Header image for the article Mask on, mask off Credit: FSU PUBLICATIONS AND COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT

THE ENTIRE PLANET IS ON ITS LAST RAW NERVE.

My nine-year-old niece summed it up nicely—muttering under her breath while playing on an iPad, she said, “Everything is breaking news.” Out of the mouth of babes, right?

I’m reminded of the Billy Joel hit song We Didn’t Start the Fire. Maybe he wrote the lyric, “It was always burning, since the world was turning,” because the last few years have seemed like a rapid fire of breaking news headlines surging through our veins, slowly altering our perception of reality (whatever that is).

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We’ve seen it all: Omicron and Delta variants, BA.2, Trump and Biden, COVID mandates, fake elections, food shortages, trucker convoys, fuel prices, online businesses, Amazon, Zoom conferences, Betty White, frozen bank accounts, storming the White House.

If we took the nation’s collective temperature post-COVID, the thermometre would implode. Every time we’ve come up for air (what’s left of it) we are pushed back under the water, which happens to be rising at an alarming rate. If you can’t find me, I’ll be the one rocking in the corner trying to swallow her own tongue.

I’m tired. I hate, and I mean hate, that I feel weird without my mask. I don’t wear it, except on the bus, or a hospital, at college, in very crowded environments. I look around to see if I am the only one brave enough to go face-naked in Starbucks.

“What’s your mask policy?” I inquire in every establishment I enter.

Honestly, I don’t think I’m satisfied with any response I get. Let’s just say I am a little cranky. I make light of it because its weighs heavy on me, but I feel fragile and exposed most of the time. My coping mechanism has always been to crack an ill-timed joke. If I took in all the “breaking news” it would actually break me. I would melt and fade away like dust in the wind. Did you read that last sentence? I’m screwed up. But I have a therapist and speak to her regularly or my light heart would be broken, and I would wobble. I seek help a lot so I can maintain my sassy, sarcastic but loveable self. Because at the end of the day we must keep going. Perhaps Billy was right? We didn’t start the fire! It was always burning. And the world will keep turning. So how do we all get through the ride on this swirling burning planet in one piece? My mental health is what I prioritize, and I seek it from a professional because that space is occupied by just me and my needs.

What I truly take solace in is that this mass trauma we are all affected with means we are all in it together. Sometimes, while all this chaos is seeping through the cracks in our foundations, our day-to-day experience still looks vaguely the same, but somehow has been reframed to be a threatening physical space. So, we must find a safe space to unravel a bit, unpack some toxic, worst-case-scenario thoughts. We all carry them around with us.

Group gatherings have been demonized for so long that we now have to cautiously introduce this back into are culture. It’s scary, but there is light in us. I look on social media and see that people are still hitting that laugh button or the heart button and even my favourite, the hug button. Rarely do I see the angry face. Perhaps it’s just the way I see it, just my reality. Quentin Tarantino said that if a million people all watched the same one of his films, they would see a million different movies. It got me thinking. Are there a million different realities? Do we actually hold the key to our own private reality?

I guess what I am trying to say is, amidst the chaotic noisy world with bombs exploding all around the world, including inside of us, that there is still light. Even a forest fire can be started with the tiniest of sparks. It has power. So, spark up and spark off, get lit up. It’s your duty to shine. Take care of yourself and each other as someone once said. Mask on or mask off, we have to keep going.