Publicly Shamed While Grocery Shopping During COVID-19
As I do my once-a-week grocery shopping, I make sure my mask is on and I start going down my necessary isles. As I pass people who are anxiously trying to avoid being too close, I can’t help but notice that every single person is wearing a mask. I am also wearing my mask, I am also anxiously trying to avoid close contact in the grocery store, I am just trying to get my groceries.
My cart begins to build up and my mask breaks; the metal clasp tears open, and I am unable to fix it. I begin to feel stares from other people, my body begins to feel the panic in my chest, and I’m not sure what to do. I decide to hold the mask over my face while trying to continue to get my groceries and push the cart with one hand. It’s not working out; my cart is going sideways because I cannot control it with one hand.
I decide to then carry my mask with one hand so that people can visibly see I have a mask and that it’s broken. As I go to pull bread from the shelf, I hear a couple say, “If she doesn’t have a mask on, she might as well leave.” I then hear a mother whisper to her daughter, “Let’s not go down this isle, she doesn’t have a mask.”
My anxiety at this point is beyond what I usually feel; I feel embarrassed and that I am being publicly shamed. I begin to have an internal battle. My brain tells me, “Just leave, this isn’t worth it. I don’t need to buy food. I can figure it out later. I don’t need anything. I just need to go.”
And in the very back of my heart, I hear a faint whisper. The whisper is what I recognize as my eating disorder. A whisper I haven’t heard in years, a whisper that says, “You can live off of nothing; you have done it before, and it’s not a big deal.” When I begin to listen is when I realize I will get my groceries, I will finish, and I will try to be quick. Because I will NOT listen to that whisper. I will block out the buzzing nose it’s trying to create.
I refuse to let myself give into shame and my eating disorder. I feel stares, see stares, hear comments and see panic in others who are passing me or who see me. I am uncomfortable, I am beginning to cry because I feel like an outsider, I feel like I don’t deserve to be in the grocery store, and I fight the urge to abandon my grocery cart and go home. I make it to check out and decide to do self-checkout because I don’t want anyone ringing up my groceries to feel uncomfortable.
I put my head down, scan quickly, bag my groceries, pay and rush to leave. I start to feel my anxiety dissipate. I am still aware of people staring at me, and I see couples shaking their heads in disapproval—but I am leaving. I rush to my car, throw my items in the car, put my cart back, run into my car and burst into tears.
I am crying not just because I feel publicly shamed, but because the whisper of my eating disorder silently entered my world, made its self-known, and my heart and brain listened. My shame overtook my rational reasoning and even though it was brief it still happened. As I calmed down, I Googled Brené Brown quotes. In reading her quotes, I was able to reground myself and tell myself that my moment of deep shame and my brief battle with my eating disorder thoughts were okay; that it was okay because I did the opposite of what the eating disorder wanted me to do, that I fought through the shame and continued to buy my groceries. That I did not surrender to my shame but that I conquered it.
I believe that fear has implemented itself in many people’s daily lives and that by not wearing a mask only increases own fear. That sometimes we don’t always know what to do with our fear or our anger. And that sometimes we forget that people are human, that we all feel something, that comments such as what I experienced impacted me deeply.
I realize that we’re all in this together, and I am very aware of what our safety precautions are as I work in the health field and am reminded daily of exposure, masks and new information I receive weekly in my work emails. I try my best to adhere to the regulations and safety precautions not just at work but outside of work as well.
The mask that broke was my only mask. As I try to figure out how to make/buy/find a mask for necessary shopping, I want to take a moment to try and remind people that we are all human, we feel the comments, we feel the stares, and for some of us it affects us deeply.
The comments and stares don’t just affect people with eating disorders, but they affect most people’s mental processing and mental health; as humans we should NEVER feel that it’s okay to publicly shame. We don’t know what’s going on in each other’s lives, we don’t know why certain people don’t have masks, and we can make up stories in our head such as, “They’re just not taking this seriously.”
But that is not always the case. During this time of fear and uncertainty, let’s not give into dehumanizing others based on what we see and what we think.
“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.”