This is About My Shoes

This was originally published on Medium, via the Human Parts publication, earlier this month.

I bought a pair of shoes last year while I was experiencing a partial remission from some of the symptoms of this illness I have, an illness which affects my life in such a way that made buying my first pair of sports shoes in ten years feel special and important.

But this is not about illness. This is about my shoes and the things I do while wearing my shoes.

My shoes are purple and instead of having laces that tie, they have elastic laces that loop through a plastic toggle which closes around them and holds them tight. My shoes are unusual. My shoes are made for walking over any kind of ground. They can absorb the impact of walking on pavements and roads, but the soles have deep enough tread for walking on grass and mud. My shoes are versatile.

When I bought my purple, unusual, versatile shoes last year I was embarrassed to go into a sports shop because I felt like I didn’t belong there. I felt like people would stare at me and shake their heads and know that I couldn’t run or hike or cycle anymore. But of course they didn’t, because why would they? I felt like the sales assistant who I asked for help because I was overwhelmed and couldn’t choose one pair from an entire wall covered in shoes would raise an eyebrow sceptically as if to say “What would you need shoes like these for?” But of course he didn’t, because why would he?

I was just another person in a shop buying shoes, just like all the other people in the shop buying shoes. I was. Just. Like. Other. People.

On the day I bought my shoes I was wearing cropped black leggings that revealed the size of my calf muscles compared to my ankles. I remember, years ago, men in gyms, stumbling around in the shackles of testosterone and bravado, commenting on how women’s legs shouldn’t look like that and why did I want strong legs anyway? I stared them down, every time, and spat withering replies before turning away to focus again on things that actually mattered. The truth is, I earned those muscles, those big calves and solid thighs. They have carried me places and saved me from things and sometimes I stare in amazement when I realize the muscles haven’t wasted away, even though science suggests they probably should have.

On the day I bought my shoes, I was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt in men’s XL size. It came down almost to my knees and hid the shape of my body. I didn’t wear it for this reason on that day. I wore it because it was comfortable and warm. But. BUT. I remember, years ago, men in bars, stumbling around in the shackles of testosterone and bravado, commenting on my breasts as if they owned them, as if their opinions were somehow relevant to my existence. The truth is, my breasts simply are what they are, but I earned the muscles in my shoulders and my back and I worked for the strength in my arms. They too have saved me from things.

Before I was ill, I knew I was strong. I had no doubt. My strength could be measured in miles run or kilograms lifted. My strength could be expressed in terms of survival, when I fought back and lived and healed and my body was strong even when my heart and soul were fractured and shattered into a thousand pieces. Then for a while, I felt like maybe I wasn’t strong anymore because I couldn’t find a unit of measurement for my strength when my body was sick and no longer able to do the things it used to be able to do.

But this is not about illness. This is about my shoes and the things I do while wearing my shoes.

On the day I bought my shoes, the sun was breaking through the clouds in glorious rays and I drove home along the coast with the window rolled down so I could breathe the sea air. I felt awake and alive and full of potential. In the following months, I walked miles in my shoes. I walked late at night through dark empty streets with a thousand yard stare, along paths under trees in the pouring rain with a smile on my face, and once up a hill to look out over the city and gasp for breath while I laughed out loud because I felt like I’d climbed the fucking world.

Then my shoes sat under the bed for half a year because there was no walking on dark empty streets or along rain-soaked paths or up hills with beautiful views. But this is not about illness. This is NOT about illness.

This is about my shoes.

And the things I do while wearing my shoes.

Tonight I put on my shoes and I walked up and down two flights of stairs five times. My legs ached and my heart pounded and I gasped for breath while I laughed out loud because I felt like I’d climbed the fucking world.

Maybe tomorrow I will walk up and down two flights of stairs six times. Maybe next week I’ll do it ten times. Maybe next month I will walk down one short street late at night or wander slowly along a path under trees while the clouds split themselves open and collapse into downpour. Perhaps there will be days or weeks or months when I can’t walk at all but it doesn’t matter because that is not how strength is measured.

So this is not just about my shoes, but it is about the things I will do while wearing my shoes. My purple, unusual, versatile shoes. This is about the things I can do, or sometimes can’t do, but will never stop trying to do. This is about wearing shoes and doing things and never forgetting that I am strong.

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