Inspired by: https://aeon.co/essays/geel-where-the-mentally-ill-are-welcomed-home, https://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/483855073/the-problem-with-the-solution, https://www.glerups.com, and my husband:)
To disagree without being disagreeable – Eckhart Tolle. For most of my life, this concept has been a unicorn – me.
*Disclaimer to other perfectionists – in my endeavor to let go of perfectionism you will notice glaring grammatical issues and gratuitous use of made-up words in this post. I own it.
For Christmas, My Mother-in-law gave me a pair of Glerups, you know, those felt slippers from Gotland, Sweden that you or someone else you know were lucky enough to get? I LOVE these things! I suffer from chronic (there’s that word again I know) cold feet. Socks, socks and more socks – any day, any time. Often worn with slippers and accompanied by a stylish blanket draped over my shoulders as I ghost my way about the house, trembling. Like Adam and Barbara Maitland in Beetlejuice – except I’m not trying to scare anyone out of my house, I’m just trying to scare up some heat in this icebox!
Anyway, my husband had been in admiration of my new slippers since I got them, as I constantly talk about them in my moments of mindfulness. Oh my feet are so warm, Oh my feet are so happy, it’s like they’re being hugged by actual sheep, Oh my feet are so cold…dammit I’ve been home for an hour and forgot to put on my Glerups…I just lost an hour of quality slipper-time that I will never get back! I kid you not – as I wrote that sentence, I realized I forgot to put on my felty foot friends, I’m back baby and it feels footing fantastic!
So with my husband’s growing interest – or jealousy – I wanted his feet to also feel fulfillment and bought him a pair. Since he got them it’s the same rhetoric Oh this! Oh that! But that is where the similarities end and a fundamental difference has drawn a wedge in our slippering connoisseur-ism. He wears his without socks and I do not.
This may seem innocuous but soon became a bone of contention between us: to sock or not to sock became the debate of the moment and quickly turned into an argument of you’re doing it wrong. It being, how I wear my slippers. And the wrongness became a trigger for me.
After sometime of cajoling about how I was somehow bastardizing the purity in the purpose and function of these foot encasements with statements like “ha ha! the internet says you are actually making your feet colder by constricting with socks!” Proof. “Feel my man-feet, they are on fire!” Proof. “Your lady-feet are only luke warm!” Proof. I was beginning to get annoyed and moreover it was getting in my head – all up in my slipper-game. My feet were suddenly irreversibly cold – even a fully heated beanbag cooled to their touch rather than thawing my ice blocks. WTF? Now my slipper experience is ruined cause I let you get in my head, let you make me believe I was doing it wrong (even though I knew the socks-and-slips combo was working for me before I created you, this evil-slipper-monster-judgy-pants.) Yup, commence the name calling.
Last night when we arrived home from family dinner at my parents (who coincidently keep their internal house temperature hovering slightly above zero) in the snowstorm of 2018, I had extraordinarily cold feet. So to put my husband’s words to rest, I took off my socks and slipped on my Glerups, hoping for a podaitry miracle. It did not come and to my further frustration – I was doing bed-time (books and snuggle time usually lasting about 20 minutes). That wasn’t my bother, it was the tightly wound child who decided to turn this time into Late Night with Overtired-but-can’t-sleep-6-year-old: Full feature 1 hour special interview with my guest Bed-Companion. We covered a lot of ground as he talked himself down; hurricanes, tornadoes, the Titanic and other unsettling events. For an hour I laid and talked and felt the frostbite begin its slow burn into my slippered, un-socked toes.
Upon emerging into the kitchen – weary and squinty (we have one of those 90’s fluorescents hovering above our island, you know, the ones that make you feel like you’re being abducted by aliens whilst cutting carrots) my husband and I exchanged some niceties and then I did what I had been planning for the last 20 minutes. I defiantly propped my fudgcicle-ing foot up on the counter for his inspection. “See? See that happens when I wear these without socks??!!” Proof. Hoping for an apology.
He felt my foot and acknowledged its sub-zero temperature and made a joke about how I must be wearing them wrong (a playful smile across his face). unfortunately for him, I was in no mood to “play” the object of his ridicule any longer. I quietly walked away and perched myself on the edge of our bed (conveniently located next to the infrared heater) to sit quietly and identify how I was feeling and why I might be feeling what I soon recognized as anger and frustration.
