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What Grocery Shopping Can Be Like When You Have a Chronic Illness

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Grocery shopping may not be an Olympic sport, but for many people living with chronic illnesses, it can feel like one. Pushing a cart, walking around the story and lifting heavy items can lead to exhaustion and pain, while crowds, parking lots and harsh lighting can cause a sensory overload.

We asked our Mighty community with chronic illnesses to explain what it’s like for them to go grocery shopping. It’s not as quick and easy of an errand as healthy people might think, and it’s OK if your illness makes this a challenging task for you, too.

Here’s what the community told us:

1. “It’s a marathon. It is the only thing I can do that day. I prepare for it and take a deep breath because it feels like I won’t be able to breathe well again until I leave the store with the groceries I need. I always go with a list so I can just grab those things and get out, try to preserve as much energy as possible for the drive home.”

2.I always get very excited to go to the grocery store because it means getting out of the house for something other than a doctor appointment. I get halfway done and the pain hits. I start sweating, get tunnel vision, want to pass out and I feel like everyone’s staring at me. So, I rush out to the car while my husband finishes and deal with payback pain for the next few days.”

3. “I can’t stand the store. I started doing all my shopping online. Luckily I live in an area that I can get groceries delivered, otherwise I would be in trouble. Doing that trip was hard on me physically and mentally.”

4. “Grocery shopping since having a chronic illness is kind of like going to an amusement park as a kid. You’re excited because you get to look at neat things you wouldn’t otherwise think of, and less than halfway through you’re exhausted, overheating, sore and need a two-day nap to recover.”

5. “I ache and hurt. The lights are too bright. People make me nervous. It’s winter and the flu is out there, and I have to worry about everything I touch. I can’t afford a flu bug with my autoimmune diseases.”

6. “I don’t look sick enough to use the go-carts at the store so I spend a lot of time crouching or sitting on the floor pretending to look at items while I get my breath back. Sometimes I get so nauseated and dizzy I just have to leave before I finish shopping.”

7.It’s scary if I can’t get access to a scooter. I feel like I’m going to pass out. Sometimes I have to choose between pushing through but feeling so weak I have to sit down in the store’s little restaurant and drink water while my husband checks out.”

8.It’s going so early in the morning on the weekend that you hope everyone else is still in bed, so you can get round quickly and not have to queue. It’s going to a smaller supermarket so you don’t have as far to walk. It’s needing a list but still forgetting things. There is no such thing as quickly popping in for one item due to the time it takes to get out of the car, from the car into the shop, to the item, through the till and back to the car and then to get back in!”

9. “Grocery shopping can be fun, but most times it’s painful and takes a huge toll on me. Since we shop at so many different stores I have to rotate through them and what we need. Luckily the one store, ShopRite, that I buy a lot of my essentials, delivers. Just tonight I spent an hour putting together my order… it will be here tomorrow! Weight lifted off my shoulders!”

10. “It’s like using a shopping cart as a walker to navigate a maze that never ends, while painfully reaching for items you won’t have the energy to cook anyway.”

11. “I can’t do a whole shopping trip. I have to break it into segments or different days. It’s just too much for me physically and mentally. Then there’s bringing everything home and unloading it from the car and then into the house. It’s a whole ordeal.”

12. “Sometimes it feels like a victory because I have left the home and been independent. It is wonderful to do daily things when the pain isn’t as high, it is a blessing. Sometimes it is devastating as it shows an ugly side to people; they bash into you because you’re in too much pain to jump out of their way, they make you flustered because you aren’t going fast enough at the checkout.”

13. “Mobility carts save the day! But a lot of times they’re unavailable or broken and you’re like do I have the spoons to wait here for a mobility cart and go shopping? Should I just say screw it and use a shopping cart? It’s a huge barrier to being able to shop.”

14. “I’ve learned to buy something ready-to-eat on shopping day because I can’t shop and cook on the same day. I bag my perishable groceries separately – those are the only groceries I put away when I get home.”

15. “This is why I am using some of the home delivery meal services! It cuts out a lot of the work, I still get to cook which I love, and it’s better for my health than pizza delivery, eating out, or living on cereal because I don’t have energy to cook.”

16. “You hope the cashier doesn’t look at you funny when you can’t get your credit card out of your wallet as your body struggles to signal that your fingers need to close to grasp the object. You hope and pray you don’t drop a glass object on the floor as you may not feel it in your hand. There are so many thoughts you go through – but we persevere and do the tasks as they have become life, a new life – one we did not expect – but one in which we graciously try to make it seem as though it is normal.”

17. “It makes me sad to see all the food I cannot eat and stresses me out trying to find food I can eat. Food used to be my favorite thing and on good days it still is, but on bad days food can be my worst enemy.”

18. “It’s my Olympics. You’re anxious to go and get it over with, but you know it’s going to be completely exhausting. You want to be able to grab food and then make dinner for your family, but by the time you get home you’re lucky to have enough energy to put the groceries away. It’s one of the hardest day-to-day challenges.”

19. “Basically I have to bank on always forgetting something. Even if it’s on my handwritten list. I always forget something. So I have to just learn to live with that.”

20. “I have ulcerative colitis and loathe any store when in a flare. I have to time my shopping so I hit the bathroom when I get there, grab as much from the opposite end of the store as I can before I have to run to the bathroom again. If I am lucky I can get through grocery shopping with just three or four trips to the bathroom.”

21. “It’s strategic. I plan everything and even wright my list from one side of the store to the other. If I miss something while shopping I just don’t go back unless it’s a necessity, like toilet paper. I know how long I have before my body starts breaking down and I’ve trained to stay on schedule. Get in, get out, go home!”

Thinkstock image by Minerva Studio

What Grocery Shopping Can Be Like When You Have a Chronic Illness

Originally published: February 11, 2017
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