How anyone can enjoy shopping is beyond me! I was never a big fan of it before I became ill; spending hours wandering around looking at stuff that I wasn’t really interested in just didn’t do it for me. But now it is torture; shops, supermarkets, in particular, are such hostile environments.
Firstly, there is the matter of getting there and finding parking. I am very fortunate to have a blue badge so I can use disabled parking, however, more often than not all the spaces are taken so inevitably that means parking in the normal spaces. Which for some reason are ridiculously tiny. Unless you park exactly in the middle of the space and the cars next to you have done the same it is really difficult to get out of the car, even for an able-bodied person.
For the most part, I take my walking stick with me whenever I go out of the house but this also causes problems. Carrying a basket and using a walking stick means I have no free hand to pick up items. I also can never remember any of the items I need to rely on a list or my phone – both, again, require a free hand. So, I run the gauntlet of leaving my stick in the car and grabbing a trolley before I get too wobbly.
Once I have successfully escaped my vehicle the next challenge is the onslaught on my senses as I enter the store: The bright white artificial light is dazzling, the noise from people moving, talking and music playing is deafening and the constant movement of so many people and trolleys going in all different directions is unsettling and sometimes nauseating. For most people popping to the shops is a very small part of their day, perhaps even a minor inconvenience. For me, it is an expedition. The next time you are in a supermarket just pause for a moment, tune into each of your senses one at a time and you will be amazed at how much is going on.
The sound is cacophonous: There is usually music playing, tannoy announcements, tills beeping, footsteps, people talking, trollies squeaking, even items being moved adds to the general melee of noise. If you take a look around when you next shop, you’ll see all manner of colours, packaging and displays that are designed to attract your attention. These same displays shout at me, colours mix and swirl, they leap out as I pass them causing me to back away. The temperature changes when coming in from the cold, walking under a heater and then into the chilled section play havoc with my body. People with ME/CFS are very sensitive to temperature and find it hard to regulate their own body temperature, so walking through different temperature zones is not the most fun we can have. Even my smell and taste are attacked. There are so many smells in a supermarket and not just from the stock. The air is saturated with different perfumes, or Lynx if you make the mistake of shopping during the school lunch break!
My brain fog prevents me from planning meals so unless I know exactly what to get when I come in, I just wander about with my trolley looking at things not really knowing what I would do with them. After a few minutes, the muscles in my eyes fatigue and the world slips out of focus. I feel light headed and my brain starts to shut down as if overloaded by my senses and requiring a reboot. It is time to go. I struggle through the checkout whilst managing to remain upright and exchange pleasantries with the checkout staff. Finally, I exit the store before shoe-horning myself back through my car door and into the refuge of my seat. I close the door and take a good few minutes to breathe. It’s quieter in there and I take time to recover a bit of energy before setting off on the short drive home.
Arriving home feels like returning from a long camping trip or a foreign holiday that had an antisocial flight time. I retreat to somewhere quiet and warm to decompress. I let my mind process all it has had to deal with, all the while hoping I haven’t forgotten anything and don’t have to return to the shops any time soon.