I can feel my heart beating. It beats so hard and fast that it feels like a stampede of anxiety filling the room, suffocating me. Everything is loud, overly loud. I’m counting my change… 50p, £1, £2.50, £3. I have enough, I know I have enough, but I check again just to be sure.
“Hey, who’s next?” I straighten my mask and perform for an audience of none as to everybody else – this isn’t a show. It’s normal. It’s reality. It’s ordering some fast food after a long day to avoid stress. I fabricate the stress. I know I do. For me it’s consistently ordering a hamburger and fries, aware of the price, and still counting the coins in my hand that I clasp harder than my slipping self esteem…
I’m short on breath, my desert-dry mouth craving the sweet taste of serenity. I have my card, I know I do. I double check, triple check, just to be sure. It’s cold outside but I’m uncomfortably warm, the unwanted touch of anxiety gripping me tightly.
“Hey, can i help?” I can’t move. My words stumble out like a newborn animal, although at least they pick themselves up pretty quick…
“Just a hamburger and fries, please” I’ve done this before. Like a West End star, the script of ordering is etched in my mind but I practice anyway; I don’t want to trip up. This time I have my debit card, I know this; I have checked enough times. This time I don’t fumble with warm change I have handled. This time I don’t repeatedly worry about not having enough and being mocked for the slightest mistake. beep beep beep beep done. I paid. I survived…
I walk in and I am holding my own debit card. They aren’t begrudgingly buying at the counter for me. They don’t need to, they don’t even need to ask. I walk to the machine, quickly choose my hamburger and fries and pay.
I stroll over to the counter and wait patiently for my number to appear. My heart beats. It beats in time with normality. I’m uncomfortably warm but that’s because the heating is on inside and I’m in a coat. My desert-dry mouth craves the sweet taste of a chilled Diet Coke. I’m short on breath because I ran in from the rain outside. My anxiety isn’t gripping me tightly but rather my boyfriend’s arms round my waist.
“Thank you”. I smile, take my food and leave.
McDonalds thought they were just advancing technology with their self service ordering machines. They thought they were bettering themselves against their rivals. What they didn’t know is it bettered me against my own rival. My anxiety.
They didn’t know that it made it easier not to have to explain why I couldn’t order myself, why I relentlessly counted the same change over and over and why I didn’t grasp my debit card while reciting the order in my head. Because I didn’t have to do any of it. And it made my anxiety easier. It helped.
Thanks McDonalds for saving someone from a situation you didn’t even intend to save.