even if Covid risk is much lower.
posted by ssg at 6:06 PM on September 13, 2022 [30 favorites]

I think your son is probably the 'mysophobic' one -- I am disabled and I think sometimes when I hear about people using pathologizing medicalizing language like that, it's because it's supposed to be inflammatory language to shame people against wearing masks, and not out of genuine help. I do not think mysophobia is a thing.

In my college town, most of us all still wear masks, inside and outside the classroom and at the workplace, and to the grocery store. This is whether we are immunocompromised or not. But a lot of us notice once we leave it, the amount of mask wearing drops down, and that's in towns that tend to lean right wing or are anti-vaxxer.
posted by yueliang at 6:09 PM on September 13, 2022 [37 favorites]

Honestly, I would be more worried that your son has fallen down an extremist rabbithole.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:09 PM on September 13, 2022 [139 favorites]

To be perfectly frank, it feels like a bit of projection. Your wearing a mask and being properly cautious is a reminder to your son that he's not being properly cautious.

A new booster is only now rolling out. Cases aren't causing as many deaths as they once were, but the number of cases is up. With return to school and holidays coming up, we're primed for another spike.

I'm acting similarly to how you are: unmasked outdoors or with small groups of close friends, and masking in general public or at work. I don't want to get sick again, period, but I do want to socialize. That's my level of "acceptable risk," and getting sick because I didn't wear a mask at work or Costco just seems silly.

Your son's talking about how it might impact you socially when you have ready examples of socializing. His comment is much more about his comfort than your health.
posted by explosion at 6:10 PM on September 13, 2022 [12 favorites]

I don't know where you are but I live in NY state and it's still pretty common to see people wearing masks out. Also most healthcare businesses are still requiring them here. I don't know if there's something else that your son is seeing that's making him feel you have an extreme aversion to germs to the point you are being negatively effected socially and emotionally but i don't think simply wearing a mask places, given the circumstances we've all been through the last few years, rises to that level.

Covid was really hard on a lot of peoples mental health. It's normally to have anxiety about things that are unknown and there were a lot of unknowns with covid. I think if you start feeling like anxiety and stress are limited your ability to function and enjoy life it's probably a good idea to talk to a therapist but I certainly wouldn't say that feeling anxiety or stress about covid automatic makes you mental ill and in need of intervention or in a position to be diagnosed with a mental illness.
posted by poorchanticleer at 6:11 PM on September 13, 2022 [8 favorites]

I think that collectively, the populace is in deep denial about Covid and people wearing masks is an unpleasant reminder that It's Really Not Over. Your son probably falls into this group. Even if you ARE being overly cautious by masking, what's the downside?
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 6:13 PM on September 13, 2022 [42 favorites]

You sound like a perfectly reasonable person whose example more people should follow.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:15 PM on September 13, 2022 [43 favorites]

Your son is an ass. What right does he have to tell you off for taking entirely reasonable safety precautions that are in fact still being strongly recommended in many jurisdictions?
posted by heatherlogan at 6:15 PM on September 13, 2022 [27 favorites]

What...? At least based on your description, this makes no sense to me. Plenty of people are still masking. In other countries, people routinely wear masks during the height of respiratory virus season, or if they themselves are not feeling well. After all that's happened, and where we still are, it would be hard to say that anyone who only masked at work was demonstrating a pathological level of anxiety. Especially in their late 60s!

Covid was really hard on a lot of peoples mental health. It's normally to have anxiety about things that are unknown and there were a lot of unknowns with covid. I think if you start feeling like anxiety and stress are limited your ability to function and enjoy life it's probably a good idea to talk to a therapist but I certainly wouldn't say that feeling anxiety or stress about covid automatic makes you mental ill and in need of intervention or in a position to be diagnosed with a mental illness.

Very much this. Perhaps you're talking about it a lot to your son, which makes him think you're fixated on it...?

Just baffled by this one.
posted by praemunire at 6:17 PM on September 13, 2022 [6 favorites]

You are in the right.

You're almost exactly as cautious as almost everyone I spend time with these days.

