There are certain things in my past that I would prefer never to talk or write about. The strange thing is that victims of abuse carry very deep shame about the abuse that happened to them. That’s why few people talk about this aspect of things—and why I’ve gone back and forth about saying anything myself. I finally decided that I have to. There are plenty of people sitting in the same spot I am now, and many of them have stories that are far, far worse than mine. If sharing this small piece of my own story will make people consider this aspect of the issue at hand, then it will have been worth the embarrassment of sharing it.

I was abused growing up. One of the things that was done to me was having my mouth duct taped shut. I was told that I was not allowed to remove the duct tape until told otherwise. I have a vivid memory of sitting in a room that was dark—save for the light of the TV—cheeks burning with shame and utterly hating that duct tape covering my mouth.

Several years later, I was helping relatives remove old plaster from the walls in their home. I coughed up plaster yuck for the next couple of days because when I tried to wear the dust mask they gave me I just couldn’t handle it. I said that it was because my glasses kept fogging up. Of course, that’s wasn’t the real reason, but there was no way I was going to admit to the real why behind it.

I never dreamed this would become an issue. I just figured I’d go through life eschewing dust masks and winter gear that included any sort of face covering. Why would it ever need to come up? I could avoid the panic attacks simply by avoiding wearing masks. I certainly never anticipated something like a face covering mandate—not here.

A panic attack may not sound like a big deal. You may think that someone like me should just suck it up and deal. Panic attacks can be intense. My worst experience involved parking my car in the driveway and then wondering how I got there because the last thing I recalled was having a panic attack as I was walking out of the grocery store. Even years later, I still have no memory of loading the groceries into the car and then driving 20-something minutes to my home. Milder effects include—but are not limited to—sleep disruptions, nightmares, inability to focus, difficulty completing minor tasks, and physical health problems. Trauma-related panic attacks aren’t just a small case of nerves. They cause very real damage to both mental and physical health.

I’ve spent the better part of a year staying at home, save for necessary trips to the grocery store. I’ve been lucky in that no one has made an issue of me walking into the grocery store mask-less, but that seems to be changing. Where that leaves me… I’m not certain. I’m not willing to go back to the kind of panic attacks that make my hands start shaking as soon as I leave my house. I’m not willing to go back to never knowing when one will overwhelm me to the point that I can’t even recall driving home. Getting to the place where I’m at today has been a hard-won battle, and I won’t purposely do something that makes me take steps backwards.

Before you condemn me as being selfish, please take some time to read the research on the issue of masks and whether or not they actually provide a significant benefit. A good place to begin is this piece put together by a doctor who has experience as a researcher and medical journal editor in addition to his work as an MD. He includes many links to research and papers from a wide variety of sources. It does take quite a bit of time to read through everything, including all of the links, but it’s well worth reading papers and research from medical professionals who hold a different point of view than what appears on the news.

It’s been the better part of a year at this point. If we’re to continue with new lockdowns, shutdowns, and mask mandates for the foreseeable future, we need to also consider the harm these measures cause. These are not benign mandates that are merely an inconvenience in every case. If you’re one of the lucky people to whom these really are nothing more than an inconvenience, then I am glad you and your family are in a good situation during what is a complicated and stressful time. Please do not assume that everyone else is. For people with a history of trauma, those living in an unsafe home environment, people struggling with mental health issues, and those who were already on the edge of poverty before this began, these measures are much more than an inconvenience—they are harmful in terrible ways. Our society may indeed decide that the harm caused to these individuals is justified, but we owe it to the people being harmed to at least acknowledge that we are choosing to do these things with a full understanding and acceptance of the cost.