In which I require psychiatric help

I am going to be continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future. New Covid cases in Indiana and in my county have skyrocketed since our school board made the decision to return to school, (scroll down and select the state) and I don’t actually expect the kids to be back for very long, but I am going to keep teaching from my house, and I’m currently working out exactly how that’s going to work with my various and sundry co-workers who are affected by this decision.

Now, this is not the reason that I’m working from home, but as this whole thing drags on it’s becoming more and more of a problem: masks give me panic attacks, and nothing I’ve been able to do has been able to fix that. Furthermore, none of the masks I’ve found have really made much of a difference, although some are better in some ways than others. Now, to be completely clear: this absolutely does not affect whether I wear a mask in public! I’m just fucking freaking out while I’m doing it. If I’m outside my house and not in the car, I’m wearing a mask, and I’ve noticed that if I’m talking to people it’s generally not bad, so it might be that an eight-hour day where I’m constantly talking to students might not be as bad as I think it is. But I had to go into my building twice today (don’t ask) and I discovered a new wrinkle to this whole thing: even the mildest physical activity makes it a lot worse. Like, say, climbing stairs to get to my classroom. Both times I went upstairs today– a single flight, mind you– I was damn near ready to claw my face off by the time I got to my classroom. I start focusing on my breathing, which leads to heavier breathing, which quickly turns into a really nasty spiral that I don’t like at all.

This is not a call for excuses to avoid wearing masks (and, for the record, my issues with them date to well before Covid-19 was an issue,) it’s a call for strategies for dealing with panic attacks. I’m already on Effexor for anxiety issues, which I continue to think is a lifesaver, but I’m not going to up my dose just because of mask issues, and I’m not convinced that would help anyway. I need, like, concrete strategies for how to trick my brain out of falling into a panic spiral every time I start thinking about my breathing. Because one way or another this is going to keep being a thing for a while, and I need a way to deal with it. Anybody have any suggestions?

It is too early in the morning for this shit

It is 9:09 in the morning, I have been up for approximately 39 minutes, and I have not had my coffee yet. I had a dream last night where I won tickets to a Phil Collins concert, was late to the concert, showing up only after the entire first set had finished, and then realized that not only was I the only person at the entire show wearing a mask but that somebody from high school who I never want to see again was sitting right in front of me.

Since waking up, I have checked my email, to find a message from the guy who is supposed to be my new partner teacher this year. He has sent me a couple of emails over the last week or two. I did not respond to the first one, and just replied to the second last night saying that I had basically been ignoring my work email (true) and that I would be in the building sometime this week to move my stuff between classrooms and that if he wanted to get together I’d let him know when I would be in.

I received a response this morning. He will not be in this week, because he is driving with his daughter to South Carolina to attend a wedding. South Carolina is currently in worse shape than Indiana is, and I suspect anyone dumb enough to be holding a wedding right now is also dumb enough that there will be no masking and/or social distancing involved.

This motherfucker doesn’t get to come near me for two weeks after he gets home. Sorry! Except not.

I’m done for the day now, I think.

Sunday miscellany

This has potential to be a really, really important week, both for reasons that are obvious and I can talk about and at least one or two that aren’t. I’m kind of in a place where I want to just put my head down and sleep through it and find out a week from now what happened.

The school board is meeting tomorrow, and supposedly they are going to vote to let us know what the plan is for the next few weeks, which is good, because school starts on the 12th. I will probably head into work at least once this week, if for no better reason than to move my stuff into my new classroom, in a pile in a corner if nothing else. I am not going to put any effort into decorating my classroom this year, simply because I don’t expect to be in my classroom this year. My district’s plan has gone from “we’re back in person, but parents can opt their kids out, and we’ll find teachers for those kids” to “we are going to be virtual for two weeks to get kids used to the rules about masks” to a document that I was emailed by my principal today that at one point uses the word if to describe returning to school in-person. I am fully expecting to find out that we are virtual for the first nine weeks, I am predicting we will not return to school at all in 2020, and while I’m not willing to make it an official prediction yet I would not be surprised at all if we don’t return at all during this school year, because none of this is fixable with the current administration in office, and it’ll be February at least before President Biden (and Vice-President Harris, crossing my fingers) are able to start solving problems. But one way or another I ought to actually know something in about 24 hours (maybe 26) and at that point I can sort of maybe pretend to start planning.

To that end, I went to Guitar Center today, because I want to put my desk microphone on a boom arm so that I can keep it out of my way when I’m not recording and it’s more functional when I am, and while they didn’t have what I was looking for I was really happy to note that they are actually taking the pandemic seriously– the front door was opened for me by a guy with a mask and gloves on, and another thanked me for wearing my mask and explained that I needed to keep it on and my nose covered while I was in the store. Not a single employee had their damn mask on under their nose while I was in there, either.

Which: for fuck’s sake, people. I had to make a Target run afterwards too and by the end of it I was halfway to being a goddamned axe murderer. You motherfuckers have been told how to wear these goddamn things and you have been told why to wear these goddamn things. I am tired of stupid people.