We're not mysophobic. We're just not participating in the mass delusion that COVID is over.
posted by yellowcandy at 6:19 PM on September 13, 2022 [19 favorites]

A phobia would be something that would negatively impact your day to day functioning - if your son is worried about you, I would expect that there would be some significant impact on your daily life that you or most people around you could describe clearly. Do you think that your friends or other family members feel that your daily functioning is clearly impacted in specific ways by your desire to wear masks?

It doesn't sound that way to me, tbh, but maybe you are leaving something substantial out.
posted by Frowner at 6:19 PM on September 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

Is he only speaking of your mask usage or referring to something else as well? Do you use hand sanitizer a lot, for example?
posted by bluedaisy at 6:22 PM on September 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Agreed with most everyone above. You are doing a smart thing, your son is not, and that makes him feel bad. Way easier to suggest you have a problem than he does.

I still wear a mask indoors in public. Always. I'm the only person on our old guy indoor soccer team who wears a mask, before, during, and after the game, where as a goalie, I can't really "socially distance" and still do what I do.

Anyone suggesting masking is inappropriate, given the current state of COVID has an agenda.
posted by Windopaene at 6:24 PM on September 13, 2022 [7 favorites]

Masking aside, have you seriously restricted your activities? (Say, going out daily pre-pandemic to only going out less than monthly now?) Not that it would mean you’re phobic, just that I could see being concerned about a loved one not getting enough social time.

It’s not a weird thing to talk about, even daily! But maybe this is his passive way of saying he doesn’t want to hear about it anymore.
posted by kapers at 6:26 PM on September 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

What you're doing is pretty well in line with what the healthy thirty and forty somethings of my acquaintance are doing. If anything, you're tilted a little on the less cautious side - I know plenty of people who are back at the gym, but only doing activities they can do masked.

Maybe talk less with your son about this particular topic for a while and see where that takes you.
posted by Stacey at 6:26 PM on September 13, 2022 [8 favorites]

I work in a hospital complex in the US, though I'm not clinical staff or patient-facing (and, in fact, pretty much never see patients or clinical staff, except possibly in passing--I'm in a completely different building). I'm currently required to wear a mask at work. Like, I could be disciplined or fired if I don't. Students in our medical and nursing schools, which are largely back to in-person instruction, are also required to wear masks. The decision-making here is being done by medical professionals. I don't think this is "mysophobia."
posted by pullayup at 6:39 PM on September 13, 2022 [19 favorites]

Here in Ottawa, I just had two art instructors cancel their first classes because of illness.

Checking in on a list of Ontario public health tweeters with relevant educational and professional chops, and a local covid wastewater dashboard, and a discussion on the CBC or Quebec's flu and covid expectations, I'm going to keep wearing a mask indoors for a while.

Note that it is probably wiser to follow local public health tweeters than local politically-appointed public health figures, as the latter may be thinking "we should be masking up and improving indoor ventilation, but there's no political will to make this happen."

I do not think your son is following the medical advice for your area.
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:47 PM on September 13, 2022 [7 favorites]

I mean, it's possible that you're mysophobic irrespective of what you've shared with us. But what you've described sounds extremely standard (for these strange times) to me! Unless there's some really major stuff that you're leaving out, it sounds to me like he's trying to badger you into a coercive "new normal" by pathologizing your reasonable precautions.
posted by dusty potato at 6:48 PM on September 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

There were 87, 513 new reported Covid cases yesterday in the U.S. and 569 Covid deaths..
On average, 99 people die a day in car accidents in the United States.
I wear a seat belt, and I wear a mask.
If car safety improves and the number of car fatalities drops a bit, I will still wear a seat belt.

(The reported daily Covid cases are of course a tiny fraction of actual cases because people doing home tests -- not to mention people not even testing themselves -- are not included in this number.)
posted by ojocaliente at 6:48 PM on September 13, 2022 [27 favorites]

I'd also say, yeah, this is worth taking to your therapist about! But I suspect the conversation is not going to go down the way your son is imagining it will.
posted by pullayup at 6:56 PM on September 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but your son is some mix of ignorant, anti-science, anti-social, or just mean to you.

