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Visiting the Store for a Migraine Warrior…

For those who have not experienced a migraine before, it might be hard to understand what it’s like. So I pose this question? What’s your favorite grocery store? Close your eyes, imagine you parked your car you’re headed into the store. What do you do next? Maybe you grab a cart or basket, and you begin to grab the items on your list… you make it though all the appropriate aisles and head to check out. You scan (or a service member scans) your items, you swipe your card and head back to the car. Sounds normal and it should be… except when you have chronic migraine it’s NOT that simple.

Sensory Overload

Now imagine you’ve just been in a car accident, or you just finished a day at an amusement park. Your adrenaline is still pumping, you’re very alert. You notice everything happening around you… all the time.
When I used to go to the store, I’d park my car, get out with sunglasses on of course. I notice all the people, cars and carts. I slowly adjust to the sunlight. By time I get to the door, I can remove my sunglasses but still shield my eyes for a moment. As they adjust to the inside light I grab a cart. Now I’m at the second set of doors, they slide open, it’s even louder inside. People talking, speakers announcing department calls, scanners beeping at check out. Then the smell hits me, I’m near the fresh vegetables and Starbucks, but I can also smell the bakery and hot chicken. The smells together are overwhelming. Again the speaker goes off with announcements. I quickly shop for items on my list. Only hitting isles that I must go down. There are kids crying, shopping cart wheels squeaking, birds chirping in the rafters, and more announcements, old lady or man perfumes lingering, overhead lights blinking and all the colors blur together. I’m going as fast as my body can handle to make it to the safety of my car and comfort of my home. I get to the check out, of course I use a uscan as to avoid contact with any more people, but as usual something goes wrong. The attendant comes over with the strongest perfume.

This is Not an Exaggeration

By this time I’m almost ready to just leave it all there and walk out. I cover my face and finish as the mother in front of me gives her child a smack for screening in the store. The announcement goes off again, I grab my items and do everything not to run but swiftly get to my car. I hit the second set of doors and the sun is blinding. I quickly put my sunglasses back down and load my car. When finished I take a seat, take a deep breath in my car, so I don’t start crying. That will only make it worse. I drive the few miles home and I’m exhausted. I put away my groceries and I have used all the energy I have for the day and probably tomorrow too.

This is not an exaggerated scene… this is MY real life. This is what it’s like with chronic migraine and anxiety.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • deedeevee1
    6 months ago

    Omg!! This is so true!! I have left my groceries there. I’ve also lost it in the mac&cheese aisle!! This is why I love this COMMUNITY!! Nobody else gets it!! Sadly you all do. I wish none of you did but I’m so glad you do. If that makes sense. Lol.

  • Allyson.Ellis moderator
    8 months ago

    Thank you for this well-written description of grocery shopping with migraine, Migraine as usual! Grocery stores do have so much sensory overload occurring. That can be stressful enough without adding migraine to the mix! I hear how much you endure living with chronic migraine and how exhausting these everyday tasks feel. I hope today is a restful, non-shopping day for you! ~Allyson ( team)

  • Migraine as usual! author
    8 months ago

    Thank you Allyson!

  • Holly Harding Baddour moderator
    8 months ago

    Thank you. You’ve done a great service here describing to a T the experience of a chronic migraineur (or anyone in the throes of a migraine attack) when we head out into the world. It’s important to help others step into our shoes to understand the visceral experience we have when others are able to block out so much of the world- we feel it all.

    I’m grateful you took the time to literally walk us through the grocery store experience. It can be harrowing from start to finish. This post is educational and awareness-raising and helps those of us who share your reality to feel less isolated.

    As a means of relating, I thought you might be interested in reading an article I wrote that also uses the grocery store as a backdrop to talk about what it might be like if migraines were a visible condition: The comment section is especially powerful.

    Thank you again for this post. A meaningful contribution to our site.

  • Migraine as usual! author
    8 months ago

    Thank you Holly!

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