The feeling of betrayal haunts many of us with chronic illness. We have been dismissed and at times abused by the medical system. We have lost friends along the way because people either didn’t believe we were sick or didn’t like us in our unwell state. We have been forced to defend and “prove” ourselves to strangers who interrogate us in order to gain access to disability benefits. If we speak up or get angry about our situation, we are seen as “bad patients” or mentally unstable. This pot is constantly simmering and at times get so full that it spills over.
Last night I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner. Going to the grocery store is something I dread. The sounds and the lights are overstimulating. The walking and the lifting and the bending are difficult, and nearly impossible when I’m in a sea of symptoms. I’ve been struggling with increased symptoms for a few weeks now.
In spite of how bad I have been feeling physically, there has been a bit of an opening in my emotional state. Maybe it is related to the signs of spring I’ve been seeing and the sunshine. I’ve been feeling more compassionate with myself. But I seem to switch between two emotional states, I am either flat-line nothing or I’m pissed off and highly irritable.
So there I was dragging myself through the store leaning on the shopping cart for support. I had to cheer-lead myself through it by silently telling myself, “You can do this.” I stopped by the ice cream aisle to get some of my son’s favorite treats. Finally finished, I steered myself towards the check out line. As is typical for this store, there was a long line in front of the self-checkout where I usually go. I decided to go through the express line in part because it would reduce the amount of effort I would have to summon.
As I was unloading my items onto the conveyor belt, I noticed that I had accidentally picked up three boxes of my son’s favorite ice cream bars instead of two (they were BOGO). Instead of just throwing the box onto one of the gum and candy displays by the checkout like I’ve seen others do, I wanted to get it back to the freezer. Ice cream is sacred, and I hate to waste good food.
I attempted to get the check-out girl’s attention but she flat-out ignored me. Finally I said, “Excuse me,” with a pleasant tone. I was not the least bit upset. If anything, I was feeling relieved that the shopping endeavor was almost over.
The check-out girl turned to me, her face in a grimace. She had dark black hair and her eyebrows were sharp and angled. “I’m with another customer!”, she practically shouted in an acerbic tone. Her energy came at me like hot red lava. I was completely unprepared and unprotected. In her face I saw the image of all of the betrayals I have experienced over the last few years. I was hurt, but as it often happens, my hurt transformed into steaming rage. The pot was boiling over.
There had been no one in line when all of this began but now a sudden rush had created a line of several behind me. I angrily put all of my groceries back into my cart and proceeded to back out of the line, much to the dismay of the people behind me. I gave her the angriest look I could muster and said nothing. My instinct was to flee.
I went to the ice cream aisle and put the extra box back. I was shaking, more than my usual, and the anger was sitting in my throat threatening to choke me. “Fuck this,” I thought. I wasn’t going to run away from the checkout girl.
I returned to her aisle. I wanted to make her face me. As I approached her, I saw her talking to her manager in an exaggerated way and pointing at me. This made me even more pissed and I approached them. The manager came towards me. I’ve met him before, he seems like a really nice guy. But in this instance he was acting like a car salesman, attempting to use charm to appease me. He started saying things like, “I’m so sorry you are upset, Ma’am. Why don’t we go sit down and talk about this? I want to make this right for you.” I refused, getting back in line. He persisted. “Why don’t you come over to my line, I can check you out and we can talk about this”. I ignored him. I wanted it to over. I wasn’t going to get out of line. I noticed that some of the customers in line ahead of me were staring at me like I was some kind of crazy person. Finally, he left.
Right when I got to the point in the line where I was near the checkout girl, another checker intervened and told the checkout girl it was time for her break, and that she should go outside. She had obviously been sent by the manager. The intervener was very kind to her coworker, acting as if the checkout girl had been mistreated by a customer. Keep in mind that at that point, I had said nothing to her!
I couldn’t help myself. While the checkout girl was in hearing distance, I said to her, “How convenient,” referring to her sudden need for a break. She looked at me and said, “Would you just stop,” in a sarcastic tone. I said, “Maybe you should have stopped before you started this.” Then she walked away, clutching a pink stuffed easter bunny she had sitting nearby.