Me and My Groceries

Leaning into my OCD management to make sure I keep my kitchen properly stocked.

When you think of compulsions, you’re probably thinking of counting and checking and hand-washing and hair-pulling and nail-biting, etc. You’re thinking of performed actions. Doctors usually do as well.

That’s why it wasn’t until very recently that a paper came out discussing the topic of pervasive avoidance, a kind of compulsion that has lead some individuals with OCD to be misdiagnosed as suffering from a form of psychosis.

Pervasive avoidance — in laymen’s-ish terms — is compulsive non-action wherein a particular activity involving a number of smaller accumulative steps is so stressful that the individual with a compulsion cannot bring themselves to complete the given activity due to anxiety regarding the proper execution of each (or even a single) step.

Even trying to decide what to prioritize in a given moment can cause someone with issues of pervasive avoidance to simply do nothing for fear of prioritizing the wrong thing. It can make getting out of bed seem an impossibility. It can cause the sensation of being trapped in your head when you’re just trying to go out job-hunting, or to check the mail, or to get some groceries.

In my own experience with pervasive avoidance, I find it helpful to:

  1. preemptively make decisions (rules) for various situations to healthily avoid in-the-moment prioritization decisions;
  2. stay well-rested so my actions and inaction are more likely to be conscious decisions rather than compulsions; and,
  3. make sure I’m eating regularly and healthily for optimal brain health.

That first one is actually integral to making sure the others are squared away. The third one in particular breaks down into multiple situations that each require their own preemptive decisions:

  1. ingredient tracking
  2. meal planning
  3. grocery-run prep
  4. grocery-run conduct

Ingredient Tracking

It’s important to know what it is you have on hand to get any cooking done. I maintain a spreadsheet of all ingredients that should be in the apartment, where in the “pantry”/icebox that ingredient is located, and how much of that ingredient is currently on hand.

After preparing food for myself, I update how much is left of each ingredient used. When the source container of that ingredient reaches a designated minimum, I add the item to the grocery list on the Meal Planning spreadsheet.

Meal Planning

The day before a grocery- or CVS-run, I go through my cookbooks to pick a recipe or two that’s large enough for leftovers to help get me to the next grocery- or CVS-run. I list all the ingredients needed for those recipes, add up all the amounts collectively needed, and compare the total ingredient need to what is currently in my Ingredient Tracking.

Any items not currently on hand, or in amounts that would bring the amount on hand to the designated minimum, is added to the grocery list.

Grocery-Run Prep

I purchase food every 4 or 8 days. I’m not going into details regarding the grocery-run versus CVS-run, or the bus schedule. You only need to know that I’m working toward getting my groceries delivered.

On the day of a grocery- or CVS-run, I write out my grocery list and amounts needed before lunch. After lunch I take a nap, put my grocery list and a pen in my purse along with the scarf I use like a milkmaid uses a carrying pole, and put on my shoes and socks.

Grocery-Run Conduct

It is only after I have prepped for a grocery-run that I check the current time against the bus schedule as checking it at any point in the prep process would cause me to rush and make a mistake. If there’s 13 minutes between now and the next bus, I head to the bus stop. If not, I wait til there is so as to avoid rushing without losing mission-focus.

At the store, I work through the ingredient categories on my list so as to keep my cart/basket organized. This helps me to get things on the conveyer belt at checkout in an organized fashion which in turn helps to keep the bagging process running smoothly.

BONUS: Grocery-Run Conduct — Bagging Process

When asked if I prefer paper or plastic, I respond “I prefer paper and to do the bagging myself because I have OCD and it helps.”If someone approaches me to offer to do the bagging after I’ve already gotten squared away to do it, I say, “Thank you, but I have OCD and doing this myself helps me.”

This is a recent and helpful addition that helps me balance the weight of the bags for easier carrying, and helps reduce the stress of having to look at someone else’s bagging efforts or deal with fixing what they did while I’m waiting for the bus home.

Instead, while waiting for the bus home, I have time to set up my whole carrying-scarf thing that makes walking home with my groceries all the less cumbersome.

With all these routines and subroutines (that most people don’t consciously think about) laid out, it becomes clearer why us folks with conditions like OCD need them.

Also published on Medium.