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Why Having Chronic Illnesses Makes Me Avoid Going Shopping

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Ask someone what is one of the things women like. They probably won’t say more than a couple of words before mentioning the famous “shopping.”

In the world we live in, girls are taught from a young age that they should shop. That shopping equals therapy, and that a shopping spree will mend any broken heart, fight with your parents, failed exams, and so on.

It’s not uncommon to see female characters in movies who are attached to guys with money for them to spent on ridiculous shopping trips, in which the elegant lady is backed up by three or four guys with hundreds of bags of all kinds of famous brands. At the same time, a very popular scene in movies is the one in which a heartbroken and vengeful wife spends hours using three or more credit cards which are at their limits.

And I will say: I hate shopping. I hate going to shopping malls and trying on clothes. I hate the whole experience.

I was briefly reminded today why I hate it so much. I’m a young woman who struggles with fibromyalgia, arthritis, chronic fatigue, dermatillomania besides depression and anxiety. I was passing through a store today and my mom told me we should buy some dark clothing, as a dear member of my family is close to death after a horrible battle with a disease. So I went in.

First, fibro fog makes it absolutely impossible to focus. There are hundreds of stands and pieces and colors and “sale” signs, and I just stand there like, “C’mon brain. Pick a way. Go some way. Lead the way. Freaking move because people are staring at us.” And a salesman comes my way and asks “Can I help you?” I look at him trying to get my head in the moment to answer something coherent, and depression and anxiety see a possibility to shine and my brain goes like, “Jesus Christ, say something because he’s been staring at us for a very long time and there are lots of people who are staring and need him and here you are not saying anything (anxiety),” and “Well… what can we tell him… Maybe ask him why is death such a cruel punishment and how to let people we love go and what to do with all the grief and pain. Maybe ask him what would look sad enough to bury someone you love. Plus you have loved ones near death so should we buy something multifunctional? Because how will we ever be able to use the same clothing we bury our loved one in… I hate my life (depression).”

And with these two answers, I just decide to stare at him and ask him for black clothing. I arrive at two stands full of different kinds of black shirts and tops and dresses and pants and skirts.
The ones on the bottom seem nice so I kneel even though I know I’ll regret it and my back screams at me not to do it. I do it anyway and when on my knees, arthritis comes to my mind, saying, “Hello my old friend, remember your 99-year-old lady joints? Good luck getting up.” And I try to get up and people look at me with pity and despair. There aren’t any nice things in the lower row, so I reach for the hangers on the upper part. And boy, does it hurt to raise my arm. And of course, the hanger tangles in another lace blouse so I have to raise the other arm to untangle it. And baby, it ain’t easy to do it with rigid hands and muscular weakness.

I chose three dresses. And boy, lace and cotton had never been heavier. I dragged my tired and swollen and painful feet to the dressing room with the hope of finding somewhere to sit down. And no. No chairs, not a freaking place to rest for a second.

I end up feeling like I’ve run a marathon. And the mirrors reflecting my swollen feet and joints, my dermatillomania scars…

I took a couple of items home in a plastic bag that feels like I’m carrying my own weight in just the palm of my hand.

So I hate shopping. I absolutely hate shopping… and I’ll take a day off tomorrow in bed to recover from my experience. Starting by falling asleep right now after having a lot of pain medication.

If you identify with these, or have other complaints, it’s OK. Don’t dare to feel alone or like a burden. There are lots of us who feel the same way, it’s just that not everyone is willing to express it out loud. What have I learned? First: Planning is everything. I know that when anyone enters a shopping place and see “sale” signs everywhere, they are like magnets. And if you want to go through the whole store, that’s fine. But remember that your body needs to take it easy, and that your “battery percentage available” is low… So if you want a jacket, only look at jackets. If you want pants, go to that section. Maybe you can return later, but give yourself breaks. It isn’t a race, and it won’t be the last chance you’ll get in life. So if you can make various short trips instead of a four-hour straight journey through the store, your body will thank you, plus it can be a motivation to get out of bed for several different days.

Don’t feel bad if you need your cane, a wheelchair, support from an assistant, or to sit down for a few moments. Explore which places offer diverse mobility options. And for the reflection on the mirror: No mirror in a shopping place is flattering. That’s a fact. Not all places manage the same sizes. That’s a fact. Just because something is trendy, it doesn’t mean you have to wear it to prove your worth. That’s a fact. You are so much more than your scars, than your size, than the fact that you can or can’t wear high heels or short sleeved shirts… always remember that.

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Originally published: August 2, 2017
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