I Got Back Out There


I have never thought of myself as an anxious person.

I mean, sure, I’m afraid of spiders. And of murder hornets (have you SEEN those things?) I don’t like to drive too fast or engage in dangerous sports (like snowtubing.)

But I’ve never been afraid of the world itself. I love to travel I always enjoy talking with new people, and having novel experiences.

I’ve always been relaxed about illness and contagion. I was a teacher for years. I didn’t worry about catching things.

In fact, I never understood germophobes. I used to feel superior to people who were constantly fixated on their helath. I have scoffed at hand sanitizers and those who carried them. I used to laugh in the face of the common cold.

Not. Any. More.

Since the great pandemic of 2020, I have developed a new and suffocating appreciation for agoraphobics.

My last grocery store trip was on March 7th. When I checked out and dumped the bags in the trunk, I assumed I’d be back in the veggie department within days. I barely gave it a thought as I left the parking lot.

Ha.

Since that completely unmemorable trip, I have not stepped foot inside of a single retail establishment. Not one.

Given my fixation on the news and the lack of anything else to do while stuck at home, I’ve become a walking encyclopedia of COVID facts. I know how many people are sick, how many are on ventilators and how many have died. I know about the tests and the promising treatments. I watch the experts on C-Span debating the likelihood of the virus mutating into something worse.

Naturally, the more I’ve learned the more focused I’ve become on staying safe. I have been absolutely determined to avoid any possible chance of catching the deadly plague and passing it on.

I am now the queen of handwashing and I have the hangnails and chapped knuckles to prove it. I disinfect my mailbox, my doorknobs, my phone, my purse and the bottoms of my shoes. When my husband goes out for supplies, I make him strip down in the doorway and run to the shower. I put on gloves and wash all of his clothes. We throw away the bags and packages, washing our hands while we do it. Then we put everything away with disinfecting wipes in our hands.

You will not be surprised when I tell you that in the past few days I’ve come to realize that I am now nuttier than any fruitcake.

Last week I offered to share some of my giant stockpile of food with a friend (I am not hoarding…I am buying in bulk. And sharing), but when it came time to drop the lentils off at Linda’s house, I was too scared to go.

And that scared me. I didn’t like the wimpy little chicken that I was becoming.

So I decided last weekend that it was time to get back out there. I made a plan to the grocery store on Wednesday of this week. I made a list. I put it in the order of the aisles, so I could move through the store as fast as possible. I got my mask ready.

By Tuesday, I was starting to fixate on the shopping trip. Would I accidentally touch a tiny spit speck and get the disease? What if I passed it on to my brand new grandson? Or to my daughter? Or my friend who delivers our mail?

“Maybe I shouldn’t shop,” I started to think. “We have enough food.” Sure, my sane self answered, if you want to live on lentils, rice and pasta.

I am sixty four years old. I have been married for almost 43 years, and in that time I don’t think I’ve ever missed a week of grocery shopping. And now here I was, living in fear of my local PriceChopper.

This was ridiculous.

On Tuesday afternoon, I decided to take charge of my paranoia. I knew that I waited until the next day, I’d be awake half the night worrying. So I grabbed my mask, and my list. I took a box of sanitizing wipes.

And off I went.

At first it was glorious. While I’d been safely quarantined in my own yard, the azaleas had bloomed! The magnolia blossoms were starting to appear! Life was still going on!

I got to the store, grabbed my disposable wipes and headed in.

It was horrible.

There were people without masks, walking RIGHT past me. They were BREATHING on me! My skin started to crawl. People were trying to stay apart, but when four of you want to pick out a bunch of bananas, it’s hard to stay 6 feet away from each other.

And the shelves were so bare.

This is where the toilet paper used to live.

The strangest items were missing. There was a huge amount of bread available, but absolutely no flour, baking soda, or cake mix. The meat department was fully stocked with everything in the world, but you couldn’t find a frozen pizza.

It was weird. It was scary. It felt like a very bad dream. In spite of the masks worn by every employee and most customers, I still felt those invisible microbes bouncing off of my skin.

In spite of the spacing at the register, and the way the cashier sanitized the area between each shopper, I still felt exposed. The giant plexiglass spit guard between me and the young cashier should have felt protective, but instead I just felt like I couldn’t breathe.

And the worst part of all for this chatty woman, was the lack of connection with the people around me. We couldn’t share smiles. We couldn’t casually read each other’s faces to see who was looking open and friendly.

Oddly enough, people barely made eye contact.

I didn’t chat with the bagger as I usually do. I didn’t offer to help him. I paid silently with my disinfected credit card. I practically ran out of the store and rushed back to the sanitized safety of my own little space.

I’m glad I pushed myself to get out there. I am.

I’m still scared. And creeped out. And sad.

But at least now I know I can do it, and that I have to do it more often.

Now as long as the murder hornets stay away, things might turn out ok.

11 thoughts on “I Got Back Out There

  1. Good for you. My husband is high risk so his doctor quarantined us before the state was shut down. I’m a hugger. I have always lived to be with people and my relationships. I feel like I’m living a life that is unnatural, but needed. I miss my kids, I miss being with students, I miss my 91 year old mother, my friends, work and more, but I do feel because of my husband I have to be obsessed for the time being. Now I’m afraid that when the appropriate time comes to go back into the world I’ll be too frightened, that I will not touch anyone and that I will have lost the most important part of myself. Realistically I know that is normal to feel at first and that you, I and everyone else will just take time to trust that it’s safe. That we won’t get someone ill and they won’t get us ill. Our normal will be changed, but we will once again adjust to being with those we love, chatting with those we don’t know (yet) and we will lose our fear of going places. I’m not sure when, but I am sure it will happen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I wish you peace and health, Sherry! I’m worried about losing my true self, too. I’m afraid that I won’t get to see my mom again, or my sons. I don’t know. I guess for now we just need to keep sending love out into the universe and hope for healing and safety. Be well!!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I don’t know what your location is but I had a pleasant grocery trip today, although I admit I was anxious before I actually stepped inside.

    Here in Toronto and surrounding communities masks are not (yet) mandated everywhere, and astonishingly most staff seem to trust their customers to distance themselves. I have heard stories from family and friends that have experienced stressful situations but they have not (yet) happened to me.

    Doesn’t take away my anxiety though…

    Anyway. We have to figure it out somehow, don’t we. I am not convinced this is going to be over soon.

    Good luck to you! I enjoyed reading about your experience.

    Like

    • Thanks! I know that this is a typical American stereotype, but somehow I feel that in general Canadians are more socially aware and socially engaged than here in the US, where the mentally seems to be “if it inconveniences me, I won’t do it.” The number of people here demanding that hair and nail salons open is astounding to me. Wishing you well up there! (I love Toronto!)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We have the hornets here in our state so you’re probably okay and safe from them for now. I haven’t missed shopping all that much because of grocery pick up, but I do absolutely get that sad feeling of little to no contact when wearing masks. Faces speak volumes as they say.

    Like

    • I know the hornets are far away, its just the fact of their existence that has added to my generalized loss of sanity! I feel like Mamma Earth is just working too hard to try to shake us off! We were able to use grocery delivery for a bit, but then it became so overloaded that it wasn’t possible. I get locally farmed meats delivered, and we use “Misfits Market” for wonderful produce. The grocery store has been about a once every 2-3 week trip for milk, butter, cream. We’ve been joking about getting some cows!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. America is a very scary place right now- I think your anxiety is justified- stay safe, keep all those cleaning protocols happening, & let’s make a new world order as soon as possible. Australia isn’t so bad at all, although I am in the country not a crowded city

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s