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What It's Like to Go Shopping With OCD

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help, visit the International OCD Foundation’s website.

You should come shopping with me sometime. That is to say if you wish to experience obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) at its peak outward expression. Shopping, to me, is every bad thing about OCD all in one experience. Heck, it even involves other mental disorders, some come along!

The first thing I experience when beginning my shopping experience is my obsession with my categorized list. A shopping list, of course, is not an uncommon thing for someone to bring to a store, but to me, I look at it as dread. I see every item on the list and all the problems that I imagine experiencing with said list. That is to say, I must complete this list, and much of it is outside my control. Oh, not just being out of stock — that bothers me on a visceral level, as I used to deal a bit with ordering for a grocery store and being out of stock at any time was unacceptable.

No, stores make this more complex. Let’s take the thermal shirts I wish to have. The store I’m at sells them rather inexpensively, which is a high in and of itself. But a high based on expectations. Problem — and I’m not even looking at the selection yet, but anticipating this one item on the list — they’ll have the color and style correct, but not my size. Or any two of these features correct, but not all three. It’s worse than being out of stock, as it dangles the ability to check this item off my list in front of me, chuckling. And, in this case, it deprives me of warmth.

We move on and it doesn’t take long before my agoraphobia kicks in. My mind, you see, very much desires a store that only carries the eight items I need and nothing more. This would not make for a good business, but my brain wants it this way. This actually would make for a very silly business, but again, my brain doesn’t care. Thus, I am lost stepping into whatever aisle is the first aisle.

Oh, that’s the next big decision — routing. I need to achieve not only getting everything on the list, but I must do it in the most efficient way possible. Understand that upon entry into the store, I wish to leave the store. This will be a recurring wish throughout. Nevertheless, where to begin? Stores have made this an impossible to make efficient. Everything is everywhere! It most certainly is organized, but not for logic but for all of the science of emotion and the like that goes into marketing. I’d prefer logical, but that is not happening. So I’m lost.

I need to buy an outdoor chair. My friends have one; mine broke, so I need one. I know my friends all have blue chairs. I come into this part of the experience with these facts in mind. I am faced with a red chair and a blue chair. Does this matter? Oh, yes it does. I just have to think how. Oh, and there’s a slightly more expensive green chair as well — but that’s it. I wish I knew the largest cup size I’d want to fit into the cup holder; I wish I had that measurement here. That could eliminate choices and I could move on with one chair to purchase.

Oh! Eliminating choices. You’re going to be here for a while. No, really — a while. The blue chair matches my friends’ chairs, but is that a good idea? Matching is comforting, but going against the grain means everyone will know which chair is mine and there will be no mix-up. I could always write my name on the chair. OK, so what makes the green one so much better? It is more expensive, but I cannot ascertain the tangibility of its higher quality. Though I completely admit I equate pricier to higher quality. You learn that in America. I generally buy the cheapest anyway, as thriftiness outweighs this aforementioned price/quality logic. But… I do have to weigh. And I do. For minutes. Back and forth, none of them are perfect. And that is a problem. Because I cannot just envision myself taking any one of these three and being done with it. No, I now begin to think of chairs that don’t even exist at this store. In fact, they may not exist anywhere!

This is all taking a lot longer than it is for you to read this, as the loops my mind takes described here are repeated over and over for quite some time. I imagine I’ve spent upwards of 20 minutes on decisions like this. And I have eight things to buy.

I always have this card to play: coming back to it. Yes, I can leave the chairs and move on to something else on the list, while my brain processes the obsessing in the background. Let me correct that — my brain processes the obsession in the foreground while I’m not paying attention to my attempting to purchase other things on the list.

Yet here we are in the produce section. I hate produce. I’ve hated fresh food forever. It does nothing for me. I see it all as a means to an end; I see it all as either garbage or shit, which is essentially what we’re buying here when thinking logically about it. Garbage and shit, this will all become. I have no preferences in this section of the store other than to get out of it as fast as possible. If I am with someone, this is where my patience is shown outwardly by the twitching in my leg. That means… well, you know what that means and you know it is rude. I do too. But I have to do it. I have to be an asshole in produce. Sorry.

We meander through a few wins (that is to say easy things to check off the list) and back to the three chairs. I’ve been thinking a lot about these chairs, and I think it makes sense to go with the cheap red one. Or blue. Not green. But, no, red. Red will be mine. Maybe. Let me think for a minute.

(Five-minute silent pause.)

Red. Cheap. Yeah, that’s OK. That makes sense.

So we have stuff. Not everything. There is no glory in conquest; this was just time spent and nothing more. Well, now I have to pay, which is really the most dreadful part of all of this, because I now move on from the hell of shopping into the hell of budgeting.

But that, for now, can be for another day.

Or, no. I should really take out my calculator now and begin on that exercise. Maybe when I get home, sitting in this stupid red outdoor chair with my initials on it in marker that I’ll probably never use again.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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Photo by Caleb Lucas on Unsplash

Originally published: May 10, 2018
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