If there is someone willing to walk through a shopping centre without a mask on and face the side glances and disapproving looks, you'd better believe they probably have a fairly good reason for it.
As someone with a mask exemption for a couple of health reasons, showing my bare face through any indoor area is a scary and intimidating experience while keeping in mind the current indoor mask mandates for all of NSW.
I've been shouted at from across the shopping centre and had all eyes fall on me as I had to explain to the 50 or so people who looked straight at me that I have personal health reasons for not wearing a face covering.
At other times people have tapped their own masks, or demanded that I not enter their establishment, or that they will not serve me until I put a mask on.
The anxiety from not wearing a mask in public and having people constantly stare at me makes me want to give into the social pressure that has arisen under the current mask mandate many times.
Most of the time I try to remain calm and confident, aware of the staring, but confident nonetheless that I have made this decision within just reason.
Despite an attempt to remain confident, I have avoided social situations over the past few weeks out of fear of judgement, harassment, or abuse.
Even though the NSW Government website declares that you are not required to reveal your medical records or history, I always carry a doctor's certificate explaining my exemption in my handbag out of fear of being confronted or harassed.
Usually my health status is only between my doctor and I but in this case, it feels like a constant public declaration and push and pull of approval and disapproval.
I can be assertive when I want to be and I will take it upon myself to calmly explain my situation. But even having the capacity to explain my situation probably puts me in a more privileged place than others who might not be able to do so.
My hope is that these people who may be extremely vulnerable are not avoiding all public places, as most of the time people are kind and understanding.
As a young and otherwise healthy-looking young person it is obvious why people would question me on my unmasked face, but like a lot of things, individual health conditions can often be silent.
I get the fear that has come from this pandemic. We are constantly bombarded with news of new cases, new variants, and of new rules and mandates.
It is understandable why people are weary of those walking around without a mask, but for those of us with an exception, it takes a lot of courage to step out of the house and into public each day.
I want to remind those of you who do have an exception, whether it be because of a physical or mental illness, because you have suffered a trauma, you have a disability or a skin condition, you are not alone.
If someone does live with a physical or mental illness, that may be usually hidden, it can be extremely triggering to have to constantly explain to people in public why they are exempt.
You have the right to step out into public knowing that you are doing is both reasonable and lawful and deserve not to be fearful of your safety in doing so.
I want to reiterate that this pandemic has been difficult for all of us and we need to remember that choosing kindness is the easier and healthier option as a society.
I want people to ask themselves whether it is really necessary for you to bring more attention to someone who is probably already feeling very vulnerable in having the spotlight constantly shining on their otherwise private medical circumstances.
As the old saying goes, a little bit of compassion goes a long way.