By Joanna Mechlinski.
For years, I toyed with the idea of getting my groceries delivered. I remember speaking with a friend who’d tried Stop & Shop’s Peapod while heavily pregnant. She was enthused, and I made a mental note to give it a try. After all, living alone as a person with chronic illness, shopping is often an activity that I have to gear up for mentally days ahead – and after.
Yet something kept holding me back. Even when I came out of a full day of work and felt lousy, or when winter got particularly bad, I would stubbornly insist on doing my own shopping. Over time, I perfected my technique – no more than four canvas bagfuls, and no more than two with perishables, as I’d be exhausted enough by the time I came home that I could only make one trip into the house. (The rest of the items, various bagged, boxed or canned products, would remain in my trunk until the next day.)
Then, over recent months, Connecticut suffered seemingly never-ending horrific weather. Like many other states, we’ve endured ridiculously low temperatures, which led to snow that never had a chance to melt. Most days, just about every part of my body ached, even when I was able to remain indoors. It was all I could do to remain vaguely human, let alone worry about getting groceries.
So I finally broke down and went online.
The entire process was amazingly easy. I chose the items I wanted from the website, submitted my credit card info and chose a day and time for delivery. There were lots of options, depending on the customer’s availability and preferences. You could even add or change your order up until midnight the day before delivery – a huge perk for those of us who suffer from random moments of brain fog.
The day my order was scheduled for delivery, I mentioned that I was trying out the service to my co-workers. None had ever tried it themselves, so they were interested in how my experience would turn out. I was able to recommend it – I had a two-hour window, but received a text from the truck driver when I was the next delivery, and then another when he was on my street. The driver was friendly and courteous, bringing all my grocery bags into the house with a single trip.
None of the abovementioned individuals appeared to be judging me for opting to pay someone else to shop for me – in fact, no one seemed to be thinking anything in particular, other than my co-workers considering it for themselves and the truck driver simply viewing me as another stop on his route. So why did that feeling of guilt keep persisting? Despite knowing intellectually that I had good reasons to seek help – and that I was exchanging money for a service, not exactly begging for favors – there was a lingering sense of shame, like I was being “lazy.”
Perhaps it was my upbringing as a first-generation American, with an immigrant father who valued hard work above all us – no excuses – but one of the worst things about my illness was not being able to do everything for myself that I once had. I’m a lot better about it than I once was, given that it’s now been 14 years. But this is still an issue that I grapple with often. And from speaking with others who live with chronic illness and reading countless blogs and articles, I know I’m not alone.
Having been through the ups and downs, the optimism and the pessimism, of this way of life for so long, I think what it really boils down to is vulnerability. In 21st century American society, we tend to place an emphasis upon self-sufficiency. When someone cannot rise to the challenge, people often tend to assume the person will not. Because they themselves can do whatever needs doing without a second thought, they don’t stop to consider that this is a luxury for some others. Thus judgment comes in. It isn’t necessarily intentional on the part of the person; many times they may not even realize they’re doing it. It’s simply a natural by-product of life today.
Am I able to fix the assumptions of society? Obviously not. If I’m fortunate, I may be able to chance the views of a handful of people, chiefly those who get to know me and better understand the life of the chronically ill. But realistically, even that is a stretch, simply because people’s beliefs are usually pretty ingrained and not easy to change. What I can do is let go of my internalizing it, of taking it personally – because it very often is not. And the bottom line is, I need to do what I need to do.
Joanna Mechlinski is a former newspaper reporter who now works in education. She is a chronic pain sufferer who lives in Connecticut and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.