Retail Therapy Isn’t Therapy

A work of creative nonfiction underscoring the fact that the crush of life’s struggles cannot be alleviated with a swipe of a credit card alone…

by: Kayleigh Kitt

As I exit the disabled toilets, I’m viewed by the waiting queue in the store with suspicion, then disgust. There’s no chair, stick, or cast to validate my use of these toilets. 

There’s a pensioner and a mother with a child waiting outside. I’m in the wrong. I don’t wait for recriminations or reprisals, and swiftly walk away, not pausing again to look at my intended purchases. Nature intervened and so I was diverted. I’ll return later. 

I haven’t slept well lately. A band of tiredness tightens around my eyes, like an unwanted pair of goggles that cannot be pulled off. It was an effort to get showered and dressed this morning, and driving required a great deal of energy. I’ve spent more time than expected visiting toilets during this retail therapy session. It’s just the way it is today. But at least my stomach isn’t too tender.

No one wants piles, bleeding or not.  I’ll take it as a win.

Focusing on the aide memoire clutched in my hand and unsuccessfully stifling a yawn, I gaze through a store window, blinking slowly. I appraise the display of merchandise, then realize none of it’s on my list, or remotely what I’m looking for. The weariness has slowed down my cognitive ability. 

Superficially, I look reasonably healthy. I’m classed as being a normal weight and size. I have Crohn’s Disease, a condition that falls under the umbrella of inflammatory bowel diseases, and it’s currently managed by a strict diet — a high-wire balancing act with a safety net of medication or surgery. I feel well, then I don’t. Safe foods one day can become the enemy the next, leading to repeated expulsion.  But for now, I mostly get it right.

As with any chronic disease, my inflammatory bowel disease comes gift-wrapped with fatigue, and if sufficiently stressed, low blood pressure shows up uninvited along to party on. It’s quite a crush at times when each vies for attention, jostling and shouting.

With low blood pressure, there’s a low-grade headache to let me know not enough blood is reaching my brain and my heart drums quickly to pump the available blood to critical organs. Keeping warm is a struggle. Then there’s the dizziness which precludes driving. If I simply can’t determine if the vehicle has stopped after braking, there’s no way I should be on the road. 

Despite wearing makeup, people stare at my face. They can’t help themselves, and I can see them doing it. Blotchy skin is a secondary symptom of the Crohn’s. I pretend they’re staring at my hat when I’m outside. I like hats. At the very least, it may detract from the obvious issue. 

Pausing at the café counter, my gaze lingers longingly at the cake slices, debating if I can cheat on the diet, just for today, then dismiss the notion. The last time I strayed I was served with an afterthought of self-inflicted consequences. Instead, I opt for a small decaf coffee. It’s after eleven and if I choose regular, the caffeine will gladly entertain me until the small hours, stuck on circular, thoughts. Hard lessons have been learnt. This is not the day to contemplate pushing boundaries. 

Today I feel blessed. I’m checking off items on the shopping list slowly and relieved not to be tearful, a usual sign my bowel flora is off kilter; the gut-brain connection. 

My body may be a little wonky periodically, but it does the best it can for me. Overall, I could be a lot worse off.

Exiting the store, I tweak my hat further down, letting my hair fall a little more over my face and walk towards the car. 

I don’t shop much, even less since Covid. 

Retail therapy is not therapy. 


Kayleigh Kitt lives in South Shropshire, UK with her husband and a disgracefully ageing tabby cat.  She started writing in the pandemic and found that it was delightfully addictive and hasn’t stopped since. She’s had work published in Flash Fiction North, the Bangor Literary Journal, Meditating Cat Zine and On the High Journal.

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