Vietnosh: shopping with shell shock
Updated: Aug 19, 2021
I’m going to start this off by saying that I could write thirty books on the topic of triggering, stressful places and still have more to address. PTSD affects every part of our lives and shapes everything we experience, even the mundane, so I’d be damned if I didn’t address at least some of the challenges it poses. From getting out of bed in the morning to the daunting task of going to sleep, the stressors and triggers are everywhere. Today, I’ve decided to discuss one of my personal Hells: the grocery store.
One of the sad realities of life is our unfortunate ability to starve to death. Although this is usually preventable through retail hunting and gathering, sometimes I’d almost prefer to bite the dust rather than food. It starts with arrival at the parking lot outside the store. The first thing I notice is the number of cars. If finding a parking space is hard, surviving the store is guaranteed to be even harder. Fewer spaces means more people to analyze, watch with my peripheral vision, and search with my eyes for weapons and vulnerabilities. The next thing to raise my anxiety is the beeping of the registers when I enter the store. The repetitive yet unpredictable beeping crashes through my ears and into my psyche. I don’t know about you, but I have some serious sensory processing issues. The smells of garbage and non-wooden objects burning can ruin my day, along with the sounds of fireworks, loud crashes, shitty songs from 2015, and the infernal beeping in supermarkets.
With phase one of Operation In-And-Out complete, I grab a cart and head to the aisles. While scanning everyone and looking like a pervert, I plan for battle. I take inventory of hiding places where I can advance my position, the liquor section for breakable glass bottles, and the meat and fish counters where I can secure a knife. Then I remember that I'm in there to get groceries. I read my list a couple of times, not fully able to absorb the words scrawled on the paper, and head for item number one.
While going from item to item, I notice the intercom--it’s playing shitty music from 2015. This is where things get especially dire, and I start running against the clock. Between the hypervigilance in the present and the flashbacks from the music, my mind starts to fail. I get twitchier, jumpier, and the dam holding back my screams begin to break. When this happens, the grocery list of items becomes rapidly less important. If I have to look for it for more than thirty seconds, I don’t need it.
Finally, I rush to the registers. The beeping piece-of-shit registers. I pick the shortest line, bounce anxiously, and try shaking off the humiliation of looking like a madman in public.
“How are you doing today?” the cashier asks with a smile. He has a name tag with Jonathan written on it.
“Oh, I’m fantastic! How are you, Jonathan?”
“I’m good, man,” he nods as he bags my already bagged apples. “You see the game last night?”
The game? Weren’t there multiple games playing last night? “No, I didn’t. Who won?”
“The Sox!” He sounds like he genuinely believes this to be an important development.
“Praise the Lord,” I say, glancing at the potentially murderous octogenarian woman behind me.
“All set. Do you have a membership card?”
“No,” I tell him, praying he’ll shut up and just take my money already.
“That’ll be [insert arbitrary amount of currency].”
I pay the man and get the hell out of there.
By the time I’m driving home, I’ve become a road hazard. Practically unconscious, I blast music in a desperate attempt to shock enough concentration into myself to get home. Pulling into the driveway feels like getting off a twelve-hour patrol.
I put away the perishables and tell myself I’ll put the rest away later. Then, after half an hour of errands, I spend the next four hours recovering. But hey, it was a victory. It may not have been a big deal for other people, but screw that. I was in the army, for fuck’s sake, that’s hard for everyone, and I pulled that off. The important thing is that I succeeded in a civilian activity. I did a real-world thing and now have a double-bagged bushel of apples to show for it.