‘Mandate not license to shame others’

Louise Oleson
DLJ editor
To wear a face mask or not - that seems to be the question!

To wear a face mask or not. The controversy rages throughout the country and even right here in Devils Lake, North Dakota.

A 68-year-old retiree reports she was confronted in a local store because she was wearing a mask, one of very few who were that day. “What are you afraid of?” she was asked. “How can you live in fear?” her confronter added. “I was taken aback by the force of her questions and, yes, I felt attacked for wearing a mask,” she added, asking not to be identified.

Others report similar verbal challenges when they were not wearing a mask. With the recent Mask Mandate which was passed unanimously by the Devils Lake City Commission, Social Media has exploded with comments regarding the wearing or not wearing of face masks. Most of the posts are positive, even thankful the city made this move for the good of all, however, there are those who are adamantly opposed to the mandate, too.

Mayor Dick Johnson, when discussing this move on the part of the city, said it wasn’t an easy decision, but that he wanted to make it perfectly clear the mandate is not a license to shame those who cannot wear masks, it is right there in the Mandate, itself - “Article V. No Face Covering - The City of Devils Lake does not condone the harassment or ridicule of persons who are not wearing masks.”

Yes, there are those who cannot wear masks. LeAnn Klett is one of those individuals. She is a 1998 graduate of Devils Lake High School who served 18 years in the Army National Guard. Now retired from the military, Klett owns the Devils Lake Coffee Connection. “I try to wear a mask,” Klett told the Devils Lake Journal. “But there are times I can’t stand it.” She has good days and bad days, Klett admits, but she has been diagnosed with and treated for combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She experienced combat both in Iraq and Kosovo.

“I don’t always know what triggers it,” Klett says. “Sometimes it’s the sound of a helicopter flying overhead - like the one at the hospital,” she explained. She may not even be aware of hearing the sound, but it could trigger that terrible panicky feeling where her heart begins to race, she gets shaky and feels as if she can’t breathe. “It’s like panic, I have to get out of there, I have to escape!”

It can happen when you least expect it, like waiting in line to pay for groceries, “I have to rip off the face mask - I apologize to those around me, but I can’t help it!” She told about last week while she was trying to get an errand done. “People were staring at me - that alone is not pleasant - but someone even approached me and demanded to know why I wasn’t wearing my face mask. It was demeaning and I had to walk away, I was so upset I couldn’t respond.”

There is no cure for her condition, one she shares with countless other veterans and many others who have been traumatized in other ways. “I just have to learn to live with it,” she explains. She says it helps to talk about it, so she is not ashamed or afraid to be open about it.

“People need educating about this issue,” Klett said. “I am an open book if I can help someone else who is dealing with this or maybe help someone come to understand what is going on in a different way and to not shame others who cannot wear a face mask for the same reasons I can’t wear a mask sometimes.”

“It’s not just retired military who have to deal with PTSD, how about someone who is diagnosed with autism or a serious mental illness? Or someone who has experienced domestic or sexual violence? Someone who has been mugged? There are lots of reasons people experience panic attacks or severe anxiety. That’s no excuse to demean a fellow human being!”