Anyway, I came home and ordered a boom arm, because I can’t find one in a store and I’m not about to do what I might have done a year ago and check more than one place before having someone bring me shit. I wish there had been something else I wanted to spend money on at Guitar Center, but as a non-guitar person there just aren’t a lot of options.

(Okay, I took a look at a $1000 “podcaster recording bundle,” but I’ll never have a podcast because I’ll never have a good idea for one.)

Let’s see, what else? Eyes are getting better. Dropping the nighttime gel drops was a good idea. I’m noticing them a lot less often, which I think is supposed to be the point, right? Let’s go with yes.

I feel like I had more, but it’s fallen out of my brain. Maybe I’ll update if I remember something important.

In which I review a mask

I think I have a new favorite mask. I suspect I’m not the only person out there who has been through a whole bunch of different specific masks and styles of masks without finding one that would work well for long-term use, and I just got this one that I ordered through Etsy and I think it may be the big winner. What sets it apart is the size; it’s made specifically for men with large beards, so unlike every mask I’ve tried it actually fits completely under my chin and doesn’t get in my mouth. There’s a pouch in there for a filter if I want to put one in (mental note: figure out how to get mask filters? And whether I need them?) and even without the filter it passes the blow test. There’s also a nose wire that seems to work better than the wires in standard surgical masks, which I never was able to position so as to keep my glasses from fogging up.

I spent a few minutes in front of the mirror just sort of talking as if I was addressing a classroom and it never got in my mouth, and it doesn’t put pressure on my ears– the top band wraps around my head and the bottom one goes around the back of my neck. I’m a little concerned about how it sort of pooches away from my face along my jawline, but that’s at a weird enough angle to the rest of the world that I have some trouble imagining danger droplets getting in that way. The only other concern I can think of is that, as you can tell, the elastic is a little bit on the thin side, so that may be a problem in the long-term. For now it doesn’t feel like it’s going to snap on me, and the drawstring in the back means that it’s not pulling super hard anyway.

All that said, I’m going to give this one a week and if I’m still happy with it at the end of the week I’m going to order a few more. This definitely passes the initial quality test, though.

In which I go out in public

I had what I had been told was an appointment for “measurements” for my LASIK surgery this afternoon, and it turned out to be a full-blown eye appointment in addition to the supplementary measurements, so this is what I looked like when I left the place– fully masked up, glasses fogged to hell, and my special wraparound plastic shades that made it possible to make it back home again. It’s about five hours later now and I’ve only just gotten to the point where I can see well enough to be able to read what I type; that said, I’m not as likely to notice typos as usual so don’t hold them against me, please.

The informed consent paperwork for this surgery is a trip, y’all. I’m only slightly exaggerating when I tell you that it declares that 1) the surgery will not work, 2) that it will also stop being effective in a couple of weeks, 3) that I will lose my vision altogether, and that also 4) I may lose both eyes and 5) it is entirely possible that the laser gun doing my actual surgery will explode during the procedure, immediately after it loses power due to a localized outage and a meteor strikes the building. It is the most comprehensive informed consent form I have ever signed, and I’m a little surprised that I’m still doing this after having every single thing that could possibly go wrong explained so clearly to me. I think I can still sue if the surgeon literally gouges my eyes out with a spoon, but I think forks are in the fine print somewhere.

That said, I got a nice drawstring bag and a t-shirt out of the deal, and the t-shirt is not only made from nice thick fabric but it looks like it’s going to fit comfortably, which is rarely the case from free t-shirts. I am trying to decide if actually wearing it to my surgery is the equivalent of showing up to a concert in a shirt from the band you’re seeing. I think probably it is.

In other news, let’s talk masks. I wasn’t aware that I was looking at a potentially two-hour visit when I walked in; I was expecting maybe half an hour of pushing my face into various devices and then to be done. The good news is I managed to make it through the entire two hours without a panic attack becoming a serious concern– which I would not have wagered was a thing I could do going into the appointment. Now, my glasses are a big part of what triggers the problem, and I didn’t have them on for most of the appointment, so that’s probably part of it.

That mask up there is my “best” mask. I got it for $12 at a medical supply place, and I’m considering heading back for a couple more so I can rotate through them. It’s treated with something antibacterial, supposedly; it looks okay, and it fits better than several others I’ve tried. But it folds in the middle and gets in my mouth when I talk– you can see the crease in the picture– and my beard constantly pushes the bottom of it up, so I’m always tugging it back down. As you can see, it folds up as well.

I’m considering doing some surgery on the thing with a paperclip or piece of wire to see if I can give that center vertical seam some more rigidity and structure so that it pushes out from my mouth more reliably, but it’s probably worth asking: does anyone have any particular kind of mask they want to recommend? I don’t want one of the kinds with a vent on them because they don’t work as well, and something washable is great, too. An N95 would do the job just fine but we are apparently still having a PPE shortage so I don’t want to use those, plus they’re not reusable. Something vaguely in the department of that one in terms of looks would be a good thing, too. I’ll need to wear it at work, so solid black is probably my best choice.

(It is also possible that I may need to give up on the idea of not having a close-cropped beard while we are on Mask Planet. I am not happy about that idea, but it may become necessary.)

Any suggestions?