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8 Tips to Make It Through the Grocery Store With Ulcerative Colitis

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They tell you to be happy about the little things. A random smile from a stranger, three green lights in a row, getting the chance to pet a dog, sun peeking from behind the clouds…Make your pick. In my case, one of the few little things to be happy about is making it out of the grocery store without having “an accident.”

It is said that happiness is only real when shared, but try to tell someone not involved in your suffering. “Hey, I didn’t crap myself at the supermarket today!” This reaction would probably not be met with much enthusiasm and empathy. Yet for me, it is a small victory every single time.

Going to the grocery store, or any other store, is one of the triggers that cause panic and anxiety, and therefore brings the risk of losing control over one’s bowel movement. It is a vicious circle, and while I am aware of it, it is very tricky to break it and leave the place in once piece, preferably with a checked shopping list.

Why supermarkets? Unless you are in a huge store, there usually are no bathrooms anywhere close. You might not be in urgent need of a bathroom, as long as there is one nearby. However, the moment you change your location and need to spend as only as five minutes in a place without one, the panic sets in. You could do your best and try to stay calm but at the same time, you are controlled by fear and shame of what could happen. And usually, it is the fear that wins. You have to put your basket down, accept your fate and head home to take a shower.

You can probably imagine, how frustrating this is. Sometimes you have to turn around as soon as you enter the store. Sometimes you make it halfway and sometimes you are standing at the cashier, hoping nobody will notice anything. So, making it out without any complications can really brighten your day.

I’ve been fighting my fight for more than three years now, and while I also have tried to get my groceries delivered, I don’t want to give up. I like to pick my fruits and vegetables myself. Here are a few things I have been practicing that “save my ass” (pardon the pun) in most cases.

1. Try different paths in the store. Instead of doing your usual route, go grab some items from the end of your list. I have found that the same way habit is created, the brain has a set of places and triggers where the panic starts. By changing it up, you gain some time and “confuse” the usual panic reaction.

2. Avoid cooling sections. If possible, or wear an extra layer of clothing. Change of temperature is usually a mean trigger.

3. Breathe. When the panic comes and there is no bathroom nearby, put your shopping basket down, change the aisle, stop and focus your stare at one spot. Breathe deeply and try to slow down your heartbeat. Keep repeating to yourself that you are in control. Do not let yourself give up.

4. Wear an adult diaper. Seriously. It might not save you from having to take a shower afterwards, but it will give you some time to finish your shopping, compared to wearing no diaper or night time pads, in which case you would need to go and change immediately. Do not let yourself rely entirely on the diaper, if possible, practice calming yourself down and being in control.

5. Carry a bottle of water and a little snack. Especially during a flare. We get dehydrated much faster due to the increased loss of fluids, and this can lead to exhaustion when carrying a heavy shopping basket or walking for way too long. At one point I thought it would be a good idea to eat and drink lightly before going to the store. Wrong. Once I collected all I needed, I reached the queue, started seeing black, got ringing in my ears and came crashing down. I was lucky enough to have strangers bring me water, but it’s always better to avoid coming to this point in the first place.

6. Take it or leave it. Indecisiveness might lead to panic if you are standing in front of two items for five minutes. If you can’t decide on the spot, leave. It might come to you later, it might not, but it isn’t worth whatever calmness you are able to generate at the moment.

7. Listen to music. Focus on the lyrics, the melody, mouth the words if you like, imagine you are in your own music video, doing your little dance, walking down the aisle. So what if someone thinks you are looking weird. Do whatever takes your mind off of a possible accident happening.

8. Carry an emergency package. If you don’t have an option to go back home right away, an emergency package consisting of spare pants, underwear, wet wipes and antibacterial soap is going to be a lifesaver. You can easily change in a restaurant bathroom or a public one.

What I find most important, if these things happen to you on a regular basis, do not let it get to you. Yes, you might feel like an utter failure coming home and needing to change your pants several times a month, but it is imperative you walk out of the situation with your head held high.

You have a complicated illness that is a mixture of physical and mental conditions, and you are doing your best. Let go of any feelings of shame and embarrassment. These won’t do you any good. If it happens, it happens. In the end, it is nothing a bit of water and tissues can´t solve. Staying strong and staying calm gives you a bigger chance to make it next time and celebrate another little victory.

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Thinkstock Image By: Ingram Publishing

Originally published: April 11, 2017
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