This salty biologist says you are totally fine and he is negligent in his civic duty to support the basic public health of his communities, maybe even an outright enemy of public health.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:56 PM on September 13, 2022 [16 favorites]

your standard, low-level precautions are unremarkable in every way. some people would give you a hard time about your various unmasked close interactions, but I won't; that's what anxious overbearing adult children are supposed to be for. in short: whatever bee your son has got in his bonnet, it has nothing to do with your health, autonomy, well-being, or best interest.

some day when you feel full to bursting with patience, sit him down for the hard talk about learning to accept that his parent is all grown up and free to make their own independent decisions. his anxious empty nest is not your emergency. every Adult Son comes, or more frequently is dragged, resisting all the way, to this horrible realization eventually. and maybe put on a mask before you get too close to him.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:00 PM on September 13, 2022 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I find your son's response a bit baffling - either you've left something out (like, it's a common topic of conversation), or he's militantly anti-masking. I mean sure, some people have thrown out all of their masks and declared COVID over, but most people I know are taking your approach - masking when around large groups of people indoors, but not worrying too much about social interactions with friends. It sounds like you're out there living your life, so I'm not sure why you're son would be worried about you.
posted by coffeecat at 7:17 PM on September 13, 2022 [6 favorites]

Tell him to fuck off. Your wearing a mask is not impacting your life in a negative way. You're not getting fired from jobs, costing yourself a lot of money, alienating all your friends, or really costing yourself anything. Same as if you often liked to wear an unfashionable scarf or something.

2nd the "has he been falling down a republican anti-vax QAnon conspiracy rabbit hole" sentiment.
posted by ctmf at 7:17 PM on September 13, 2022 [10 favorites]

On average, 99 people die a day in car accidents in the United States.
I wear a seat belt, and I wear a mask.

While I think the analogy is sound, I just want to point out that wearing YOUR seatbelt cannot prevent someone else’s traffic death. Masking helps you and others.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:21 PM on September 13, 2022 [10 favorites]

Your actions sound totally healthy and smartly cautious to me. And I say this as someone who's a public school teacher who almost never wears a mask anymore. It's fine for him not to wear a mask but out of line for him to criticize you for wearing one!
posted by smorgasbord at 7:22 PM on September 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Are you sure he's talking about mask wearing? What you describe doesn't sound extreme to me. Are you doing other things that are interfering with your life?
posted by amtho at 7:27 PM on September 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

I haven't had the flu for 3 years now. I really don't miss it at all. And so I persist in masking.
posted by dum spiro spero at 7:49 PM on September 13, 2022 [8 favorites]

I don't have much to add beyond what others have already said, but I think you're being entirely reasonable.
posted by Alterscape at 8:06 PM on September 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

All I see is "..nor did we mask" for several occasions and mask wearing for work and grocery store? Yeah? I'm in my 40s and that's inline with my (and many of my friends) behavior.
posted by gaspode at 8:13 PM on September 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think your kid has learned a fancy new $5 word and is trying it out on someone safe before he goes and uses it in prime time.
posted by phunniemee at 8:25 PM on September 13, 2022 [29 favorites]

Best answer: Factually, working all day in close quarters with other people in going to increase your covid risk compared to working part-time in a sports facility. Now, is that a good reason not to take the job - I don't know but it certainly worth giving it some consideration especially since COVID is not a "one and done" illness - you can get it multiple times, each time with own risk of complications.
posted by metahawk at 8:32 PM on September 13, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I think you would know if your son was an anti-masking zealot or otherwise radicalized, and would not be asking this question if that were the case, so I don't think some of the answers above speculating about that are likely to be helpful.

In answer to your question: no, assuming what you've posted is the whole story, there is no reason to think that someone doing what people all over the world do and what public health agencies all over the world advise is mysophobic.

I'm guessing this "intervention" was prompted by one of two things. Personally I don't think either of these is "justified", but I don't know either of you, and what I think is beside the point. It might be helpful to think about these possibilities.

First, relative to the average American (?) your behavior is at this point a little unusual. This wasn't true six months ago. It is true now. Perhaps your son (like many Americans) stopped masking this summer and he's enjoying it more than he expected, and he thinks you'd enjoy it too. Or perhaps he feels guilty, and he would feel less guilty about it if everyone around him stopped masking too.

