Clean-Up in Aisle 3

So let me tell you about my panic attack today.

Twice now, people have called my cell phone, claiming that I’ve been calling them, and would I please stop. The curious thing is, besides the fact that I’m not calling them, I also have my number blocked. The girl today, when I asked her what number she was dialling, recited my phone number correctly. However that means she checked her redial to answer my question, not her caller i.d. And she went on and on, “I don’t know what to say. You’re using up all my airtime -“ so I hanged up on her, to conserve her airtime.

But it gave me a panic attack, because then I started extrapolating. The police are going to come to my door and arrest me for harassment, and I won’t be able to prove otherwise.

I should have just done what I usually do, which is keep my ringer off. I don’t like surprises. I like to listen to my voicemail, and plan my response. But I had left the phone on vibrate, and when it vibrated I answered, and now I’m afraid that I’m going to be arrested for harassing a woman I’ve never met and never called.

I had just gotten out of my car when I took the call. And then I was on my way into the grocery store. And as I’m walking toward the grocery store, after I have rudely hung up on this woman, my heart is pounding, and I’m thinking about all the clients I have who tell me that they get panic attacks in the grocery store.

So now I know what it feels like to have a panic attack in the grocery store. 

I have to tell you, my first impulse was to get back into my car, and perhaps to go somewhere safe, like Dairy Queen.

But you know, my clients tell me about their panic attacks in the grocery store, and I tell them, “You know, you just have to keep telling yourself, ‘You’re okay. You’re not dying. You’re just having a stupid panic attack.’ Don’t let it win. Don’t let it drive you out of the store. If you do, then your panic will get worse the next time you try to do your groceries.”

As I’m walking to the grocery store, having resolutely turned my back on the safety of my car and the reward of Dairy Queen, I’m thinking, “What stupid advice I give to my clients.”

But I thought that if I give this advice to others then I should take it myself. I just kept telling myself, “You’re not dying, Carl. You’re having a panic attack. You’re having a panic attack because a stupid woman likes to call back everyone who has accidentally called her, and in the process she accidentally called you, and wants to spend time on the phone with you to ask you to stop wasting her airtime, and you have an overactive imagination so now the police are at your door and you need to STOP THIS!”

I managed to stay in the grocery store. It was not pleasant. I am older now than some people I know who have died and I kept thinking, “This is it. This is my day. Death at the grocery store. Clean up in Aisle 3.”

I was uncomfortable for the entire shopping trip. I started to feel better when I got back to my car, but I didn’t go back to my car until I had completed the entire shopping list (and paid for it). I made myself do the whole trip, slowly and mindfully, despite my discomfort. 

On the drive home, my panic subsided, and I felt okay again.

And I know that the next time I go to the grocery store, I will be fine, because I’m not going to answer my phone.

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