He followed shortly after me, with an innocent “Really? I thought we were joking around?!”
In my brief moment of reflection I realized the source of my anger. For so long I have strived for perfectionism – I did this because I believed it shielded me from judgement. Lately I was feeling a barrage of judgement from myself and others. I was judging myself for the same reasons the people who care most about me were judging (questioning) me. I have been in a state of “push” rather than flow – this state is a go-to for me. In an attempt to make things better, healthier, stronger, more present, “right”, I have been pushing really hard.
When this happens some people have tried to bring me back by saying, ” Sarah, slow down…stop over-analyzing…you’re doing it again.” And they are right. But in their justification I feel resentment towards their reminders.
Last night during the slipper incident I finally had a break through in understanding my aversion to others trying to protect me from myself. It’s because my brain interprets their warnings as you are making mistakes again, you are doing more harm than good, stop doing this to yourself and others. I recognized I already say these exact things to myself, so when someone else says it, it feels like a piling-on of sorts, until I feel buried under a mountain of judgement.
Here’s what I know today. I am seeking authenticity and in this process – there will be imperfection. Imperfectness such as, over-thinking, lack of presence, spelling mistakes or reactivity, to name a few. In reclaiming my authenticity, I am looking for a support net to catch me with each misstep, each fall. A net that will cradle me and hold me with compassionate fibers and accept me for who I am and how I am – neuroses, warts and all. (Compassion means to “suffer with”, to see a good and valid reason for behaviour without judgement – Gabor Mate). I hope to be told (by myself and loved ones) I’m here, no matter how many mistakes you make, I won’t think less of you.
Enter the town of Geel (Hay-al) in Belgium also called “Paradise for the insane” – see my links above for a more in-depth detail of this facinating place. In Geel, the residents welcome mentally ill patients (not called patients but boarders or guests) into their homes to live, like a foster family. These people are compassionately accepted as they are, Geel’s belief being the fix comes from not trying to fix. The inverse of this healing situation is also the who is doing the emotional holding. The foster families are strangers at first-not even told a diagnosis of their new inhabitant. The reason for this is, studies show relapse in mentally ill people is 2 to 3 times higher with their family of origin (see my baggage handler post). Family being so emotionally invested that their words and actions of love end up coming out as criticism, hostility and just plain over-emotional involvement. Triggering the vulnerable person negatively, the exact opposite of the loved ones intention.
Brene Brown talks about foreboding joy – when we resist complete immersion into joyful moments because we believe shielding ourselves from disappointment and disaster is self-preserving. In doing so, we live on a tightrope – never falling off. Never feeling the full spectrum of loss and sadness but also denying joy and hope. When we reach the end of our tightrope (life) do we really want to get there without ever using our safety net of vulnerability. Do we really not want to lean into those moments of joy in an attempt to as Brown calls it “dress rehearse tragedy?” At the end of your rope, using your safety net along the way – through missteps and really feeling a range of emotions your journey will be more fulfilling. Rather than cautiously calculating each and every perfect foot-placement – never being able to look around for fear of failure. Let yourself fall, I say. Maybe realize this tightrope we all walk doesn’t need to be stretched precariously between two skyscrapers, it can be a foot from a stable, safe landing – it just depends on where you choose to tie your rope (and who’s standing by to catch you).
Now how did I get from slippers to tightropes in one body of work you may be wondering? Well hell, so am I? This writing process is an example of when I am in it – full body presence, letting ‘er fly. So let me take a moment to connect my dots. Ah! I think the point was, be who you need to be. Not what others expect you to be. Wear what works for you – socks or no socks, speak and feel your feelings in your body. Tie your tightrope wherever you choose and fall off as many times as you dare to. And get back on it when you are ready. And if you want to wear your effing slippers with socks, on your tightrope, with a blanket wrapped around you – I won’t judge you – even if you judge me for doing the same.
This is Sarah Nicole Guest, slippers and socks, reporting out, ever-present (for now).
Before publishing this post I asked for my husband’s permission, who agreed (maybe because he was gun-shy after Gerlupgeddon). He did however say he had already shared this story with some friends at work who found it quite amusing. In which I responded “OMG! You should write a blog too and we can link them so people see how a marriage works when you rarely speak the same language (Lost in Translation 2?). And now I want to hear “Brass in Pocket” by the Pretenders…Thanks again for being here.