Second (and I think this is more likely), you recently discussed the COVID risks of a presumably otherwise appealing job with him. I bet that crossed a line. Previously your masking was a mostly harmless eccentricity from his point of view. He's now worried that it's reached point where it could begin to impact your life negatively, because you're talking in a way that suggests you might turn down a job offer. In the very literal sense, he's not wrong on this. Turning down a good job offer is kind of the dictionary definition of impacting your life negatively. From your point of view, it's a trade off of risk vs reward. He doesn't agree with you on the relative pros and cons and, rather than accepting that reasonable people can disagree, he is assuming the only reason you could possibly disagree with him is that you are suffering from a mental illness. This is shitty and condescending, but perhaps you can see how "turning down a job" would be the thing that caused him to say something.
posted by caek at 8:32 PM on September 13, 2022 [10 favorites]

I notice he only said socially or emotionally healthy. He didn't say physically healthy, because he knows that'd be incorrect. He's actually incorrect on all points, because if you didn't find it socially or emotionally healthy, you wouldn't be doing it. So whatever point he thought he was making, he didn't make a point.
posted by bleep at 8:36 PM on September 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

You know how, back in college, some of your friends took a survey-level psychology course and went around for a whole semester clumsily armchair-diagnosing everyone they knew? Nowadays, you don’t even need a textbook. People spend ten minutes skimming a Wikipedia article and do the same thing.

Your son is playing make-believe that he’s an expert. Far be it from me to attribute a particular motive to him, because…see above.

With all that said, if you really had an irrational and obsessive fear of germs, I doubt you’d be a regular at a public swimming pool, even in the best of times.
posted by armeowda at 9:24 PM on September 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

If you take an in-person office job and don’t mask there, your risk of getting Covid will absolutely go up. Your coworkers will have kids in school, varying levels of caution in their social lives, varying levels of consistency keeping up with vaccinations, etc. Anecdotally, I’m a therapist who sees about 17-20 clients per week (virtually), and most weeks I have at least one client who has Covid, had a Covid exposure, or had plans change because someone else got Covid. Maybe that’s just the geographic area I work in, but I also have a good friend in another state whose kid has had four days of classroom instruction in the past three weeks due to Covid-related closures and quarantining. My point is, Covid is very much still going around.

I still mask anytime I’m indoors away from home because my spouse is immune compromised. I’ve been diligent about masking while also taking some risks with traveling. I haven’t had Covid since I had it in March 2020. I credit that primarily to working from home, so I just don’t interact with as many people as I used to, but I think masking has also played a major part. Your son would probably call me mysophobic, but I feel it’s reasonable to keep my spouse and others safe (not to mention long Covid is no joke).
posted by theotherdurassister at 9:46 PM on September 13, 2022 [8 favorites]

A virologist relative recently told me that he’ll hang out with people he likes unmasked but he thinks it would be kind of dumb to get Covid from being unmasked at Trader Joe’s. So that seems pretty in line with your precautions.
posted by vunder at 10:13 PM on September 13, 2022 [17 favorites]

You're fine. On the other hand, the nicest thing I can come up with to call your son is irresponsible.

A decent percentage of people in my area - especially those working in retail environments - are still masking. I imagine the majority of the sensible ones will for a long time into the future.

I'm pretty darn grateful myself at the last two years of not catching EVERY SINGLE COLD that comes along... and wish masking and common sense hadn't been politicized.

I have noticed, though - anyone coughing or sneezing still gets funny looks and a great deal of space given by pretty much everyone. I truly hope that stays - because the more shame/social discouragement that gets attached to "being sick in public", we'll all benefit.
posted by stormyteal at 1:06 AM on September 14, 2022 [3 favorites]

How much do you talk about masking? How much does it loom large in your own life? Like, if you put on a mask like you put on a coat, routinely and without much active thought or comment, that's a different way of doing things, compared to someone who for example, goes back and forth about whether they should wear a mask for this occasion, worries significantly more about whether they have a mask with them than whether they have their keys, and just clearly spends a lot of time dwelling on it. People have been actively mask wearing for about 2.5 years. If you're just doing it routinely then your son's comments are probably misplaced, as your described mask wearing sounds more cautious than average but not even very cautious. If there's a kernel of anxiety or obsession about masks for you, then use whatever you would normally use to manage it.
posted by plonkee at 2:33 AM on September 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm an epidemiologist. I wear a mask in the grocery store, on public transit, in elevators and shared office buildings, on airplanes... so no, you're not being weird. Your son is being an idiot, though.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:52 AM on September 14, 2022 [27 favorites]

