Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
In, out, 1, 2, 3, 4.
Smell the roses, blow out the candle.
Focus on the sound and feel of the breath as it enters and exits the body.
It’s just the grocery store. Everyone goes to the grocery store. It’s not a big deal. Just go inside, get what you need, and get out.
Sitting in the car in the parking lot for 27 minutes gripping the steering wheel is not going to fulfill the shopping list. Entertaining the gut-wrenching terror of being around that many other people will not bake the cake for tomorrow’s work party. Taking deep breaths in a desperate attempt to curb anxiety only serves as a clever ploy of procrastination.
Just do it. Open the car door, go inside.
Do it already.
It’s so simple, just put one hand on the handle and push.
Ready, 1, 2, 3…
Nope. Nope nope nope. Can’t do it. Can’t get out of the car. Look at all of those people, with their germs and their illness, and their sticky, grubby hands touching every single product and surface. That person there looks like they haven’t showered in 6 days. And that one there has all 9 kids with them, each one a snot-nosed little virus magnet.
Going in the store means breathing in the same air as everyone else, and that’s unacceptable. This paper-thin mask can’t possibly be an adequate barrier for all of the particles swirling around in the air, ready to infiltrate my pores.
Wow, it’s hot in here. When did it get hot in here? There’s not enough air, let’s roll down the window for a bit. Heart palpitations happen to everyone, it’s not a heart attack. A little hand sanitizer will calm things down.
Deep breaths. In, out.
Breathe in through the straw, out through the straw.
Smell the hand sanitizer, it’s a wonderful scent of lilac and mint.
Maybe an online order would be a better idea, with curbside pick-up. No having to go inside, or see people, or breathe in their dirty, used, mouth-breath air. Yeah, just pick up the phone, go online, and order.
No, that won’t work. This is supposed to be an exercise in getting back out around people. An online order is only a band-aid solution, and this is going to keep being an issue until it’s faced head-on.
This would be so much easier if the skin-crawling sensation would dissipate. And if the worst-case scenario images of people on ventilators next to make-shift morgues would vacate the mental premises. It’s been 3 years since the first news stories came out, but the screen of the mind plays them as if they were happening right now.
All of these people, going in and out of the store like it’s no big deal, like nothing ever happened. But it did happen, it was real, it was traumatic, and its impact is lasting. How can they all walk around as if the world went back to normal, when for some of us it never did? How can they forget all of the people who died, the ones who suffered alone in a veritable containment bubble, without even nurses to hold their hands as they breathed their last? It isn’t fair that others can so casually dismiss the past few years as a blip on the radar, and breathe a sigh of relief now that stores are back open and life can go back to the way it was before.
Except that it will never be like it was before. Not for some of us, who cannot forget. Before, grocery stores were not even a second thought, an in and out trivial matter of daily monotony. Oh, to be able to simply walk into a store or crowded area again without the sensation of existential dread and impending world doom! To be able to write out a shopping list without the intrusive thoughts of possibly touching a contaminated item and being sentenced to death over a box of cake mix. To be able to go into a shop without feeling like the walls are caving in, and that every other person present is close enough to feel the heat from their bodies.
But life is moving on, without pause for thought or time to heal. Life demands that we return to work, mingle amongst others, celebrate our own mediocrity and the birthdays of a 40-something, indifferent coworker. It demands that we plaster on the “happy face,” and act like we are all okay, when we really, really aren’t.
How is it done? How do other people manage to find peace again, after collectively going through so much? How do we fake feeling fine, until it becomes our reality? Maybe it is about opening one car door at a time, making one brave move away from controlling anxious thoughts each day. Maybe it looks like walking into the store, being defeated three steps in, leaving and trying again tomorrow. Maybe it is about birthday cakes, and embracing the beauty that mediocrity and mundane and simple provide.
Maybe it is about deep breaths, and positive mantras, and breakdowns. Maybe it is about riding the waves of depression and anxiety, allowing them to wash over us, instead of fighting so hard against them that we drown under their enormity. Maybe it is about being more open and honest, and talking to people about how we are feeling, instead of pretending in order to placate those around us.
Okay. It’s time. This is doable. And even if it isn’t, there is always another chance tomorrow. It starts with stepping out of this vehicle, and walking into this store. It’s okay to be afraid, lots of people are still afraid. But it’s not okay for fear to control your life anymore.
Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
Focus on the goal. Focus on how it will feel to take this step forward.
1, 2, 3, 4.
In through the nose, out through the mouth.
Open the door, and step out.