I’m a little vain. I admit it freely. If you believe in astrology, this flaw is not really my fault. As a Libra; I am naturally drawn to the decadent, pretty little things in life. I like to eat good food, drink good wine, and look nice while doing it. If there is a party, you can bet I’ll be there, and I’ll be decked out in my finest.
At times, my vanity trumps my pragmatism. Before my rheumatoid arthritis began, I regularly wore all kinds of “impractical” shoes or skipped bringing the warm coat along because it just didn’t go with what I was wearing. ClichÃ© and maybe even silly, some would argue, but true nonetheless.
Stricken as I was after my rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis about all the grave implications of RA, my vanity was hit pretty hard, too. I reluctantly surrendered to all that was sensible and practical. Instead of three-inch heels that would have hurt my feet anyway, I put on lackluster flats to wear with my party dress, that is, when I had enough energy to actually make it to the party. For a while, it seemed like this was just how it was going to be – no more fun, stylish choices for me. I felt doomed to a life of bland, boring footwear for all eternity. I spent some serious time standing in front of my closet looking at all the shoes I figured I’d never be able to wear again and feeling really sad – and vain, but I told myself that any of my feelings were legitimate at a time like this.
For me, it was a part of the grieving process to genuinely mourn the loss of those tangible little things that had, in some ways, defined how people saw me and how I saw myself. But focusing on the more frivolous casualties that RA brought with it, such as not being able to wear heels, helped keep me from drowning in the fear that I might not be able to use my hands or feet in a few years.
Then, on New Year’s Eve that year, even though my RA was at its worst, I decided I didn’t give a damn that night. My feet hurt terribly all the time no matter what kind of shoes I wore, so I figured why the hell not wear the ones I wanted to wear! I put on my fancy New Year’s frock and instead of donning the drab flats I’d found to go with it, I stuffed on the shoes I’d originally bought with the dress that were a good three inches high. I stuck them on my swollen feet in the cab ride to Gramercy Tavern and was never so thankful as when I plopped down at the table one brief, painful walk later. They came off as soon as we got into the taxi to go back home, and my toes let me know exactly what they thought about my vanity for days to come.
In the months that followed, my sensible side ruled my shoe choices most of the time, but as the Enbrel began to work its magic, temptation would occasionally get the best of me. Sometimes, I’d be tricked into thinking I was in the clear since my toes had been behaving only to be reminded halfway through the evening exactly how much pain one tiny toe joint can unleash. Though at times I was brave enough (or stubborn enough) to wear the heels, I was never without a spare pair of flats.
That is, until this past weekend. Each summer, Governor’s Island, which sits just off the Southern tip of Manhattan, hosts a pretty fabulous Jazz Age Lawn Party, complete with cocktails, a dance floor and costumes. Flocks of people dress up in their finest 1920’s garb and ferry over to the island to enjoy the sunshine, picnics and a jazz band. This year, that flock included me and my friends, and I was damned if I was going to pair my black shift dress and pearls with flats. I put on a pair of three-inch shoes that were of the era, and then realizing that I was late to meet my friends, ran out the door forgetting my spare pair of comfortable shoes
When I got to the subway, I realized I had left them behind, but it was too late to turn back if I wanted to catch the ferry on time. I took a deep breath and figured that I would just deal with it somehow when my toes began to flare badly.
I had to run to make it to the ferry on time, which I knew I would pay for dearly later on. But once on Governor’s Island, I stretched out on the lawn to watch folks dancing the Charleston and kicked off my shoes. I padded around barefoot for most of the afternoon, sipping champagne cocktails and enjoying the atmosphere. I even got up and learned to dance a bit of the Charleston myself! At the end of the afternoon, I put my heels back on for the trek back home. As I walked to the ferry station, I realized my feet were definitely beginning to hurt… only the amazing thing was, they weren’t hurting from the RA. My toe joints felt unbelievably fine, but my shoes had worn a few blisters on the soles of my feet since I wasn’t used to wearing them!
Even though my feet hurt, it was a completely different kind of pain than what I’d become accustomed to. For the first time in a long time, my feet hurt for a no good, perfectly vain reason, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.
Sara wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Rheumatoid Arthritis.