Thursday, August 7, 2008

No Explanation

This was something I did. I never knew why, I’m still not sure I can explain. With the best of intentions, I’d enter the store. With or without a list, it happened either way. The list, if I had one, was perfectly ordered, the way I’d learned from my dad. You visualize the store, writing each item in order, checking it off as acquired. Efficient, yes.

But something happened as I entered the produce aisle. I changed my mind. Over and over I changed it. Though I’d been clear about what I’d wanted, I couldn’t imagine why. The pros and cons of Swiss Steak and vegetable soup swirled endlessly under the bright lights. Onion. I need that for either one. Onion. It’s on the list. Check. Everything smelled good and terrible at the same time. Vegetable soup. Potatoes, carrots, tomato. Green beans and corn. Should I make it with V8 juice this time? On to the next aisle.

V8 juice and Worcestershire Sauce. Worcestershire, harder to say than it is to spell. That goes in Swiss Steak, too. I could have mushrooms in it. The sound system in the grocery store has a filter that turns happy music to sad. I don’t know how they do it or why. Maybe people eat more when they are sad. Maybe that’s why it’s so loud. To remind them: You Are Sad. You are sad and here are the Twinkies.

Nauseating, the thought of Twinkies. I can’t eat anything with that white fluff in it. Why did I let myself think of it? Twinkie, Twinkie, Twinkie. I’m not feeling so good. Worcestershire back to the counter. I have some at home. Is it enough? For what? I can’t put it back, too many people standing in front of the condiments, reading ingredients. Worcestershire has anchovies in it. That doesn’t ruin it for me. Things have things in them all of the time.

It’s not just the lights and the music. The crowds are the worst part. The shoving, the smells, the voices all blending together into one huge blahblahblah. I’ve never learned how to not run into someone. Whether I think about it consciously or not, I will choose wrong nearly every time. Someone is screaming, a child who must feel the way I do. Overwhelmed with choices, with sensory input. This never happens after midnight. Maybe I should come back. And now the parent is screaming, too.

Back to the produce. Salad? No salad? Salad. Lettuce and mushroom into the cart. Salad, but no soup. Corn and green beans back to the bins. Why not have it later in the week. Corn? I can’t decide. I stand with the ear of corn for a minute. Two minutes. Three. People are looking. Corn goes back into the cart.

I am tired. Tired of thinking and not deciding. How long have I been here? An hour? I look for a place to stash the cart, walk away using my very best casual where-is-that-item walk, and then make a dash for the door. To the car.

How many times did this happen? Every couple of weeks for two years? Three? I tried to imagine that no one was watching, saying, look, she’s about to do it again. Hoping I wouldn’t be stopped on the way out and asked to never come back. On the way home, I’d stop at Wendy’s. What should I get? A chicken sandwich? A salad? Behind me, the cars lined up for as far as I could see.


  1. Bev, you have a wonderful way of expressing yourself. I really enjoy your blog.

    I have had this happen to me at the grocery store several times. I am not autistic, but I do have anxiety attacks.

  2. Worcestershire Sauce is very good in bolognaises and added to cheese on toast (on top of the grated cheese before it melts). You can also add it to gravy, especially when making stews and shepherds pie.

  3. I fully support your checklist-based approach. I always try to make a list when shopping (or ask for one). It really annoys me when the other people I'm shopping with walk back-and-forth because they're not using such an approach.

    I also understand the problem of choices. My solution to it is to eat the same things from day to day for weeks. Yeah, I know it's not very healthy. And it doesn't help when I need to choose what electronic equipment to buy either.

  4. Ah, yes. Ah, yes.

    But no, no, mussstn't ssstash the cartses, no! Mussst put all the thingses back where it gots them. All of them, one at a time. Vegetables' hearts get broken so easily.

  5. Oh, gods, choices.

    Like your other commenter, I often eat the same things every day for weeks - or I decide upon a "forever" choice.

    There are different types of soup on the shelf? I choose tomato soup. It's no better than any of the other kinds - it's the previously arbitrary one that avoids a panic attack.

    Your posts always leave me thinking "Yes, exactly!" and wishing I could express myself so eloquently.

  6. Vicky: That reminds me, as things often do, of a comic:

  7. 3rd vote here for lets get stuck on a favorite food for quite a while. Makes shopping sooo much easier. /grin Though yes, I know it's not a very balanced approach. Luckily the breakfast and lunch served at the canteen at my workplace gets me a few of those varietal nutrients to attempt rounding out the schedule.


  8. Thanks, everyone. I agree that eating the same things each day solves a lot of the problem. I've adopted a similar plan. On Sundays we have Mexican food, Tuesdays are for red beans and rice, etc. It makes life easier.

