ADD/ADHD / Kate's Experiences

Grocery Store Dysfunction: New Adventures in Sensory Overload (Part 2)

(This post turned out really long, so I broke it into two parts. Read Part 1 here.)

In hindsight, I could break the root cause down to several factors. Firstly, there was the fact I had never been to Hannaford before and I had no idea where anything was. Secondly, I already had considerable anxiety because I was buying what Phil’s mother needed using her money. Though I knew she wouldn’t care too much if I made a mistake, it still was vital to me that I did it right the first time.

There was another factor I still can’t pinpoint. The best way I have of describing it was like trying to navigate without my glasses on. I am quite myopic; I sometimes can’t identify someone ten feet away without my glasses on. Therefore, I wear my glasses from morning til night. If I am not wearing my glasses, it’s like I am walking around in a bubble, a little bit dazed, kind of confused.

This was how I was walking around Hannaford.

If you sent me to my regular Walmart, where I had shopped for two years, I would be in and out pretty quickly, knowing exactly where everything was and what I needed to get. I could see in my mind exactly where each item was and develop a mental map. (This, by the way, is the power of copious amounts of ADHD meds.)

I could not do this now. I could not look around me and say, “Okay, this is in that aisle, that is over there, let’s make a plan and execute.” I was in a fog, with rising levels of panic, and absolutely confused.

It doesn’t help that the layout of Hannaford is like no grocery store I’ve ever been to. It’s like a horseshoe, and you really can’t do anything but follow the horseshoe around.

Just need some milk? Too bad. First you need to go through produce, the bakery, health food, the meat department, and then way down on the other side, past the rest of the aisles, is the dairy department. It’s awkward at best, convoluted at worst.

And my Ultimatest Grocery List was not made specifically for Hannaford; it had no comprehension of their store’s specific layout. To follow the list would have me going in circles.


I paused in the meat department, hands trembling. I debated returning the cart and going back to the car to regroup, but I refused. I knew how Phil would respond; he’d tell me not to do the grocery shopping tonight or just get the minimum and come back tomorrow. He was well-intentioned and caring, but there was a line between kind interference and coddling.

Then I had an idea. Suddenly with an objective, I power-walked up to the service desk. “Excuse me, do you happen to have a map of the store?”

The young woman behind the counter, possibly younger than me, possibly not, laughed. I don’t think she meant anything malicious or mean by it, but I wasn’t having any of it.

“I have an executive function disorder,” I pressed, politely but firmly, “and this is my first time in your store. I’m having difficulty finding things.”

She stopped laughing and immediately turned to get assistance from a supervisor. After ten minutes of talking with different people and running to different departments, it was revealed there was no store map.

There was, however, a poorly-made incomplete listing of products and their aisle number. 

I wanted to cry.

I could understand the paper just fine when I reviewed it later, but it may as well have been hieroglyphics in the moment. I tucked it into my binder and tried to understand.

What I ultimately ended up doing was going down the list, grabbing single items, like eggs or Pop Tarts, and scouring the store for them. It was incredibly inefficient as I kept having to backtrack, taking far more time than it should’ve. Once I found each single item, I’d move to the next item and so on until I had the whole list done and I was emotionally frayed.

But I had survived. As dysfunctional as I had been, it wasn’t the end of the world. It was a triumph, a major victory in the ongoing battle against my own brain. 

I hadn’t conquered my dysfunction. I hadn’t become functional. I’d merely met my limitations kindly, and did what I needed to muddle through. Some days, that’s all we can do.

After I got home that night, I took a pen and physically drew out what I remembered from Hannaford’s layout, using the incomplete aisle listing. Then I mapped out the most effective path around the store, hitting all the departments, and rewrote the Ultimatest list in MS Word, totally customized for Hannaford.

A few days later, I was discussing this new list with Phil’s mother. She blinked at me for a moment, her expression unreadable, and then she said, “I had done the exact same thing awhile back.” And then she burst out laughing.


One thought on “Grocery Store Dysfunction: New Adventures in Sensory Overload (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Grocery Store Dysfunction: New Adventures in Sensory Overload (Part 1) | The {dys}Functional Squirrel

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