(Yes, I have used that title before, but I couldn’t think of another one for this blog).
“ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS WEAR A MASK! IT’S NOT A BIG ASK!” yelled the teacher. Perfect way to start the day.
The teachers say loads of things about the restrictions that make you want to rip your eyeballs out, like telling someone they’re risking lives by talking to their sibling, telling people off for going into the toilets in order to breathe freely, panicking because they accidentally touched a book a student touched and being too bothered screaming at the people hugging to deal with the riot going on behind them. Recently my friends were told off for laughing too loudly as “being loud spreads the virus”. But this comment was the worst by a long way.
Firstly, us having to wear masks isn’t “all we have to do”. Since this time last year, we’ve had to leave everything that mattered to us (friends, school, hobbies, not being seen as a germ) at once with no time to say goodbye, got it back in such a bad way we haven’t really got it back, had it taken again, been told it’s selfish to want anything back or even be upset, and now we can’t even breathe freely. Wearing masks all day would be a bigger ask than Boris Johnson’s belly, even if it was the first restriction we’d had to deal with.
People view masks as a fairly minor restriction, with minor impacts. That’s not true. After the second lockdown I went to a meeting with a youth club where we wore masks. No one spoke, everyone’s personality seemed somewhat blunted and it was just downright miserable. They sent us outside for a break, and instantly everyone’s character and happiness returned, so loudly that everyone passing us stared. But the second we went in and put the masks on, everyone disappeared behind them again. This doesn’t sound that bad, but you have to factor in everything else: we were grumpy, miserable, dreading school tomorrow and exhausted by all the sadness, anger and watching our friends going to pieces, so that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.
Molly Kingsley described the news about masks in schools as a “body blow” and that couldn’t be more accurate. It literally felt like a physical blow and, despite having heard non-stop bad news all year, it was the first time I actually had to recover from the shock, sadness and anger. Not because of the news itself, but because I was up to my limit with being treated like a virus and it came immediately after the good news that school was re-opening. Literally everyone my age I’ve asked about the masks feels the same as me- they were looking forward to going back to school until they heard about masks. The only reason we wanted to go back at all was the social element. And, proven by what I said about the youth group, masks totally remove that.
One example of this is the about the only lesson that’s actually been fun this year- maths. I absolutely hate maths as a subject, but I love the lesson mainly because I sit with three friends and we always have hilarious conversations and end up cackling away like that man on Aled’s ipad. It always cheered me up when I had a bad day with all the restrictions. We had our first maths lesson on the first day back, and we all laughed until we couldn’t breathe, which doesn’t go well with masks. Once my friends finished suffocating and gasping like fish they didn’t want to laugh anymore. So in our next maths lesson we spoke about problems with depression and anxiety instead, which just put us all in a gloomy mood for the rest of the day.
We’re all nearly always in a gloomy mood now, not just because of not being allowed to breathe for seven hours, but the way people are acting about it. And, yes, by people I mean teachers. The message they constantly give us is that this restriction is our fault. It’s nothing to do with the teaching union doing that usual thing of chucking all the toys out of the pram because their teachers had to work just before the announcement. Or all the people without kids who don’t want us to go back because they haven’t had a small human driving them up the wall at all hours. Or even those people who have literally got lockdown Stockholm syndrome. No, this restriction is in place because we were very naughty before, spreading our germs all over the place, and this is our punishment. Not all teachers are like this (some don’t even wear their own masks), but there’s enough to make us all furious and miserable until the school just feels like a prison again.
In a weird way, that teacher who said it wasn’t a big ask was right. It’s not big- it’s enormous. Enormous doesn’t even do it justice. And it’s not an ask- it’s an order. Why should it be?
We’ve had enough now. This has gone on for too long. We shouldn’t have to spend every day being treated like we’ve murdered someone if we breathe freely, talk to a friend in another bubble who you’ve hardly seen since March, hug someone even if they’re upset, meet someone, or are in any way against the restrictions. We shouldn’t have to be surprised when we find ourselves being happy at school. We shouldn’t have to have our mental health destroyed. We shouldn’t have to watch our friends going to pieces over the restrictions when there’s practically nothing we can do. We shouldn’t be hated for the fact we can transmit disease. We shouldn’t always be treated like criminals who’ve done something wrong because we breathe. We shouldn’t have to be labelled selfish for wanting to live.
About a year ago I sent this text. We’ve literally had a solid year of people hating us for breathing, being treated like germs and not humans and people being outraged even at the thought of us receiving our lives back. We’ve got a vaccine. There’s less cases now. The majority of people who were at risk of death aren’t anymore. Don’t you think it’s time for the new normal to become the old normal now?