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Masking, Not Masking, & Being Gentle

As some of you may know, I’m currently in New Zealand. Heading home used to be…

As some of you may know, I’m currently in New Zealand. Heading home used to be a fairly regular occurrence for me, but, Things (capital T definitely required) being as they are, I haven’t been back since late 2019. And while mid-global-pandemic was not the time I would necessarily have chosen to travel, sometimes we just need to go home, and I was lucky enough to be able to.

I did, of course, have to spend two weeks in a quarantine hotel, which was a strange and surreal experience. Arriving at a Rotorua hotel with jet lag and being greeted by the army was … unusual. And that was even before I emerged into the fenced off area of car park that formed the exercise yard, squinting at the sun (you have to wait until after your first COVID test before you can go out, so I basically hadn’t been outside for five days, what with the travelling time). Not only was this guarded by a security booth where you signed in and out, and watched over by really rather large army guys, there was also a Buddhist monk hanging out in the smokers’ area. Meanwhile, a half dozen other people walked solemnly around and around in a clockwise direction, for the most part alone, all following the arrows spray-painted on the ground while the sulphur smell of the thermal pools hung over everything. For the first two days I wasn’t entirely sure I was actually awake. Or actually in NZ, for that matter. 

COVID, masks, unmasking, self-care, mental health, lockdown, restrictions

Home for two weeks – room to work and work out, so no complaints!

So all of that was strange. Being stuck in a hotel room, in a city I hadn’t even flown into (all the Auckland quarantine hotels were full, so we were bussed three hours south to Rotorua), with the only people I saw being the nurses doing the daily health checks or the people on their circuits of the exercise yard. Having mysterious meals delivered three times a day while still waking to the rhythms of a different time zone, and just being in such a strange suspension of any sort of normal life.

But, honestly? The strangest part was leaving.

Everything up till that point had been so tightly controlled, and leaving the hotel was a three step process, involving the hotel staff, the medical team, and the army. Then, with careful distancing, we were allowed one by one onto the bus and driven back to Auckland airport. I imagined there’d be more steps to follow once we got there, before we were allowed out into the world. 

COVID, masks, unmasking, self-care, mental health, lockdown, restrictions

I mean, it wasn’t an awful exercise yard, was it?

What actually happened was the bus pulled up at the terminal doors, our bags were unceremoniously dumped out, and suddenly I was standing in the sunshine of a rather lovely kiwi autumn day as the bus pulled away again, the only one still wearing a mask, staring around and wondering, what now? What do I do? What am I allowed to do? Can someone tell me? 

Because it’s been so long, hasn’t it? So long thinking about masks, and distancing, and hand sanitising, and always weighing at the back of my mind, how much do I really need to go to the supermarket? How busy will it be? Is it worth the risk? And here I was standing in normal life. No one wearing masks. People sitting in cafes inside the terminal, leaning toward each other, hugging, touching. Brushing past strangers. Just … life. 

I almost kept my mask on because I couldn’t stop grinning.

But it’s a little weird, too. A little unnerving. I thought it would be more so, but I suppose we slip back to old ways easily. I’ve not had to deal with crowds yet, but as they made me uneasy before I’m pretty sure they’re going to make me very nervous now. I still try to create as much space as possible when I run past someone, which has earned me some weird looks. And I used all of the hand soap in the house in the first couple of days. 

COVID, masks, unmasking, self-care, mental health, lockdown, restrictions

Current home. Well, on a run from current home.

And, you know what? I don’t find any of these bad things. And I don’t intend to throw my masks away and never see them again once this is over. It seems to me that there might be worse things that wearing a mask on flights – such as catching a cold from that one person two rows back who’s always coughing. I wouldn’t mind wearing a mask when I had a cold myself, just generally. It seems less strange now, and more sensible. 

I don’t think there’s any rush to throw away the things we’ve learned over this strange, stretched year and a bit. I don’t think there’s any rush to go back to the way things were. I think there are many things we’ll be glad to see the last of, but I also think there may be others we want or need to hang onto, whether it’s just until we feel comfortable letting them go, or whether they’re new habits we’ll wear out of lockdown like trophies. 

Perhaps you can’t wait to burn your masks in a celebratory bonfire, and if that’s what you need to put this time behind you, to feel free and healed, and it’s safe for you and those around you to do so, then yes. Do it. Add the leggings and scruffy T-shirt that were your at-home uniform while you’re at it, and don’t forget some marshmallows to toast triumphantly over the embers. Hug everyone (if they’re agreeable, obviously). Eat indoors when it’s allowed, go to pubs, drink fancy coffee in crowded cafes, go back to the gym and the shops and just everywhere. Do what brings you joy again.

COVID, masks, unmasking, self-care, mental health, lockdown, restrictions

Misty mornings and sunny days. Well, and some rain, but yeah. Autumn.

But, equally, if that just feels like too much right now – or maybe always – don’t. Keep the masks. Wear them when you need to, be that in crowds or at the supermarket or just generally. Hold your distance, respect your space. Respect what makes you feel safe. You do not need to go back to things as they were. Not until you feel ready. Even if you never feel ready. Not all of us lived the same way through this. Not all of us are ready to come out of it in the same way. Be gentle with those who aren’t ready. Be gentle with yourself. 

Re-emerging is going to be a strange and complicated time, lovely people. Joyful, but stressful, too. And while it’s almost certainly going to take longer than we expect (and is unlikely to be straightforward), it may also feel too quick for some of us. So keep on being gentle, lovely people. Be careful with your needs and those of others. 