Experts are saying that with the new, more contagious strains of COVID, that even after 4 vaccinations, you can still catch COVID;

and that if you catch COVID you have a risk of permanent heart damage, permanent brain damage, and around a 10% risk of Long Covid.

Wearing a mask in indoor environments at the moment, according to world-leading epidemiologists, is like wearing a seatbelt when you drive a car.
posted by carriage pulled by cassowaries at 3:40 AM on September 14, 2022 [6 favorites]

I had to read your question a few times because I absolutely know people who call you reckless for only wearing a mask as much as you do. I know this because I (and many of my cohort who were VERY COVID-cautious before vaccines) have loosened up my personal guidelines for how and when I mask and the subtweeting from others is real.

No, you are not being mysophobic. I wear a mask on public transportation and indoors in small spaces or large spaces with dense crowds. I do not wear it outside at all. I work remotely, and on the few days when we all have to go into the office we all mask up. When I go into the office on my own, I do not.

I would not call you mysophobic any more than I would call the many people who had hand sanitizers jauntily hanging from their bags from 2000-2020 mysophobic. Do what makes you comfortable and tell your son to mind his own business, please and thank you.
posted by kimberussell at 3:57 AM on September 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Am I understanding correctly? You listed several occasions on which you did wear a mask in the presence of other people and others in which you did not wear a mask? Your description of these events indicates that you were not in distress.

How is that indicative if a phobia? I think your son is incorrect and overstepping here, but I would touch base with my therapist about this if someone I trusted brought this up about my own behavior.
posted by bilabial at 4:10 AM on September 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

To correct my earlier answer - I got mysophobia confused with a fear of masks, when the definition is "fear of germs." While many people do have an intense fear of germs that can result in obsessive compulsive disorder, your son saying this is basically invalidating a basic level of risk assessment that you are asking for, and even then, people with OCD have felt validated by the precautions people are taking due to how incredibly contagious COVID is. All in all, your son is extremely rude to you and he should apologize and learn that he is putting his mother in danger through his shitty politics.
posted by yueliang at 4:33 AM on September 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

MetaFilter has a pretty strong overall bias on Covid. I am not surprised that the aggregate response here is "whaaaat, of course you are right and your son is [whatever]." While I personally agree with this bias and have it myself, vast swathes of the U.S. simply do not feel this way.

Whether you are "taking being cautious too far" depends on things like your ethics, health, lifespan, lifestyle, and environment. Is there some great social or professional risk for you if you do mask that is more worrisome than the prospect of sickness, death, permanent disability, or injuring or killing someone else? Again, clearly, for millions of Americans the answer is "yes," and for a range of behaviors, not just Covid safety (driving, drinking alcohol, etc.).

Yesterday I talked with a friend who has ongoing Covid complications lasting 18+ months, and they are "done with masks." Last night I met other friends at a restaurant with a patio; when I initially checked us in, I was the only person inside who was masked. My employer supports mask wearing but does not mandate it, so I'm sometimes the only person in sight wearing a mask. Given all of that, I sometimes wonder if I'm taking being cautious too far, but then I think about Long Covid and cumulative organ damage and keep on keeping on.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:41 AM on September 14, 2022 [5 favorites]

You do not have a COVID problem, you do not have a mental health problem, you have a family problem.
posted by eirias at 4:56 AM on September 14, 2022 [5 favorites]

Since March 2020, US average lifespans have decreased by several years. Covid is a vascular disease, and long covid causes neurological and cardiac pathologies. More than 40% of people hospitalized from/with covid in the US since the vaccines debuted have been triple vaccinated. A new study shows mice repeatedly infected with covid die after 15 infections. On average, the US is still experiencing more than 500 covid deaths daily, all while federal, state, and local policies bolstering prevention are disappearing by the day.

