I get a lot of attention for my shoes. I like shoes for a few reasons. Shoes can really pull together an outfit, or they can be a statement in and of themselves. Another thing I like – as a male lawyer, there can be limited opportunities to personalise an outfit, but shoes is one thing you can do a bit differently. Even something like wearing a nice pair of navy brogues when all other guys are in black or brown shoes – it doesn’t make a really loud statement, but just individualises your outfit a little bit. Another handy thing – if you have a few extra cheat days, and everything else is getting snugger, your shoes will still fit!
On top of these, my shoes fulfil another, more important role for me and my overall frame of mind. When I go out into the world, I allow myself to be put under great scrutiny. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had people looking at me whatever I do and whenever I go anywhere. I know objectively that I am not ‘normal’; that I move very differently; that I move a lot slower and extremely awkwardly compared to others. It can be weird sometimes for me to think about, because as much as the bone caused by FOP progresses and changes all the time, the FOP itself has been a constant for me. It can also be hard, generally. As I’m sure many people would attest, we oftentimes don’t like to be stared at if we’re just going about doing our own thing and minding our own business. On the other hand, we’re human; we’re naturally curious when we see something new or unexpected and our first reaction is to stare as our brains try to make sense of it.
For me, when I am doing my thing, and slowly and awkwardly shuffling through my life wearing these interesting and different shoes, I’m telling myself that people aren’t looking at me because of my FOP but because of my shoes. This brings the staring back onto my terms. In this way, shoes are like my armour for getting through life.
The truth is, most of us have things about ourselves that we are insecure about, and we engage certain protective mechanisms when we go out into the world so that we can put our best version of ourself out there and not focus on what we are, perhaps, less confident about.
For some, like me, it might be an item of clothing or jewellery that we wear for people to focus on. For others, maybe it’s their witty and loud personality, and when they are at home alone they are perfectly happy being quiet. For others, maybe it’s unusual or ever changing hairstyles they use to distinguish themselves. In my experience, there’s usually this sort of message going through our heads:
“If people are focusing on my shoes/jokes/hair or something else, they won’t look as closely at x, which really bothers me”
The point is, we are not perfect, and it’s ok to admit that. Having insecurities doesn’t make us weak, or pathetic, or vain – it makes us human. And whatever defence mechanisms we have to help us deal with those insecurities and make us feel comfortable are part of our instinctive reaction, as people, to these sorts of problems. By doing these things to help us deal with what we would otherwise worry about and focus our attention on, that allows us to consciously focus much more of our energy on what we need to do – like our jobs. If I spent my energy worrying that everyone was staring at me because of FOP, I’d never leave my bedroom. This is one of my coping mechanisms, and it works for me.
What’s your armour? Do you have one? Do you need one?