standing near dead fish is preferred

I know that closing my eyes doesn’t make trouble go away, but in a crowded Walmart I allow myself to believe that’s true. 

Standing in the electronics section is the hardest.  Thirteen year old boys and their kid brothers congregate in the aisles, playing the sample games on beat up X-Box consoles.  The little girls are shoved off to the side but they stand and watch, clogging the aisle.  Older gentlemen stare at the cell phone accessories, touching things and then putting them back.  Young families push carts slowly with cranky toddlers whining about the toy section,“I said that you can only have ONE, Samantha!”

If I had red ruby slippers, I’d click my heels and escape to Kansas.

It’s not only Walmart, but also busy grocery stores and malls that are difficult for me.  Being in a crowded, confined space with the general public is not my forte. 

Things slow down, as if I’m watching the world in slow motion.  My eyes dart around for the nearest corner without people.  My anxiety level raises as I walk to that corner and I’ll stay there until I get it together.  Don’t talk to me, I’m not a normal person in that moment.  My speech is pressured and I speak in fragments.  Usually I say something about needing to get away from all the people.

The maternity section in Walmart is generally a good escape.

I’ve looked into it, and I do not have social anxiety disorder.  The difference between me and the socially anxious is that they are worried people are watching and judging.  For me, I’m simply looking for space to breath.

There is an indoor farmer’s market in White Plains, NY called Apple Farm.  My best friend and I will frequent Apple Farm when I visit because they have fresh produce at decent prices, year round.  It’s really good food and it’s a popular place.  Popular and small = deadly combo for Kari.

I admitted to my friend this week that the reason I hang out in the fish section at Apple Farm is not because I like fish, but because the stench of dead fish keeps others away — it’s the most deserted corner of the store.  (I have documented how I feel about fish.)  Still, standing near fish with shriveled eyeballs is a better option to me than bumping into people near the broccoli.

Over the last few years, I’ve been able to better control my crowded-confined-public-space-anxiety.  Mostly I stay away from Walmart and go grocery shopping at weird times.  To be honest, I suspect my anxiety stems from being selfish and not wanting to share space with others.  I don’t expect Walmart or Apple Farm to revolve around me, or do I?

The shoe department at Walmart can be pretty busy.  But if they sell ruby red slippers, I may risk venturing in and pick up a pair.  The potential reward of escape is much worth the momentary terror.


10 Responses to “standing near dead fish is preferred”

  1. 1 mom
    March 17, 2008 at 5:05 am

    Is this why you always left the table and retreated to the living room during our after dinner, family discussions? Breathing space. Ahhh.

  2. 2 Becca
    March 17, 2008 at 7:38 am

    I totally let myself believe you were hanging out in the fish section because you LIKED it over there! But seriously, I can understand not wanting to be around so many densely-packed people. (I was getting small panic surges during my week-long commute to St. Vincent’s in January, and I can STILL see all those people flying at me, top-speed, from every direction through Grand Central Station’s grand concourse. Terrible feeling, that.)

  3. 3 Ronster
    March 17, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    One of the advantages of being retired is being able to shop on weekdays to avoid the weekend crowds. There are still a fair amount of people out on weekdays, but a definite improvement from the weekend shopping that I remember from Silver Spring.

    What leads you to believe that conditions would be any better if you escaped to Kansas?

  4. March 18, 2008 at 8:05 am

    this has been apparent from the early days… when you would choose to sit in the back of the van by yourself and let Jill & I have the nice “captains chairs.” Breathing space…. double ahhhhhhhh.

  5. 5 msmilie
    March 24, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Hello. I came across this blog entry this evening and was compelled to leave a message of support as I too suffer with crowds. I am more of the social-anxiety type, I think, but it all revolves around the inability to cope for long periods of time with crowds. Due to this my social life has taken a bit of a hit as I prefer solitude or small groups of people I know. Things I used to enjoy such as night life, concerts, etc. are now a memory. The one thing that has not been affected is going to the movies, though I’m always a little anxious before the lights go down. Once it’s dim and the movie is playing I am distracted by the film, which helps.
    I wasn’t always like this. I always had a penchant for solitude, but I could be in a crowd and not feel anxious. The last couple of years, however, it’s been brutal. I think it’s a combination of a chemical imbalance mixed with a growing disconnect with the society and culture. I have become a bit of an anachronism, preferring music, books, movies and other stimuli from earlier decades. In the end, I think it’s partly my own design. I reached a point about five years ago where I decided to remove myself from many of the people and places that I knew as a way to avoid stagnation and I’ve never really returned to the frame of mind I possessed before.
    What is my point? I have no clue. Um, I guess my point is that any form of social anxiety is based on a conscious decision to remove oneself from situations that go against one’s taste and/or perception. Something like that. Perhaps it’s a gift. Perhaps the mass population has undergone some form of mass psychosis (flipping through the channels of your television will further enforce this theory) and some of us have not gone nuts yet, or we’re immune to this psychosis for some reason and we’re now strangers in a strange land. Or, maybe, just maybe, I have no clue what I’m talking about. I think that may very well turn out to be the answer.

    In the end, I think you have good reasons for why you feel the way you do. You have more courage than me, I’ll tell you that. I can’t find the courage to walk into a Wal-Mart and here you are breaking down which section is best.
    Then again, Wal-Mart can be very therapeutic if you think about it. If you’re feeling down about yourself and/or your station in life, walking into a Wal-Mart and observing most of those peeps will remind you that things aren’t too bad after all. My God. It’s like Night of the Living Dead in there, except it’s worse, because at least in the movie you could kill the brain and you kill the ghoul. What if the ghouls have no brain?

    As Bob Dylan said: “Keep a good head and always carry a light bulb.”



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