Living alone, I have to do all my own grocery shopping. It’s been that way for years, so no big deal, right? Well, what used to be a simple task has become a bit more of a production with mental illness tagging along. It turns out grocery shopping with mental illness isn’t a great combination.
The grocery store is a 10 minutes walk from where I live. I usually walk, but sometimes I don’t even have the energy for that. or I’m not feeling physically up to it because of assorted physical health stuff going on, so I drive. I usually go twice a week.
On the walk there I try to be mindfully aware of the birds and the tree leaves rustling and such things, but if there’s too much stimulation from people, traffic, etc., I start to experience some derealization. I tend to conceptualize this as looking out at the world from further back in my head. It’s sort of like there’s a clear jello barrier between me and the rest of the world. I’m still connected to reality, but a bit distanced from it.
That mildly dissociated effect continues when I’m in the store. I generally try to go in the morning when it’s not that busy, since peak times are pretty overstimulating. I don’t make eye contact with anyone if I can avoid it.
I don’t do well with decision-making on the fly, so I always use a grocery list. I use the Google Keep app on my phone, and carry my phone in my end for the duration of the time I’m in the store. Depending on the level of cognitive symptoms I’m experiencing, I may remember much of what’s on my list, or I may remember nothing at all, and even with the list may still not manage to get everything I needed. I sometimes need to make my list extremely detailed, otherwise in the store I’ll spend ages staring at the shelf deciding what brand and package size to get. It’s not unusual for me to end up simply not getting something because I can’t make a decision about which specific thing to get.
My local store did some renovating last summer and moved a lot of things around from where they’d been for years. I still haven’t figured it out and need to use the aisle signs, even to find staple items I buy on a frequent basis.
I avoid the pharmacy area. I used to get my meds at the store’s pharmacy, but there was an issue a few years back with them not filling my quetiapine prescription right before I was about to leave on a trip. I raised a fuss and switched to another pharmacy. I don’t have any regrets about either the fuss or the switch, but ever since I just don’t feel comfortable even being in that area of the store.
This particular store always has lots of staff on the floor during the day, and they’re all quite friendly. While that might make the store more pleasant for a lot of people, I hate it. I’ve been shopping there a long time and recognize many of the staff, and occasionally with particularly vigorous greeters I’ll stop and pretend to be absorbed in looking at something to avoid having to interact with them. Yes, I am that asocial.
Continuing on with the asocial theme, I’m all about the self checkout. I have no desire to interact with a human being who may be annoying and want to do small talk chatter. I’ve been doing self-checkout at this store for years, so I’m used to it, but sometimes my mind will go blank and I’ll stare confusedly at the till for a while. The store charges for plastic bags, and you have to enter in how many you’ve used. For some reason I can’t just look at the bagging area and instantly how many I’ve used. Unless there’s only one bag, I have to count by physically pointing at each bag. One-two-three. I’m not sure why I can’t do that basic task completely in my head, but it is what it is.
There you have it, a glimpse into my everyday functioning. Do you have relatively simple routine activities that you’ve needed to adapt because of your mental health?
My book Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis breaks down the different categories of DSM-5 diagnoses, explaining the diagnostic criteria and providing first-hand stories of the various illnesses. It’s available on the MH@H Store, as well as Amazon and other major retailers.