Community Magazine

Breakdown in Aisle 9

By Nina
Recently, I was having a rough day. My anxiety levels were very high, as was my aversion to food/eating. A friend messaged me after the experience, and he and I came to the conclusion that I needed to try to explain anxiety for those who do not live with it. This is a description of a "bad" anxiety day and how you can help not only me, but anyone in your life with anxiety.
I finished up work around 2 PM and headed home, where I changed into comfortable clothes and, knowing it was a high anxiety day (though not knowing why - there is often no reason), tried to prepare myself for the necessary trips to the bank and grocery store.
I hit the grocery store first, but I barely made it through the door before I began to feel overwhelmed at needing to locate and purchase food. I stopped in the breakfast aisle, knowing that I needed options that would easily transport to work. Suddenly, everything on the aisle seemed fattening, too high in sugar, too high in sodium, too expensive, or in some other way unfit for me to purchase. I could find nothing that both sounded good and seemed like a good idea.
Breakdown in Aisle 9
To make matters worse, I was growing more and more anxious the longer I stood there, debating my choices, because other people were trying to get to things in the aisle. Never mind that none of them asked me to move or needed anything I was standing in front of. I was not actually causing anyone a problem, but anxiety doesn't care if the problem actually exists, only that it could. Anxiety tells you that, just around the corner is a mean little old lady who will yell at you for taking more than a couple minutes to choose your breakfast for the week. And anxiety insists on the "flight" option in all situations, even mean little old ladies.
I finally just abandoned the breakfast aisle, nearly in tears, and got only the things actually written on my list, such as toilet paper, and skipped the "general category" items, such as "breakfast" and "two suppers." I felt awful any time I even dared to make eye contact with someone, much less turn down the same aisle at the same time, and at first apologized profusely, before anxiety stole my voice, and I just ducked my head and tried to be as small as possible.
Anxiety dictated that I go through self checkout, because having to talk to another person on my way out the door would have only made things more difficult. I checked out as quickly as possible and finally arrived at the car, trembling, heart racing, nearly in tears, and dripping in sweat. I practiced breathing techniques and visualizations I had picked up from friends and learned in therapy. Eventually, I came down enough to drive.
Keep in mind that what I just described was a snippet of a bad day. However, certain features remain, even on good days. Even on good days, I worry constantly that I might be inconveniencing someone. Even on good days, I go through the self check-out to avoid talking to any extra people. Even on good days, I apologize for needing to pass people, for people running into me, for things that are in no way my fault and do not require apology. Even on good days, my heart rate increases when I enter places where other people will be (work, stores, banks, church, family functions, etc.). Thanks to therapy, these symptoms are manageable most days.
However, there are still bad days, days when I might start crying in the grocery store for no apparent reason, days when I will screen your calls not because I don't want to talk to you but because the idea of connecting with another person is so overwhelming that I just can't do it, days when eating is a next to impossible task. On those days, you will feel helpless. On those days I will be unable to tell you what I need. So, I'm telling you now: on those days, I need you to simplify tasks for me - don't do them, just simplify them. For example, if I'm going to the grocery store, tell me to buy oatmeal so that I will not have to decide on a breakfast item. On those days, don't ask me to explain my issues, just hug me (if we have that kind of relationship) and encourage me to do things that de-stress me. For me, those include painting, reading, a hot bath, and even cleaning. On those days, just be there, and wait until the next day to ask me about the experience.

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