The Peanut Butter Analogy

This is what I’m calling the Peanut Butter Analogy.  It’s how I try to explain the anxiety to people.

The situation is that I am at the grocery store, and I must buy peanut butter.  I like peanut butter, and it is nutritious, and I always have some in the house.  However, I am required to make a choice.  Do I get chunky or smooth?  Natural?  Natural chunky?  Light?  Whatever the hell this “whipped” peanut butter is?  Organic or regular?  Kraft, Jif, generic grocery store brand, some strange organic gourmet brand?  Big jar or little jar?  There are literally dozens of choices.  I can only walk away with one.

And I find it absolutely paralysing.

With every choice comes the possibility that I have chosen wrong.  If one brand is more expensive, is the cost justified?  If I buy natural peanut butter (and I like natural peanut butter) will I regret it when I spill peanut oil over the counter when I try to stir it?  Is Light peanut butter worth even looking at as significantly different?  If I choose wrong will I end up gaining back all of the seventy pounds I have lost?  Does the brand matter?  If peanut butter X is on sale, should I buy it instead this time?  Should I buy peanut butter at all, do I need to buy it yet?

These are normal considerations.

But every single thought has all the weight as though it were a potentially life-ending catastrophe.  If I choose wrong, everything will be ruined.  My life will be over.

Because of peanut butter.

And if I don’t go into the store with a plan, without saying “I am going to get generic grocery store brand natural chunky peanut butter,” (which is what I normally buy) then I end up fussing and comparing anxiously for ten minutes in the store, taking jars and putting them back and getting new ones and putting them back, because I am eaten up with anxiety under the pressure of choosing peanut butter.

Now imagine going through that for every item on the grocery list.  What percentage milk?  What veggies should I buy?  Regular or extra garlic hummus?  What kind of deli meat?  Should I treat myself to a piece of Guinness cheese?  Do I need more granola and if I buy it bulk will I buy too much for my granola container at home?

It’s exhausting.  It is utterly draining.  And at the same time, I can’t not go grocery shopping, so I subject myself to this regularly.  If I’m very anxious, I often end up coming away without half of what I actually need, because I’m far too nervous to think clearly.  The register becomes an impossible obstacle, becuase not only am I subjecting myself to the possible judgement of the cashier, but whatever choices I have made become irrevocable.

In other stores, never in the grocery store but in  pharmacies and dollar stores, I have lost all my nerve at the last moment, backtracked and put everything back on the shelf, and left without buying anything.  I’m sure this looks weird, but I can’t seem to help it.  Sometimes that last obstacle is too much.