A Ballarat mother-of-three who cannot wear a face covering due to a mental health disorder is scared to leave her home because of expected abuse from the community.
Because of her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which stems from past experiences, including a troubled relationship, Mount Pleasant's Meg Laidlaw often finds it very difficult to wear a face covering, which is now compulsory across all of Victoria due to the crippling COVID-19 pandemic.
"When I'm wearing a mask, it brings me so much anxiety, I get chest pains, nausea, I feel like everything is just weighing on me... I threw up in the Coles car park the other day because it was all too much," she said.
Obviously not wanting to catch COVID-19, Ms Laidlaw said she wants to be able to protect herself with a mask and scoffed at the idea she simply doesn't want to wear one.
I get anxiety just thinking about having to wear a mask.PTSD sufferer Meg Laidlaw.
"I'm trying to adhere to the mandatory restrictions because I don't want COVID, just like everyone else," she continued.
"I want to do the right thing and I want to be able to wear my mask, but there are times where I need to be able to take it off just to be able to regulate my anxiety.
"I don't want to be sitting in the aisles at Coles having a panic attack."
Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton has said there were good reasons why some people can't wear a face covering.
"There will be people with medical, behavioural, psychological reasons... certainly don't make an assumption that they should be the subject of your ire," he said.
After numerous public incidents, she hopes sharing her story with the wider community will help stop people jumping to conclusions so quickly.
"I had to go shopping with my children and I had people look at me and question me about why I wasn't wearing a mask."
"I explained to people that I have PTSD... but people just didn't care. Some people are just so inconsiderate of other people's medical conditions.
"It's gotten to the point where I feel like I need to walk around with a giant sign on my forehead that says "I HAVE PTSD". I know it's hard not to jump to conclusions, but you don't know what people's reasons are for not wearing a mask."
These sentiments were echoed by University of NSW senior lecturer Holly Seale. She spoke about the challenges facing people who are unable to wear a face covering.
"In some situations, wearing a face covering may worsen a physical or mental health condition, lead to a medical emergency, or be a significant safety concern," she wrote.
"In the United States and United Kingdom there have been reports of people with disabilities being challenged, threatened with arrest, or excluded from retail and food outlets for not wearing a mask."
Moving forward, Ms Laidlaw will continue searching for a solution to her issue, because she is afraid of how the community has responded to her within the first week of restrictions.
"I have tried six different types of masks and I'm happy to buy 20 more masks if it means I don't have to suffer this abuse anymore," she said.
"I am scared to go outside because of this.
"I'm anxious and scared not only of verbal abuse, but physical abuse from people who think I don't have a reason not to be wearing a mask."
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
- headspace Ballarat (for 12-25s and parent support): 5304 4777
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