    On this side of the pond, I've heard 10 or 12 different pronunciations, all of them wrong. I just call it "W" sauce myself.

  9. sometimes i wish i could have groceries delivered to avoid the crowds. but other days the grocery store seems wonderful with the abudance of choices and the chatter of people.

  10. abundance.

    oops spelled it wrong.

  11. You really knocked it out of the park on this one (i.e., great on target post).
    What made this so immeasurably great is that you are eloquently painting an experience that is, when one is living it, SHEER hell. I've done this gobs of times too [I might even have written the post]. By presenting it with your signature humor and attention to detail -- {the swirling lights -- the sad cast happy music takes when piped into the store.... the purposeful 'off to secure an item' walk that permits the escape} you gave us a snapshot of a private hell I know too well but dabbed with such a charming presentation that some of the sting of it goes away and it can be objectified. This was too good for me to even write back when first I read it (which was moments after you posted it.)

  12. Bev,
    My grandma, who is now 92, grew up having the exact same meals each week -- she remembers fondly that Monday was spaghetti night, Tuesday was soup (because Tuesday was also laundry day and soup was easy...). There is something so comforting about routines.

    Lovely post.

  13. "On Sundays we have Mexican food, Tuesdays are for red beans and rice, etc."

    We do something like this too: we have a certain number of different dishes and just buy 7 from the list (which is not much bigger than 7, but allows for some variation per week) each week.

    Unless I'm very, very used to a certain grocery store / supermarket, I can't go in there on my own to do the shopping. I forget half of what I need even if I carry a list. It's just too overwhelming for me to keep paying attention, my mind shuts down and all I can think of (not even think really, just a sort of feeling) is getting out of there as fast as I can. I really don't even notice that I forgot anything until I get back home and my mind clears up a bit. By then there is no way I can go out again to get what I forgot.

    It takes me so long to get used to new places and new stores that I still go to my old town and old supermarket (we moved some 4 years ago) to do grocery shopping if I have to do it on my own.

  14. I don't like a lot of choices myself. I try to keep everything as organized as possible to give myself a sense of security, but even then, sometimes I get mixed up in stores and find myself walking in circles looking at the same things over and over again, just sort of dumbstruck and unable to make any decisions, and eventually feeling embarrassed too cause I can tell the employee(s) are staring. That's when I grab anything and pay for it and then walk out.

  15. The way you describe your shopping experience reminds me of why it is I procrastinate over getting groceries as much as I do!

    The next time I go grocery shopping, I'll also remember the funny (but yet accurate) way you shared about this event and it will make my trip more enjoyable.

  16. Scooby-Doo called it "WISH-ish-ir sauce!", and hated it, I believe.

  17. I recently started using a grocery home delivery service (PeaPod is what it is called) because of my issues with the over stimulation/sensory wackoness of the grocery store. I cannot tell you how AWESOME!!!! it is!

    The deliverly fee is minimal and they give coupons to defray that cost to new customers. Delivered right to the door (actually in the house if you so want), and you can pick what time block and what exact date to have the stuff delivered. I do all of the ordering on-line, so don't have to talk to any strange people and everything is always in the same place in the on-line system.

    I have never once in my life been able to go into a grocery store and get everything that I have on my list, I always have to quit before the list if checked off becuase my brain stops processing things, with this, I can save the on-line list, then go back to it and when I'm done, I place the order and it comes when it's supposed to to the house. It is just plain lovely.

    I highly recommend it to anyone!

  18. I also have to take a shopping list. I first started that so I wouldn't forget, but now mostly it's because without a list ("I have to get this, it's on THE LIST"), I will become so frustrated and panicked by the store environment at times that I will decide no, I do not want that food. Yes, I've been wanting it very much all week but now I just want out of this store let's go let's go.

    It probably gets me funny looks, because they're bright yellow (I mean very bright, daffodil kick you in the eyes hazard sign yellow) but I recently started wearing some sound-dampening earmuffs to go shop with. I still get freaked out shopping sometimes, but it's so much easier with a lower level of, as you put it, the "blahblahblah" noise. Not to mention the shrieking children who are doing what I feel like doing, but that makes me want to shriek even more. Anyway, yes. Earmuffs. They're good. I recommend them for people who also get bothered by all the noise in a store. (sorry for the long reply, it gets harder to get what I want to say across the less words I use, which leads to babbling)

  19. Hahahahahaha Bev, I couldn't stop my uncontrollable laughter upon reading about the horrible sound system that turned happy music to sad. xD Sorry, I could just so relate. omg hahaha


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