Abundance and Scarcity: Two Sides of the Same Coin

A portion of my pantry. Don't judge!

This last Wednesday, I finally went to the grocery store. I had been putting it off. The first excuse was the rain. The next excuse was a doctor appointment. Then I was simply too tired. I knew that I was running out of reasons to not go. Finally, Wednesday came and that was my day. I girded my loins, got in my car, drove to the store, and guess what? It wasn't that bad!

Why all of the delay then? What would cause someone to put off a normal everyday kind of activity? The reason is that now things aren't normal. Things are very, very not normal. I knew there would be empty shelves. There might be a crush of people running around with toilet paper rolls in their arms, grabbing canned beans and packages of meat. There could be people walking around with a silent virus or worse, outright sick and obviously infectious. But, as I said, it was fine.

Mulling things over, for me, is a way to work through a problem. It was indeed a problem for me to not want to grocery shop. This is one of my duties at home. Rich goes to work and I do the grocery shopping, more or less. In examining my procrastination from the safe distance of my home, I realized that my real reason for not going was simply fear of the unknown. I experience generalized anxiety most of the time, you see, and now is no different. My current anxiety centers around something specific, something from my childhood, which is what I alluded to in the title of this post: the two issues of abundance and scarcity. As a country we have an incredible food supply; more than we possibly need and yet many people simply do not have enough. As a child, I worried about having too much and then, not having enough. Now, as an adult, I have more than I need and yet I still felt an urge to "stock up." Countless bloggers and websites told me that I needed to gather up the "essentials" so that I have enough. Numerous cooking sites suggested recipes to try for all of those newly purchased "staples." Everything that I saw on TV and heard on the news was directing me urgently towards the store. Now. ASAP. But the idea of having to stock up, of having more than is needed, makes me very nervous. It is indeed at the heart of what I often feel very conflicted about: we have so much but what if all of it was taken away? What if one day we needed something and couldn't get it? What then? And my current dilemma also contained an added layer of new anxiety. A previously safe activity was now potentially unsafe. Going to the grocery store meant taking the risk that I would have to face potentially infectious people. It also meant that I might find empty shelves. I just didn't know who and what would or wouldn't be there. 

Reason prevailed, and despite some misgivings, I did go to the grocery store. The shelves were a little picked over. That's all. Some things were not there: spaghetti sauce, pasta, some beans, and some grains. Oatmeal was in high demand evidently as well as bananas and onions and potatoes. I saw stacks of bottled water (will we never learn about those damn plastic bottles?) and an empty case where the eggs used to be. (Why eggs? Everyone here has chickens.) There was plenty of everything else. Seems no one wanted the kale (lucky me!) and the rest of the veggies and fruit were ready for the picking, so to speak. I bought a normal amount of food, paid for it, walked out to my car, got in and sanitized my hands. I then drove off with a reasonably clear conscience. 

Now, to the point of the story: abundance and scarcity. Where does my own anxiety come from and, possibly yours too? For many of us, the perceived feelings of having either too much or too little are two facets of the same anxiety coin. In my opinion, both ideas are based on fear. Fear that could be real but could also be imagined. An example of anxiety based in reality can be shown by examining the behavior of my husband's late father. He grew up during the Depression and WWII. Food and other supplies were indeed scarce. People learned to make do and to be thrifty. The lessons learned from having lived through those hard times were passed along to his children, most notably my husband who doesn't like to throw anything away. Anything. For us, living in current times, we really have an abundance of everything. We are used to buying what we need and scarcity isn't much of an issue. That doesn't stop my husband though from being influenced by memories of his dad being very conservative in his habits. It's critical to remember when examining the roots of an anxiety that we all have a framework from which we operate. Time and experience shape us to make us who we are today.

The example above is just one instance of  why some of us are anxious in this new age of pandemics, shortages, and other related problems. There are many other reasons surrounding the anxiety we experience because of a perceived threat to our settled way of life; our routine, if you will. I like bottom lines though and for me, I feel the common denominator to this old/new anxiety is fear. This fear might seem irrational but it's real. The idea of needing extra isn't always grounded in reality but it's what drives seemingly reasonable people to do unreasonable things.  In the simplest way, fear makes people hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer and to appear utterly unreasonable in what they are doing. Fear is what makes us worry about going to the grocery store. It's what makes us stay at home and not speak out. Being afraid draws us to the Internet for answers and makes us believe outrageous claims. Fear is a pretty strong force and it can be overwhelming and paralyzing. It's the underpinning of the unreasonable anxiety that we will not have enough even when that may not be true and factually when the items already in our pantries say otherwise. Anxiety is all about fear; fear of the unknown, the unreasonable, and the irrational. Resolution of that fear, getting rid of it and the only thing that will conquer it, is moving forward while feeling paralyzed. It's going forth, one small step at a time towards the unknown, minus the extra rolls of toilet paper of course.