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Taking Care of My Feet

Updated: May 8, 2023

And then came coronavirus, and a year-long interval in writing, and nearly all of my self-care down the toilet. I haven't even looked at this manuscript since the beginning of 2020, and Thanksgiving is the day after tomorrow.

I thought PTSD was in my past, until it reared its head. And boy did it rear its head. I smoked cigarettes like a chimney on fire all year. I binge-watched TV shows and movies until my brain felt like pudding. I let my dishes and trash pile up around me. I stopped bathing and brushing my teeth. I was training for a triathlon, but I haven't exercised since lockdown started. I could go on, a sad litany of all of the ways I failed myself since coronavirus changed the world. But ugh. Fuck that.

What I'm doing instead is taking care of my feet.

Let me explain. I've always been weirdly vain about my feet. Weirdly because my feet are objectively kind of ugly. I have a pinkie toe that never touches the ground or bends, sticking up like an odd little nub instead, with barely a toenail on it. In spite of that, I just have a thing about my feet. I don't want them to be rough, and I hate it when my heels are so scratchy that they snag on the sheets when I'm in bed. I wear flip-flops all summer and I live in the desert—they get dry and rough pretty quickly if I don't take care of them.

For the past three decades or so, I've had a herd of little minions, in the form of my kids and grandkids, whom I've bribed, paid, and begged to clip my toenails and “grind” my feet with a little rotary sander type thing that my son gave me for Christmas one year. They all hated it, but they love me, so they did it. But now I'm on my own.

My approach this year has been to be as kind to myself as I can. So while I puffed my way through cartons of cigarettes, I knew that this was a coping strategy, so I didn't beat myself up about it, just smoked the fuck out of them, and then of course, coughed and coughed and coughed. I washed my dishes when I wanted to, and reminded myself to drink water and shower, even when I didn't want to. Other people washed my dishes for me a lot this year.

I planted a garden for the first time in several years, thinking it would get me outside, and get my hands and feet into the dirt, connecting me with the Earth and the living beings who inhabit it. My daughter found out she couldn't keep her chickens, and so I was given a little flock, which I let run freely around my yard. I thought if I had outside chores to do, every single day, that would help me feel better. That turned out to be a smart move, and true.

Because no mistake: Lockdown for me has been a hard and fast tumble back down into the bowels of PTSD. As I've thought about it this year, I believe for me it comes down to always being at home. When I was a small child, and being sexually abused, home wasn't a safe place for me, and as a very small child, there was no way to escape that. What's a three- or four- or even fourteen-year-old child going to go? How to even get to that hypothetical place? How to support my tiny self? Some of my favorite books as a kid were the Boxcar Children and My Side of the Mountain, stories where children fended for themselves in the wilderness, making and finding what they needed. I dreamed of living alone in a tree trunk I had hollowed out for myself, sleeping on deerskin and drinking cold water from a stream as I built my morning fire. I longed for a hidden boxcar in the woods, with stuff I could scavenge to make a beautiful and safe space for myself, little by little adding a chipped cup here and mended curtains there. It was a fantasy I never really let go of. I still love those books and part of me still dreams of being a hermit in the woods, living off the land.

Back to my feet. As I've struggled with my mental health this year—while at the same time continuing to publish a weekly newspaper and run the business—I've been isolated. The more isolated I get, the less I feel like talking to people, even people that I know can help, or maybe especially people I know can help. It has been a hard year, with several bouts of depression that left me barely able to get out of bed. The newspaper propels me forward, its demanding rhythm, and the team that makes it happen driving forward, always. Without that unmoving weekly deadline, that driving bass line that gets me moving, I feel I would be lost, or at least, on a very different journey. People have asked, so I'll answer: I've never been suicidal, and what I'm talking about is not a despair so deep I can't bear living. It is instead a stopping, a shrinking, a stepping back from my life and my dreams. It feels like bitter defeat.

The feet.

Back when I started working out, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, one of my biggest motivations was not being able to reach my feet to tie my shoes. It sucked and I hated it.

Yesterday I clipped my own toenails and ground my own feet. They were getting rough again. Over the course of the summer, working in the garden, they got rough fast, and because my feet are a weird thing for me, it gave me a tiny entry into reclaiming self-care. “Do the things that make me feel good.” That's my basic self-care mantra. So over the months, I've given myself foot baths, essential oils, cremes and lotions, because it made me feel good.

A week ago I went cold turkey on the cigarettes. Again. I know I know I know, judgy voice, I fucking know. I got past the physical addiction, and this is one thing that lockdown will actually help. My lungs feel better, my headaches are gone, my cough is fading fast. I'm using a witchy and ritualistic approach, and I feel it is working.

My feet are smooth and soft, and they don't catch on my bedsheets at night. It's a small thing, but it makes me smile, and makes it easier each day to do other things that make me feel good—like wash my damn dishes. Back to baby steps. I remember the power of baby steps.

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