"This happens to be the one trigger for me," said the North Carolina mother of four.
The masks bring her back to the trauma of her childhood when she was molested by an adult. The Wake County mother said the face coverings unearth those same feelings of being restricted; someone covering her mouth; she says masks send her into a panic attack.
"Putting on a mask, for me, and rebreathing my own air fills me with anxiety, fills me with that panic feeling -- that fight or flight, or freeze feeling," Belt said.
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It's not political, she says. Belt says she is not an "anti-masker," someone who argues that the face coverings violate her American liberty. She proclaims her willingness to do her part in the pandemic but insists she and others like her deserve more understanding about the trauma they're facing.
Instead, she says essential trips to the grocery store or attempts to take her daughter to the pediatrician are met with scorn.
"I've tried taking time to explain my situation to those people. They literally don't care. They're still going to shame me for not wearing a mask," Belt said.
Behavioral health expert Dr. Nerissa Price doesn't treat Belt but has other patients facing the same challenges of masks triggering post-traumatic stress disorder.
"No doubt there's really no easy answers here. It's a very difficult situation," Price said. "I have tried to work with my patients to slowly make some inroads to feeling more comfortable with wearing a mask."
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper's mask mandate does include exemptions for people with a medical or behavioral condition or disability. Dr. Price said she's written medical letters explaining patient's conditions to their employers.
"It really does kind of box people in if they're not able to use a mask," Price said.
Belt says she's called twelve psychiatrists for a note. No one has called back.
"Nobody wants to have any compassion for people in my situation," she said. "Nobody wants to believe that this is an acceptable disability."
Dr. Price suggests not just calling a therapist for a medical exemption letter but creating a relationship with a therapist. She says overcoming the trauma requires constant work and if the doctor has that working relationship with you, they're more likely to grant your exemption.
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