Shopping and M.E

ID: Graphic with the words "Shopping and M.E" and shopping bags on it.

Shopping, some people love it, some people hate it! I definitely fall on the loving side, even food shopping, which I think stems from the fact that when I was a child my mum worked in a Supermarket and so it was in a weird way, a part of my life for 12 years!

For some people who love to shop, it's about buying all the things. But for me, it isn't about that. I love to browse and found wandering around shops quite a calming experience. Though I tried to avoid certain shops on the weekend, because there's nothing calming about shopping on a Saturday! Or "Chocolate and Pizza night" as I dubbed it, seriously just observe what most are buying next time you're in a supermarket on a Saturday!

Once I started driving and got my own car back in 2006, I would often head into my local city and just spend an hour or so browsing the shops. I'd usually go on a Sunday around 3pm, as that's when there weren't many people around as the majority of shops here in the U.K close at 4pm on a Sunday, so it was perfect shopping time. I would wander around my favourite book shop and clothing shops, I'd rarely buy anything unless I absolutely needed it. I would also help my mum with the weekly food shop because no one else liked doing that and again, I just enjoyed wandering the supermarket with a list, helping her find the items we needed.

But as time went on, I began to notice that browsing around the shops was becoming more exhausting and eventually my outing to the shops weren't as regular. I found myself relying more on the trolley to keep me upright when food shopping and I would be so exhausted that I'd struggle to put the bags in the car. I also noticed my memory wasn't as sharp as it used to be and often I'd be stood staring at the carpark wondering where my car was. I thought at one point I was losing my mind because my cognitive abilities were becoming so bad!

Eventually, in 2013, I was diagnosed with M.E and along with other high energy level activities I enjoyed doing, my shopping trips came to a massive halt. My shopping is now all done online and I've even learned to enjoy simply browsing my favourite sites without buying anything and, this may sound strange, but I often imagine myself walking around the shop while I'm doing it.

Like going to the shops, some people love shopping online {even if they're able to go the shops, it's just easier} and others hate it. I remember talking to someone about this and they said that they don't like shopping online, they'd much rather go to the shops when they need something. My response was simply, "I have no choice but to shop online". You see shopping with M.E, or indeed any chronic illness has a lot of difficulties. Let me explain....

First off, you need the energy to actually get ready to go to the shop. Then, if you're able to get to the shop, you try to park as close as possible to the door, in the hopes of saving some energy for getting around the shop. While some with Chronic illnesses have been awarded Blue Badges which allows them to park in Disabled parking right outside, many of us have been denied them and so parking in those spots isn't an option.

Okay, you've managed to find a parking spot relatively close to the door and you're heading into the shop. It's at this point, if you have M.E, you're hyper sensitive sensory system is being bombarded with noise from other shoppers and the loud music which seems to play in every shop! The bright fluorescent lights are starting to trigger a headache and your eyes are sore. The smell of food and perfume or cologne of other shoppers is also adding to that headache. The dizziness and nausea are all setting in and you've not even made it to the main part of the shop yet! All of this is beginning to drain your energy levels and now you're wondering if you'll actually make it around the shop. But you're there, so you decide to push yourself and deal with the inevitable Post Excursion Malaise {PEM} after.

ID: Graphic with a quote. "Person: I don't like shopping online. Me: I have no choice"

Then added to all the above is the struggle of shopping when you use mobility aids, which many of us with M.E or other chronic illnesses do.  In many cases, shops are simply inaccessible to those who use wheelchairs, or if there is wheelchair access, the shop can sometimes be difficult to navigate and there's a lack of space to move a wheelchair in without worrying about hitting any products. Obviously, big supermarkets do have wider aisles which does help but most shops in general can cause obstacles for wheelchair users and will continue to do so until accessibility for all becomes the standard.

At present, I'm not a wheelchair user, my mobility aid of choice is a Cane. I did use Crutches up until a couple of years ago, but found that I struggled to navigate certain shops due to lack of space. So although I find Crutches offer more support, I got myself a Cane instead {I still have and sometimes use my Crutches though} and on the very rare times I have been able to get to a shop, I've found it easier to get around.

But while my Cane or Crutches offer support while walking, the fact remains that shopping is exhausting. I remember a number of years ago now, I managed a small shopping trip with a couple of family members. By the time I got into the second shop, I was feeling exhausted, dizzy and in need of somewhere to sit. Thankfully, I wasn't too far from the shoe department, so I was able to sit on one of the stools you use when trying on shoes. If I hadn't been, I would have ended up on the floor among the clothes racks.

This experience made me realise that while there are benches scattered outside around town and city centres, there is a big lack of seating areas within shops themselves. I know that seats in shops may not be feasible in smaller shops, but having them in larger ones, would be incredibly helpful. Being able to sit and rest, may not stop the resulting PEM, but it would help someone with M.E to finish the shopping trip and get home.

While I really do miss browsing actual shops on a regular basis, it's wonderful that many of the shops I enjoyed wandering around and even buying from, have websites. This means I'm able to browse them at my leisure, from my bed. While this can also leave me feeling exhausted at times, it's definitely not to the level of actually going to the shops.

So with all the limits my chronic illnesses, especially M.E, has put on my life, being able to shop online allows me to, in some way, still do something I enjoyed doing before I became too ill to leave the house as regularly as I want to.

This is something I am very thankful for.

L x


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