It’s been a bit longer than usual since my last post here, even though I started writing this post weeks ago. This story is meaningful to me–not because it was an important day, or even a defining moment in my life. It was, in a twisted and even jaded way, one of the most ridiculous expressions of my mental illness. Those that have experienced panic attacks can identify with the lack of rationality that comes with them, but those who haven’t may find it difficult to understand. I hope this story provides a window into the brain of someone suffering from a panic attack.
As I’ve [needlessly] mentioned before: 2020 was brutal. The start of the COVID-19 pandemic was full of confusion, science, pseudo-science, fear-mongering, and guilt.
Picture this: it’s 5:45pm on April 8, 2020. I have two errands to run: pick up the reusable masks I purchased, then go pick up a prescription. I swing by the seamstress’s house to pick up the masks, then get to the pharmacy at 5:55pm.
There are only a few days left until Easter. CVS is jam-packed with Easter candy, including my husband’s favorite–Reese’s Eggs. I meander over to where they are, pick a couple of them up, then wander down the limited grocery aisle to see if they had any of the items I’d been unable to find during my regular trip to the market. The shortages had been challenging lately.
Nope, they are also out of flour, pasta, and hand sanitizer. Very well. I’ll buy these two Reese’s Eggs at the pharmacy counter. But wait…why is there a gate in front of it?
“Are you closed?” I asked an employee. “Yes,” she said. “We close at 6.” I checked the time on my phone. 6:01pm.
Had I not spent so much time meandering and wandering in CVS for 6 entire minutes, I could have picked up my prescription, bought the Reese’s Eggs, and went home. Oh well, I will still buy the candy. After all, I touched them. In a pandemic, if you touch it, you buy it. If I unknowingly have COVID, I won’t risk that anyone else be infected by coming into contact with these eggs! I’m responsible! I care about people!
(Relevant side note: this was the part of the pandemic where we thought it was likely to be infected from touching a contaminated surface.)
There are 15 people in line for a single register. They announced a stay-at-home order; we aren’t supposed to be leaving our house to do or buy anything non-essential. What will everyone think if I left my house with all of my germs and disease to buy a few pieces of chocolate?
It’s unreasonably hot in this pharmacy. My chest hurts. My throat is closing up. Oh no. Deep breaths. No matter how much I breathe, I don’t get any air. I’m going to start crying. Everyone’s going to see me. I have to get out of here.
But the eggs! I touched them! What if I have the virus?!
I stand frozen in the aisle for what felt like an hour, but was probably around 45 seconds. Before I change my mind, I ditch the eggs in a display when no one is looking and speed-walk out of CVS, get to my car, and cry. Now would be a really great time to have a refilled bottle of Xanax with me, like I was supposed to. Of all the prescriptions to be unable to fill.
Sometimes, if not often, the stream of consciousness leading to a panic attack is senseless. I was, at that time, more upset that I was going to be judged for buying chocolate during a pandemic than I was about not being able to refill my anti-anxiety medications. As soon as I started feeling it coming on, I knew the best course of action for me was to get myself out of that drug store as soon as possible. For me, physically removing myself from the environment that is causing me stress is the quickest way for me to recover from a panic attack.
Of course, looking back now, I know that no one would have gotten COVID by buying the candies. Even if I had been sick, it’s not like I licked the outside wrapper. It’s also unlikely that anyone would have truly judged me if they saw me put the candy back or wait in line for them. And if they did, it wouldn’t have impacted my life, or anyone else’s, in any way.
But there was no telling me that then. Panic attacks aren’t about logic.