To call public health measures that prevent infection at the source tools of "phobia" is propaganda. Don't fall for it.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:07 AM on September 14, 2022 [11 favorites]

At this point in our history, I don't think society is healthy, and I don't want to confirm to its norms. Also I live among many different sub-cultures in an ethnically diverse region. It's really only the white folks that are 100% not masking. Other groups around me still wear them, or at least have them handy in case they need them. Finally, I think our society is irrationally mask-phobic. The pandemic has taught me that KN95s are handy little things, and I will continue to use them in certain situations for the rest of my life.
posted by surferelf at 5:39 AM on September 14, 2022 [15 favorites]

an anxiety becomes a disorder if it impairs your ability to function and enjoy life. Ifyou can function and enjoy life you don’t have a disorder.
posted by chiquitita at 6:45 AM on September 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

Going to play devil's advocate a little and wonder about your behaviors outside of your actual mask-wearing. Did your maskless friend-visit or garden tour cause you serious anxiety before or afterward? Did you lose sleep over going to those events or afterward when you came home? If you are taking precautions you are comfortable with and still experiencing serious anxiety, you may have a slightly more pronounced issue. Whether it's a clinical phobia or just run of the mill anxiety, it might be worth examining how your feelings about mask-wearing impacts your overall ability to function.
posted by greta simone at 6:58 AM on September 14, 2022 [3 favorites]

You're cool, that's a normal level of masking for a cautious person of your age.

Is there anything else in your relationship with your son that has changed lately? Any other stresses?
posted by kingdead at 7:15 AM on September 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It seems like your son really thinks taking the full-time job offer is important, and that an unwarranted concern about covid is interfering. He asked you to discuss with your therapist- so why not do that? Very hard to answer this without knowing more about that job opportunity and why your son thinks it is so important.
posted by haptic_avenger at 7:18 AM on September 14, 2022 [5 favorites]

Everything is politicized these days, even doctors, but I've really appreciated Bob Wachter's frameworks for calibrating risk with COVID. It aligns closely to my own admittedly less-mathy approach. He's still masking indoors. Here's his last thread on how he decides whether to mask:

Bottom line, there's a good portion of us who are seeing this as an "easy sacrifice," not something we scared of.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 7:58 AM on September 14, 2022 [5 favorites]

Masking in crowded indoor environments is a hygiene behavior on par with washing your hands after using a public restroom. And while it is true that many people have weird grudges or discomfort with doing both, choosing to do them does not meet the clinical definition of mysophobia.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 8:02 AM on September 14, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I grew up with a parent with diagnosed OCD and fear of contagion.

As a child that meant: Being screamed that I was going to poison the family for washing dishes 'incorrectly'; being given a small bucket of bleach and being required to clean every door handle, sink tap, and toilet I touched while having the stomach flu at 8 years old; being required to stay in my room with the door shut in case I passed on bronchitis; missing multiple events because they might have germs or food that wasn't prepared properly; being yelled at for staying at a friend's house if they had germs -- basically being taught that becoming sick was my fault.

On the plus side I had all my vaccinations right on time, and I feel that I was uniquely prepared for a global pandemic. On the minus side I got Covid anyway, in part because I was unwilling to keep my 17 year old at home for the whole summer and allowed him to work in a public-facing job. don't sound -phobic to me.

I know loads of people over 65 who prefer to work part time to do other things OR because of health concerns that are not Covid-related. It's perfectly fine to consider all the factors in looking at jobs. Only you know whether this is a case of "you really should take the job because you really need a full time job/benefits/whatever and this is a serious barrier" or "I'm working for extra money and could be enticed to work more but only if it doesn't add additional stress to my life."

I'm a generally fit and healthy 51 year old who got Covid and is still experiencing some impacts, and waiting for cardiology to book a stress test and heart halter for afibs and tachycardia that I have as a result.

Masking up is a really good thing. I'm doing it in any groups where I don't know the participants or indoors and over just a couple of ppl because god, I don't want this thing again, or at least as few times in the next decade as possible and masking is to me a kind of no-brainer.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:21 AM on September 14, 2022 [17 favorites]

Nothing about your mask usage suggests any kind of phobia.

