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Why Crocs Are Essential to My Life With Mental Illness

One day in my human behavior class, the topic was mental illness and she opened it up to us, “Stand on the left side of the room if you think a patient on a psychiatric unit can have their shoelaces. Stand on the right side of the room if you think a patient cannot.” Having gotten to know my cohort quite well, I was not surprised to find myself standing alone, on the right side. My professor looked at me with a huge grin having known a great deal about me and my mental health experiences, she looked to me further. My classmates’ eyes widened. The discussion and series of questions began.

Technically, we were all correct. In my experience, some facilities allow them whereas others do not. Other items I have found that may not be allowed are strings, belts, jewelry except a wedding ring, and a forgotten one are elastic hair ties that have a small metal-like piece. This is what I have learned over the years as an adult on a general psychiatric unit combined with substance use disorders excluding involuntary units, more serious mental illnesses, eating disorder units, and those for children and adolescents

Some of our discussion didn’t end there. Eventually it continued with friends in my dorm room. Having a kitten live with me as my approved emotional support animal, I often had visitors, many who became my friends and nicknamed me, “Counselor Christina.” With some, the long-standing tease became about the fact I had Crocs. To them, they weren’t cool, they were out of style, and one wouldn’t be seen with me in her presence! I am not a fan of flip-flops, therefore Crocs worked well for me. While I knew my friends enjoyed joking around, I didn’t mind the friendly no-harm banter and there was a method to my “madness.” At the time, I was too embarrassed to tell them the truth. I was self-conscious. For me, Crocs were about comfort, convenience, and dependability. The truth was I was in this revolving door of inpatient psychiatric hospitalization stays. I knew I could go in at anytime, anywhere. But no matter where I’d end up, Crocs were always allowed in the places I have been.

It was such a sinking feeling to have friends over having a great time wondering how long it will last this time before Crocs are my only option for five to seven or so days. In the midst of fun, how do I break this news to them about my history? One semester I lied to them about a physical illness when in reality I was inpatient and my psychiatrist discharged me late into the beginning of the next semester. My friends were grateful for my return but they knew something was up. It was time “Counselor Christina” do most of the talking while attempting to raise awareness since many of us majored in some sort of helping profession.

Living with severe mental illnesses, being a full-time college student out of state, and a few hours away from home added a heavier layer to my life than many other college students. When I packed to live on
campus, I included the necessities, items that made me happy and helped manage symptoms, medications, and always in the back of my mind — making sure I had what I needed in case of an inpatient stay. Family would be too far to visit and drop off essentials I forgot. All these things from medications to fidgets to photos to Crocs must be packed wherever I go, from sleeping at a friend’s or visiting home. Regardless of how many inpatient stays I’ve had or where, I need to be as comfortable and especially have as much familiarity as possible.

During my time as a transfer student at University, the sole purpose of Crocs during those years were continued light-hearted jokes and a cave where my emotional support cat hid toys in. A semester later, I returned to the University for graduate school. The last fall semester I became very manic and unsafe. My then gracious roommate drove me to my psychiatrist and then another, newbie for me, psychiatric hospital.

Full of anxiety, I walked on the unit unsure of what items they would allow from my suitcase. Then I looked down and smiled. At least I had my Crocs and all the laughs my friends shared over them. I’m a proud Crocs owner, having been with me over 15 years, every stay except one. They remind me I am tough and determined, that I want to continue healing and the only way to do that is to put one foot in front of the other. Always.

Getty image by TineM

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