I went to the big grocery store today.
I usually go for a few items because
the lights are too bright,
the shelves are too stocked,
the choices are too many,
and the traffic more peopled.
I have felt panic in this store.
The Atlantic Superstore.
But as I walked in this morning,
I reflected that it had been a while since I had any sort of panic.
I was looking forward to getting my groceries finished.
And I was feeling confident in doing it.
“what was it about this place that bothered me so much”.
And then it began.
The produce section was filled with choices
and filled with people.
I tried to stick to my list and not get distracted.
I moved onto the baked goods section,
But I am doing ok.
I wonder and look for some new ideas for the kids’ lunches.
I make a few choices and move into the meat section.
Here my big cart feels like a bus
and every time I turn I either hit someone or a display.
“You drive like me” laughs an elderly lady.
I cant’ help but smile back,
glad I didn’t offend.
But inside I am thinking
“this is crazy!” There is no space to move in here.
Not only are there many other shoppers.
Half are in a hurry, huffing by with their little shopping carts like tiny locomotives
Half are standing still with the same glazed look in their faces as I have on…
Looking at choice after choice and price after price
trying to decide what to get.
Then there are those few that just do not know any one else is the store
and stand in the centre of everyone’s way.
I could have accidentally bumped them
but I didn’t.
I tell myself.
I am doing this.
I am fine.
This is good.
I am good.
I breathe in and out
slow and steady.
I knock into a few more displays
what is wrong with me!!
I play Canadian with some guy
“Go ahead..” I say, pulling my cart back
“Oh no, you go ahead” he says
“No you go” I smile
“Thank you” he steps up and as I am about to follow,
he steps back
“Actually I need to be there.”
Why do I have the Canadian Curse of Politeness and Apology!
I smile, gritting my teeth,
hearing my jaw click clacking.
I continue my inner dialogue.
I am good.
I can do this.
I am doing this.
I make it down to the dairy section
and my breaths are coming faster.
I see the polite Canadian guy standing there
and my heart starts to pound a little harder.
He is just standing there.
Do I go around him?
In front of him?
I pass him, pretending to look at a wall of yogurt
in order to avoid eye contact.
God forbid we play another game of Polite Tag.
My breathing is coming fast.
I command myself.
I take my phone out and text my husband.
Are you able to talk right now? I just really need to hear your voice?
~I’m in the middle of something, but will call as soon as I’m done.
Maybe when he calls
the sound of his voice will calm me.
Yes, that will help.
Just keep going.
I move on down the frozen isles.
This is ok,
I am still making good choices.
I can focus on my list.
I load the cart.
But my movements are slowing down.
My breathing getting deeper,
My chest tightening.
I go around the corner,
the cart is heavy to push,
my vision begins to blur,
my breath is coming faster.
I duck my head as tears start to burn.
I clang into another display!
I go down the isle,
grabbing a few cereal boxes under $5.
that should do.
you can do this.
There are so many people.
On the left,
Before me, behind me.
My phone buzzes.
but I can’t answer,
nothing much comes out
just a whisper
as my breath is caught in my chest and is being squeezed out of me.
I am dizzy
I am seeing black..
“What’s up? Are you home” Nathan asks,
I somehow strangle out “superstore”
“ I’ll get a ride. I will be right there.”
Tears are finally making their way down my face.
I wish I had a hood on.
People are on all sides! I just need out of this isle!
But it is blocked.
I wait some more.
Finally the way clears and I make it to the household section
where there is at least some more space and less people.
I want to fall down and curl up.
But that would bring attention.
I wipe my tears,
stuff them back inside.
Try to look like I am not having a panic attack.
My breathing is coming in quick snaps
and my chest is so tight it is painful.
I know He is there.
I know I will be ok.
It is sort of a calm panic.
But I don’t like it.
I want to leave.
But I will not leave my groceries.
Not after that battle!
This load is coming home with me!
I didn’t go through that for nothing!
So I stay
stay with one hand clamped to the cart
the other hand holding my phone,
watching the “find friends’ app progress
and seeing the dot move closer to me.
That is my husband.
He will be here.
He can take me to the van.
Protect me from being seen.
And he can stand in line and buy these groceries.
Sorry my Love.
I battle tears,
my body shakes,
I suddenly feel ferociously hungry,
my breathing continues.
I jump when he finally steps by me.
He wants to hold me
but I just need to go.
I tell him in between short sharp breaths that
I am not leaving these groceries here,
he is going to have to stand in the insanely long line
after he deposits me in our vehicle.
I cling to his arm once we are out of the store,
I am so dizzy from my deep breathing
it is hard to see or focus on anything.
I feel near to collapsing.
He brings me to our van,
I slide in.
He turns the van on and blasts on the ac.
I am thinking distantly
“I don’t need that..”
when the wonderful cool air hits my face
and I find my body melt into it
and begin to relax.
My breathing slows.
He sits with me for a minute
but I send him in to get our groceries.
For about twenty minutes I sit
and let my body calm down.
My hands are shaking,
fingernails are blue,
My legs feel weak
and my chest feels like it has a bowling ball lodged inside of it.
as I breathe in that cool air,
The shaking stops.
The chest pain falls away
and the tightness slowly loosens.
I am left feeling exhausted.
That was a panic attack.
At one time I would have felt great shame in it.
But recently my heart is coming to accept that I have anxiety.
Accepting it does not mean giving up.
But it does mean understanding that I have limitations.
Just as others do who have a sickness or disability.
This gradual perspective change
is what is bringing real healing into my mind.
My anxiety may not be healed,
but the way I view it can be.
I may feel embarrassed that my husband’s co workers may find out I had this happen.
Or that some people saw me on my way out of the store
looking like a wreck I am sure.
But there is no shame.
I faced it.
I called for back up.
What could I have done differently?
I could have left or shortened my trip
when I began to do methodical breathing.
I could have remembered to keep my emergency anxiety pills
with me and tried one of those out!
So maybe next time will be different.
But I feel somehow victorious today
as I recognized what was going on.
I also learned once again
that when we think we have beaten something,
that thing can sometimes come back in a heartbeat!
So being aware of our thoughts and reactions,
both mind and body,
is really important.
I thought I had beat the “Superstore Anxiety”.
But I didn’t.
And that is ok.
I will go back.
With a smaller cart.
A smaller list.
And I will be ok.
If I am not ok.
I will still be ok.
If you know what I mean.
In the meantime
I should probably practice deep breathing
so that I can learn how to not black out!