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What It’s Like to Have a Panic Attack in Walmart


My favorite place to have a panic attack is Walmart. I don’t know if its the large open space, the fluorescent lighting or all the other shoppers that set me off, but something about Walmart is panically delicious.

I can be walking down an aisle, carefully plucking things from the shelves when bang, panic attack. I start breathing like I’m giving birth to a llama and my eyes dart about wildly, looking for a place to hide. The water aisle — perfect! I dodge into the water aisle and try to slow down my hammering heart. I remind myself everything is OK. (Most of myself doesn’t believe this.) I try grounding myself by noticing what I smell, see, taste, feel, and hear. It ain’t working.

At this point, I’m trying to decide whether to abandon my cart and bolt the fuck out of here or stay and ride this mother out.

I choose to ride it out and continue hiding in the water aisle to get myself together. I concentrate on one sound (the air handling machine) and block all others out. I look at my shopping list and assess how much further I have to go. This attack occurred smack dab in the middle of my shopping.  The thought of having to return to Walmart the next day to finish the deed of shopping was enough to push me into action. I went rolling off down the water aisle toward the rest of the store.

Before leaving the safety of the water aisle, I dissociate a bit, which makes the noise, light and people more tolerable. Just a little break from reality. Dissociation is on a spectrum from mild daydreaming to disorders. Basically, I space off in an attempt to give my brain some quiet time. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost one third of people say they “occasionally feel as though they are watching themselves in a movie.” Four percent of people say they feel that way one third of the time.

So, I’m not alone in my dissociated world. A third of you are tripping on oxygen, just like me. Attempting to get it together by repeatedly saying, “snap out of it,“ things eventually come back into focus and I’m, relatively speaking, all together again.

I have had panic attacks that required me to stop what I was doing, in most cases shopping, and leave my cart sitting abandoned. This sucks on a couple of levels. First, like I said earlier, I just have to go back and do my shopping all over again. Second, I’m upset that my illness reared its ginormous head and I had to leave the store. Third, I feel guilty that someone is going to have to restock all my crap.

But today, I’m feeling confident about my chances of beating this panic attack and finishing my shopping. I’m saying my affirmations. I’m imagining the fun things I’ll do when I’m finished shopping. I’m congratulating myself on being a badass and continuing to shop in the midst of panic. Then, I misjudge a curve and jam the metal cart into my hip. “Dammit!” I hiss as a young mom and her sweet child eye me suspiciously.  I lower my gaze and send out “I’m sorry for cursing” vibes to the mom.

I keep my head down to avoid any unnecessary contact with other people. It’s not them, its me. I am just not that good at adulting. I can put on a good show for a while, but then I get tired and need a nap.

I put the dog food in the bottom of the cart… and I’m done.

Now, I just have to put it all on the conveyor belt, pay for it, load it in the car, carry it in the house, put it all away and make meals out of it  I knew there was a reason I didn’t want to be a housewife. Its actually a shit-ton of work and I don’t know how women work full time and get all their errands done. Ultimate respect for that. You all get the Super Person award.

So, I’ve got no room to fuss about the little bullshit things in life that I have to do. It’s just that, sometimes, that fuss builds and I find myself hiding in the water aisle at Walmart.

Where’s your favorite place to have a panic attack? I would really like to hear about your experiences if you’re willing to share. Sometimes, sharing even makes the experience lose some power over you. It’s really cool when that happens.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Getty Images photo via flukyfluky


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