It appears that your son has been unduly influenced by anti-mask propaganda, and he is not going to be a reliable judge.

I'm 45, vaccinated, and I do pretty much the same exact things as you. I'm not mysophobic.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:36 AM on September 14, 2022 [6 favorites]

>While I think the analogy is sound, I just want to point out that wearing YOUR seatbelt cannot prevent someone else’s traffic death. Masking helps you and others.

Just wanted to add that seatbelts do help prevent the death of others. If you're in a car in a collision, a person without a seatbelt becomes potentially deadly debris bring thrown about the vehicle that might kill.
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:43 AM on September 14, 2022 [7 favorites]

Just chiming in that yes, working full time in an office will probably increase your risk of COVID. I just got it from my office, where everyone is required to have the original vaccine series but not boosters and where I often but not always wear a mask, and almost no one else wears one at all. We work in the office 2 days a week and it's the same 2 days for everyone.

Now, is that a reason to not take a job? Maybe, maybe not, depending how needed that job is. I'm certainly not quitting mine despite wishing we had better policies.
posted by misskaz at 11:12 AM on September 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

I haven't gotten it at my office--I'm not the only one masking, but most people are free faced and we're not allowed to request that anyone wear one around us any more--if that helps any. We are at least spaced out, not everyone is in at all times, and I can use a separate office to go mask-free in alone. At this point, though, virtually all jobs are going to have thrown the mask policies out the window and we're just going to have to deal on our own. Even I'm not 100% precaution taking any more, even though I should be and it bothers me that I'm letting things go on occasion like not wearing one while performing or in a car with someone.

It's your son's issue, not yours. You're protecting yourself, and the whole rage-against-the-masks thing is that we're reminding people that things aren't okay and back to normal any more. Hence this ridiculous accusation.

Also, you literally can't swim with a mask on! They can't get wet!
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:14 PM on September 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

Unfortunately, the mask-mocking is straight out of COVID-denial handbook.

What's the harm in wearing a mask when I don't need to? -- Practically none.

What's the harm in NOT wearing a mask? -- There's still a chance of catching COVID, now the BA.x variants.

We all have our own measure on whether we should mask or not. Don't let anyone else talk you out of it.
posted by kschang at 2:47 PM on September 14, 2022 [5 favorites]

I have a loved one with a clinically-diagnosed fear of germs that she has struggled with her whole life. For her, it looks like this:

If she sees a band-aid on the ground, she worries that it is infected with germs. If she steps near it or on it, there is a significant risk she'll have a panic attack, and even avoiding that she will be thinking obsessively about it for the rest of the day, to the point that she can't focus on anything else. Consequently, when she walks through the world, she's constantly vigilant of the ground, and often fails to see things above ground-level as a pedestrian. If there is a place where there was a band-aid on the ground, it remains unsafe for some undetermined amount of time even after the band-aid is gone. If you don't share her particular germ phobia, this may not sound like a daily problem, but the world is full of more band-aids on the ground than you could possibly imagine.

She can touch people to shake hands and such without much trouble (as long as she can wash her hands later), but if she realizes that the person has a cut on or near their hand, this can also trigger panic attacks, and will almost certainly trigger obsessive thoughts for the rest of the day.

Her home is invisibly divided into "indoor"/clean spaces and "outdoor"/contaminated spaces. When she comes home after being out for a day, she will avoid going into the "indoor" zones until she's showered. This includes, for example, certain chairs or even a side of the couch. A person or object of uncertain cleanliness that's come in from outside and enters an "indoor" space without being properly sanitized will cause her significant anxiety and obsessive thoughts. Going to an "outdoor" space within her home after showering isn't necessarily a big problem, but she prefers to avoid it if she can. Some "outdoor" chairs inside her home she'll sit on only if she's still "contaminated" from being outside, and won't sit on after she's showered.

This is only a subset of the behaviors that characterize her germ-phobia (or mysophobia as your son says). The key thing though is that this is significantly disruptive to her life on a daily basis. So if masking were part of her ritualized germ-avoidance behavior (it's not; she wears masks for covid but it's not been incorporated into her germ-phobia behaviors), she would be unable to participate in activities without masking, or if she was able to force herself to do them, she would have obsessive, intrusive thoughts worrying about getting sick as a result for hours or days afterwards.