I shall be over here with my mask still handy. Just in case.

COVID, masks, unmasking, self-care, mental health, lockdown, restrictions

Besides, I love this mask.

Now over to you, lovely people – are you in a rush to burn your masks? Or taking more of a slow approach to things? Do you think you might keep using masks if you have a cold, or if things are crowded in the future? Let me know below!

covid, covid-19, health, lockdown, masks, mental health, restrictions, self care

  1. Jingizu says:

    We are taking things slow, especially with a third wave about to hit SA. We are still required to wear masks anyway, so we’re still social distancing, sanitising, etc.

    I am in no hurry to burn my masks, lol! Actually think it a good idea in general. The Asian countries were/are definitely on to a good thing IMO. Less general flu, less colds, less anything infectious really.

    It is a pain in a hot SA summer though! Luckily autumn is here…

  2. Mike says:

    Knowing me, I’ll just about have got used to wearing a mask every time I go shopping when we no longer have to. As for whether I’ll keep wearing mine, I suspect not because I’m not all that ken on sticking out.

    1. Kim Watt says:

      We got halfway to town the other day and I suddenly had the “oh no, I forgot my mask!” moment. It does become second nature, even if I really went out very little during all this. And I know what you mean about not wanting to stand out. I do feel they’re a good way to stop spreading colds, though, so I’m hoping I feel comfortable enough to keep wearing mine if I am poorly. It makes so much sense.

      1. Mike Harvey says:

        I virtually always make sure I’ve got mine in my pocket (there’s only been one time so far that I’ve forgotten) but I have a habit of forgetting to put it on before I get in the store. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve only noticed I’ve not got it on when I see someone else wearing one.

        1. Christine Kelly says:

          I always carry a mask and a pair of surgical gloves in a sealed bag in my handbag! Before I go shopping, I put the mask on and pull it down under my chin putting it fully on when I enter the shop!

          1. Kim Watt says:

            Gloves were something I never got into – I just go through buckets of hand sanitiser and soap! The gloves would be much kinder on the hands, I imagine.

          2. Christine Kelly says:

            I know what you mean Kim. But I find the hand sanitizers dry out the skin on my hands! We use hand sanitizer at my church, and it does the same! I very got a good handcream, and use it regularly!
            Kind regards from
            Chris and Boris (currently asleep and snoring loudly again)!

          3. Kim Watt says:

            It sounds like Boris is doing his feline duties perfectly! 😉

        2. Kim Watt says:

          I’ve always got them with me in the UK, too, and I haven’t forgotten to put it on for ages. So it was so weird to suddenly be without one!

  3. Christine Kelly says:

    Fortunately, my masks are all washable, but I will be keeping them. They don’t take up that much space, and store easily! Haven’t found d a mask to fit our cat Boris, but he is an indoor cat. He only goes into the back garden to make the birds laugh when he tries to catch them! He’s not the greatest hunter, but he’s our beautiful fur baby and much loved family member! Don’t have a dragon, not one that I can see anyway! But if they’re like Mortimer and the others, wouldn’t mind having one! Love the books by the way!
    Kind regards
    Chris Kelly

    1. Kim Watt says:

      I love my washable masks! As well as the one above, I have another cat print one that’s just really sure – I found a lady who makes them fairly locally on Etsy, so I was very happy to support her. And cats … yeah. I can’t even get the Little Furry Muse to wear a collar. I think I might lose limbs if I tried to put a mask on her!

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the books – that’s wonderful to hear! I’m working on the next Beaufort at the moment, so there will be more dragons in your life shortly 🙂 In the meantime, happy reading and scritches to the lovely Boris!

  4. Thank you. Just, thank you. (And considering the U.S. CDC’s bewildering new mask advice, I sent all my friends and family a cute graphic yesterday with the legend, “You can have my mask when you pry it off my cold, dead face.” !!

    1. Kim Watt says:

      I’m so glad this resonated with you! I really do believe that masks are a practical, easy way to help keep us all safe, and we’re still a fair way from out of the woods yet. If we feel like wearing them even as rules change, we should be free to do so without feeling weird or uncomfortable. It’s pretty standard practise in a lot of Asian countries who’ve had more experience with these sort of health threats, too. Do what you need to do to stay safe and feel comfortable ❤️

  5. Bonnie Smith says:

    Wow, I just discovered your books, and they are so much fun! Thanks for sharing your “mask” and quarantine experiences. I think that we will know the pandemic is over when we go to “garage/yard” sales here in the States and find hundreds of masks in the discard sales. Like you, I may keep mine to use when I’m in large crowds, on a plane, or have a cold, or just because.–especially the disposable ones. They are a part of me now. Anyway, thanks for your lovely and fun books. Blessings and enjoy your time at home.

    Bonnie Smith
    Marysville, Washington, USA

    1. Kim Watt says:

      Thanks for your lovely comment, Bonnie! I’m so glad you’re enjoying the books. That’s wonderful to hear! And yes, I can see there being packets and packets of unused masks turning up everywhere once all this is over. I do love my washable masks, so I’ll be hanging onto those – I do find a certain amount of security in having them handy, and for flights or in flu season I’d like to think I’ll still wear them. It seems very practical! Look after yourself ansd stay safe ❤️

  6. Beckett Gregory-Chifos says:

    Am I doing something wrong? I love to read the comments and your replies, but I can see only to the first page of comments on the blog itself. When I get an email notifying me of a new comment, and I press “Continue Reading”, ditto. I feel pretty stupid since I use WordPress for my own blog, but this is defeating my 67-year-old, technologically deficient brain!

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