• “Face covering” is a term many communities use to hide their symptoms in order to fit in.
  • While working from home, many sick and disabled workers quit their jobs to hide their illness from others.
  • But as offices reopen, many people have gone back to wearing masks – and the pain it brings.

When community college professor Cathy Crea works from home, she turns off the lights and relies on natural light, keeps her space quiet and fragrance-free, and wears a headache hat to keep her cool. The rock to the head was pounding. When Crea worked on campus, she couldn’t control anything – and her migraines were noticed, too.

Although the COVID-19 Delta variant raged across the country this summer, hospitals are turning away patients due to a lack of capacity and 2,000 Americans are dying daily from the virus, many offices and workplaces. is reopening and asking employees to return to their desks. For workers with chronic illnesses and disabilities, the push to return to the office is even more acute: When working from home, they don’t get as sick as they felt that day – close the blinds, work in bed, keeping hot compresses on their abdomens. But when they get back to the office, they’re back to an old routine: wearing masks.

Face covering, a popular concept in the autism community, is a term used to describe the heavy duty that people with chronic illnesses and disabilities must perform to conceal their symptoms and concerns. their pain to pretend healthy in front of people with bodies.

Crea spent much of the pandemic working from home before returning to campus a month ago. When a migraine hit while lecturing, she held her ground despite the accompanying dizziness by clutching the lectern.

In those moments, she says her “teacher brain” will take over and she automatically moves on, working through the pain and hiding until she can be alone. After school, she goes back to her office, where she can control her environment and take off her chronic illness mask. She sifts through her migraine kit, chooses which abortion pills to take, and puts an ice pack on her aching head. She turned off the overhead lights and sat on a chair away from the window so no one could see her as she waited for the pain to subside. But when in the classroom, she hides her illness.

“I told one of my classes this semester that I have a migraine but I try to get over it and fake it,” says Cathy. “And one of my students exclaimed, ‘However, you shouldn’t do that.’ He’s absolutely right.”

When it’s time to go back to class, she throws away the ice pack and heads back to her fluorescent-lit classroom. Crea told Insider the masking came naturally to her: Sometimes, she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it until she gets home and sinks into the pain that awaits her.

“I’ll crash at the end of the day,” Crea said. “This weekend, I’ve had a day and a half of inactivity. I don’t have the energy to do anything more strenuous than turning the pages of a book.”

For a therapist with endometriosis and chronic pain who spoke to Insider, the ability to work from home during a pandemic is a welcome fit for the reality of living with a single patient. chronic illness.

While at home, she can use everything she needs in the event of an outbreak: loose clothing, a heating pad, a bathtub, and medication. She rests between sessions without fear of appearing unprofessional or incompetent. Now, back in the office, she says wearing the mask would add another layer of pain to her chronic illness.

She said: ‘I am having to consider simply working from home from home because it does all that to my body and I feel so embarrassed about it.

There’s also a sense of shame about wearing a mask: If she puts on a mask well, people might not believe that she’s really sick; if she doesn’t cover up well, people can downplay her pain.

“It’s all complicated,” she said. “I took emotional and mental exhaustion then went to a whole new level.”

Toblin, who has ADHD and autism, is a cybercrime investigator. He chose a pseudonym because of the sensitive nature of his work. He told Insider that putting on a mask at work takes so much mental and physical energy that he’s too exhausted when he gets home to handle household chores like washing dishes or cleaning the apartment. mine.

People who are mentally or physically atypical, he said, don’t understand the sheer effort it takes to put on a mask well enough to appear to function properly. When he finally got home and was able to pull down his mask, there was no energy left for anything else.

“I must be a neurotic, living in a typically neurotic society and by neurotic standards,” says Toblin. “It takes a great deal of physical and mental energy.”

Being chronically ill or disabled is an ongoing effort to balance a range of complex and intertwined factors to manage your symptoms. Did you sleep enough or too much? Did you eat the right food at the right time? Have you taken your preventive medicine too often this month? Does your health insurance even cover your medications? Do you have enough energy to make it work today? How can you explain that yes, you get sick again, because chronic illness means you will always get sick in some capacity? How do you manage everything life demands on top of managing your flimsy body?

On top of these ever-present demands is the pressure to hide – to show that the body is capable of healing and neuropathy, to keep your illness away from those who don’t have to live with it.

For a time, when working from home, workers with chronic illnesses and disabilities had to take off their masks and stay in their bodies in the most comfortable ways they could. But as offices reopen, workers are changing their masks and forcing their bodies into environments not meant for them.

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