I share this to give an example of what a clinically significant fear of germs looks like. Your behavior around masking doesn't sound anything like this to me. Perhaps there are other behaviors you are exhibiting that your son is referring to, but based only what you've described here, mysophobia, as a technical clinical diagnosis, seems very, very unlikely.
posted by biogeo at 3:35 PM on September 14, 2022 [10 favorites]

Nothing you describe doing sounds in the least unhealthy or obsessive. I pretty much do the same, as do the people i hang out with.

I know someone who has a very strong fear of germs. This person has hands raw from very frequent washing and use of desinfectant, will not ever use shared transport, wipes surfaces with desinfectant wipes constantly, goes no where without an FFP3 (one step up from FFP2), never has any food or drink outside their home. I would say that this behavior crosses the line to obsessive because it severely restricts their life.
You do not sound too cautious. But do talk to your therapist to explore how to best talk to your son, and not allow him to overreach into your life.
posted by 15L06 at 10:04 AM on September 15, 2022 [4 favorites]

Others have covered it in terms of assessing the situation. I want to talk about how you can respond to your son.

IMO you should try the Socratic approach: "What have you noticed about my social or emotional health that makes you concerned?" Ask in a nonjudgmental way, curious to hear his answer. Pad this question front and back with "Thank you for being concerned about me, it's wonderful that you care," etc.

If he does share legitimate observations that make him concerned for your social and emotional health, such as, "You have been missing all family events this year, and we are afraid you're becoming disconnected from your family, and Aunt X was offended that you refused her invitation, people are starting to get mad at you, I'm worried that you're pissing everyone off" ... or if he says, "When we were driving to get coffee the other day, you went had a full blown panic attack when you thought you had forgotten your mask. I am worried about your stress levels." --> that's when you might choose to listen to him and take it to your therapist.

If his observations sound like exaggerations or overreactions, like, "You nearly had a panic attack while we were driving to the coffee shop," but actually you didn't have a panic attack, and you were just frustrated you couldn't find your mask, then you can continue with the Socratic approach, like, "What made you think I was having a panic attack?" and when he inevitably provides weak answers, you can say, "Oh honey, it's sweet of you to worry about me, but I definitely didn't have a panic attack. When I have panic attacks my hands shake and my hearing goes wonky and I can't focus my eyes and I feel faint. None of that happened. I was just a little frustrated that day. Perfectly normal, I hate it when I forget things at home! Nothing to worry about."

Let's say he shares observations that are simply false, like, he might say, "When we were driving to get coffee the other day you had a panic attack when you thought you had forgotten your mask," but maybe that's not actually true! In that case you can correct him, saying, "No, doofus, I had a panic attack because you were driving like a maniac and you almost ran that red light. LOL."

If he responds with anything other than legitimate observations about your social and emotional health, like for instance if he says, "You're taking too many unnecessary precautions," or "It's overkill that you made your friends take a test before going indoors with them," etc. - notice how these statements are about HIS judgments about whether he thinks you're going too far? Not any kind of observation pertaining to your social or emotional health? That's when you ignore his words, do not argue with anything, and ask, again, "Have you noticed any of this affecting my social and emotional health in any way?" Keep bringing the conversation back to his observations of your social and emotional health. If he ain't got anything there, then you can say, "Honey, I'm sure it's very stressful for you when I do things my own way, but see? I'm fine, socially and emotionally and whateverally. You don't need to worry about me. I love you. Thank you for being concerned about me."
posted by MiraK at 10:26 AM on September 15, 2022 [7 favorites]

As other commenters above have pointed out, working in an office will increase your risk of Covid. But you may be able to mitigate that risk if the job is important to you. Wearing a well fitted n95 or higher mask, or even something like a Flomask, is very protective. You can ask about ventilation and air filtration in the office too.

My friend who works in an office wore an n95 all day every day for most of the pandemic. She recently got a small vitalight CO2 monitor which let her identify lower risk times and locations in the office and she takes her mask off more often now at work.
posted by congen at 4:42 PM on September 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

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