Sunday, August 9, 2020

When masks cause harm: Burlington sexual assault survivor shares her story

From The Journal

Adam Rogan

Adrianne Melby, a lifelong Burlington resident, is a survivor of sexual assault. She shared her story with The Journal Times, and explained why she and other survivors are unable to wear masks during the pandemic.

Editor’s note: This story discusses sexual assault and PTSD and may not be suitable for all readers.
BURLINGTON — When facing confrontation, most people assume their first response will be either fight or flight. For some, particularly those who are survivors of sexual assault like Adrianne Melby, the response is to freeze.
Melby, a Burlington-native mother of five, has been freezing more lately.
Like many other survivors of trauma, she doesn’t wear a mask. “If I even try and put a mask on, I feel like I’m going to hyperventilate.”
That can be common for those who have experienced trauma, specifically sexual trauma.
“Everyone reacts differently to trauma. People have different triggers,” said Samantha Sustachek, program director at Sexual Assault Services of Racine County. “For some survivors, they don’t have an issue with masks … for others, it is a trigger.”
But worse than that, Melby’s freeze response kicks in when she sees others in masks. Unable to read concealed facial expressions and seeing men whose identities are unknown, panic sets in.
A common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is hypervigilance — a feeling of being constantly “on guard,” especially when in the presence of strangers. Even when there isn’t a pandemic, when Melby checks out at the grocery store, she makes sure to stand in front of her cart, a guaranteed barrier between herself and others.

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