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What a Bin Full of Shoes Taught Me About Chronic Illness and Grief

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Chronic illness is a journey of grief. Grieving my old body. Grieving so many losses. Illness has taken a lot from me. But right now the focus is shoes. I love shoes. I’m not really sure why or when my obsession started. It could be because the doctor my parents took me to as a little kid said I was born with flat feet and then I was forced to wear ugly orthopedic shoes for years and years. Ironically, now my arches are too high. But that’s another story… We all have obsessions or favorite things, I guess.

About three years ago when we put our house on the market, I gathered up all the beautiful shoes I could no longer wear and put them in a bin to donate. But truthfully, I still couldn’t let go of them. I was still holding out hope that I would stumble upon a miracle treatment for all my chronic conditions and I would somehow be able to wear them again. So instead of donating, I put the bin in our storage unit where my shoes sat for about a year while I moved on with my life. I didn’t have much time to think about them.

But then the day came for our first storage unit cleanout. I discovered my shoe bin and the flood of emotions came back with it. And I found myself sobbing outside our tiny storage unit. Sobbing not just over the loss of shoes — although that was a big part — but also over what they represented.

When I was first given the diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, I was hopeful that I would be one of the “lucky ones.” One of the ones that found a “miracle” treatment – a “magical” biologic that would make all of my symptoms disappear for years and years. But that just isn’t my story. Instead, over the years, I’ve kept accumulating more labels and diagnoses and more treatments. Restless leg syndrome, ulcerative colitis, psoriatic arthritis, and related things: cervical stenosis, sacroiliitis, achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, chronic pain syndrome, etc. And those are just the ones that keep me from wearing my beautiful shoes.

My current goal is to not remove symptoms entirely but to keep them from progressing and to keep my body from quickly rejecting effective treatments. Not exactly the “miracle” I was hopeful for. So there I was sobbing. Sobbing over finally saying goodbye to my shoes. And sobbing over the death of hope for a “miracle” treatment.

Grieving is not just about losing loved ones to death — although I’ve had more than my fair share of that over the last few years too. Grieving is about loss of any kind. Grieving anything that was important to a person — people, shoes, or hope. I’ve lost my hope in a lot of things recently, mostly because the lovelessness of others combined with chronic illness has honestly left me feeling a bit empty inside. But I haven’t given up yet. And I’m still searching for hope — just not in shoes, “miracle” cures, and unloving people. Those things will just keep leaving me empty. But hope in other good and beautiful things… I’m working on it.

There are a lot of losses in life, especially in chronic illness life. Things are not the way they were supposed to be. And if you ever find yourself sobbing over a bin of shoes outside a tiny storage unit or in some other weird place, please know you’re not alone. Feel all the feelings; cry if you need to, even if it’s over a bin of shoes. That’s the only way to move forward. Chronic illness and losses are really really hard, but we can get through it together.

This story originally appeared on Chronically Fabulous Therapist.

Originally published: November 29, 2021
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