Mask exemption = prove you illness!

It’s a very confusing and worrying time right now and for those of us who suffer with anxiety; it’s terrifying. One of the latest things to affect my anxiety is the use of masks in public.

I think wearing a mask is a simple selfless act, it protects others and minimises the spread of illness. I agree that the majority of people should wear a mask. But where as it’s a simple act for a majority; it can be a distressing act for a minority and I feel that this should be understood and accepted.

I walk into a shop without a mask and although I look young, physically healthy and capable to the store staff; I suffer with autonomic dysfunctional which causes me to breathe difunctionally; I hyperventilate especially in situations of anxiety. As soon as I enter I’m questioned about my lack of mask and I explain myself, feeling like an imposter. As a person with social anxiety this is deeply distressing to me and as a person with a physical invisible illness, it’s deflating having to explain my illness and prove I have an illness despite my physical appearance. But the most distressing feeling comes from moving around the store, being glared at by other customers questioning why I can get away without wearing a mask like I’m committing a selfish and malicious act when in reality I’m just trying to do my shopping without making myself ill. The looks from other people are the most hurtful act as their judgement makes me feel like a disappointment, like a criminal.

Now, I have a mask and I wear it if I go out but when my symptoms flare up then I can either remove the mask or potentially pass out in front of everyone. I make myself wear a mask because the reality is, I’m too scared to go through the experience of explaining myself. My anxiety forces me to wear a mask just to avoid the judgemental glares and questions that will no doubt drown me if I choose not to wear a mask. But I watch people like myself, with an invisible illness trying to explain themselves and although in some cases they are treated fairly, the majority of the time they are asked for proof; they are made to prove their illness to a person who has no medical training, to a person silently judging them and making them feel uncomfortable.

I don’t go out anymore. For me, wearing a mask with my POTS and dysfunctional breathing causes my heart rate to rocket, I begin to sweat profusely and hyperventilate. This leads to dizziness, vision disturbance and I begin to black out. Instead of forcing myself to wear a mask and make myself ill I stay at home and avoid going out. I avoid it because the anxiety of potentially having to prove I suffer with a life-limiting illness is so distressing to me; I can’t even consider facing it. Before Covid, I’ve had to explain my illness and prove myself but the idea of doing so, just to go outdoors now is a horrible feeling.

The point of this post is to implore people to be less judgemental and kinder to those who cannot wear a mask. Of course, there are people who abuse the exemption for selfish reasons but you can’t treat everyone as if this is what they are trying to do. There are those of us who have genuine reasons for not wearing a mask and our chronic illnesses make our lives difficult enough without judgemental remarks and questioning. It’s a worrying and unprecedented time right now and we all need to think of others and be kinder and more understanding.