Lost in my happy place, but not in a good way

COVID. Yay. Always something new and horrible happening with the pandemic. This is a short (I think I’m lying about “short”) piece about my experience getting a booster, and how my cognitive, memory, and physical stuff got in the way.

I needed the booster shot, and spent a bit of time looking for a location that could do it soon, not in a month. I found that the state (I think?) had a vaccine and testing site set up at a really big mall near us. Got a same day appointment and headed out.

Now, this is a mall I have spent many years shopping, or rather wandering, and it’s a guilty pleasure to just wanted in the plastic and stone environment. I like to people watch, see what stores are new, see how the mall evolves over time. It’s been around for many decades, and like any other mall it goes through different renovations that change it in interesting ways, but always remains the same underneath.

Because of my experience there I know it like the back of my hand. Where certain shops are, which “moods” the different parts of the mall exhibit, and what’s the best way to get from point A to point B, even during black Friday level crowds. I even know the secret Easter eggs hidden here and there, and how much of the behind the scenes logistics work. I always know how I’m oriented in the mall, and which way it north, etc.

But on that day, it all went a bit sideways. I waited the requisite 15 or 30 minutes after the shot, can’t remember how long it was. Didn’t feel off in any way and thought I’d get a coffee and go through the mall for some winter exercise and maybe even holiday shopping.

Right away the sheer volume of stimulation got to me. My vertigo kicked in as expected, and I felt light headed, dizzy, panicky, etc. Just your standard anxiety attack. Not a panic attack, but a good dose of anxiety and fight or flight. It was bad enough that I was going over scenarios in my head if I fell or passed out. Could I sneak out without drawing attention, or would someone call 911 and complicate things? I get tired quickly, and that wasn’t helping. But the thing that kicked me hard in the stomach was that I was getting lost. I would occasionally have the “wait, where am I and how did I get here?” or the “Ok, I don’t think I’ve ever been here before” feelings, knowing full well that before the latest episode(s) I could have navigated in my sleep. I got “actual lost” and had to use a directory, but even after looking things up I was frustrated by not remembering the things along the journey. This used to be my happy place, somewhere to walk and clear my mind while getting my commercial marketing fix. But all I wanted to do was get my coffee and get out of there.

Less upsetting: One of my secret tricks is that the Big & Nicely furnished corporate bookstore has a Starbucks branded coffee shop. But you can pay for your books there, and it often has a much shorter line than the serpentine lines at the main store cashiers. While waiting for my coffee I saw two seemingly normal ladies chatting, not quietly. But they weren’t talking about boring suburban things, they were going on and on about the illuminati, and some other pretty deep conspiracy theories. I guess you never know by looking.

By the time I got to the car I was pretty shaken up. I didn’t cry, because I apparently can’t, but felt on the verge of a bit of a breakdown. I texted my sister something innocuous but maybe indicating I could use a pep talk. I can’t remember what it was, but she called me right away as I sat in my car in the parking ramp. I talked about the experience and how it bothered me, but mostly we just chatted. That always helps.

And I did have a “booster hangover” but it mixed in with all of the other crap I have going on, so it wasn’t too terrible the next day.

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