Ankle Envy

I may have developed a foot fetish of sorts, but not the kind you may think. Maybe it’s more accurate to call it a “foot jealousy” condition, or an “ugly-shoes-depression.” I’m not sure, but I’ve been focusing on feet and ankles a lot lately. However odd this might sound, I think my recent foot “fascination” is understandable for several reasons.

My ankle problems have been going on for 10 years now, and I can’t believe it’s been that long. They first flared up out of the blue in April 2005 when I had just left with my parents on a trip to visit my sister in Spain. Both ankles suddenly became intensely painful and swollen for seemingly no reason and I could barely walk. I remember sitting in a cafe in Seville with my family one evening and breaking down in sobs because the pain was so bad; I was worried and devastated that the trip I had been looking forward to was going to be ruined. I was even more terrified that the flare-up wouldn’t go away and that damage to my feet and ankles would occur.

I’ve written about these ankles, especially the extra-stubborn right ankle, in other articles. Unfortunately I keep having new material to write about, as the flare-ups continue, and the pain and swelling keep fluctuating in maddening, unpredictable ways.

These past 10 years I’ve battled hard against the inflammation relentlessly attacking my ankles. I’ve watched and felt the “ankle roller coaster” and the “doctor roller coaster” (of searching for second opinions) sometimes with hope and often with worry, and I’ve had two arthroscopic surgeries on the right ankle that were not successful.

Right now I’m on a bad part of the roller coaster ride. I’ve been suffering from a very bad flare-up for about a week that’s affecting several joints: ankles, feet, hands, fingers, wrists, elbows, knees. The worst joints affected are my ankles and feet, which is usually the case. I haven’t experienced this intense and widespread of a flare-up in a long time, so it’s hitting me pretty hard–physically and emotionally.

It may sound strange, but often just the sight of my ankles being swollen–looking bloated, puffy, and misshapen–upsets me more than the actual pain. Their physical abnormality, in this unnatural and distorted form, is a clear indicator that something’s seriously wrong with my body. And, well, they just look ugly. That’s depressing.

I’ve also noticed that when they’re flaring up really bad I sometimes find myself obsessively fixating on them, trying to remember what they were like when they were lovely, healthy ankles and I could wear cute shoes like other young women my age. And maybe also strange, during these flare-ups I catch myself noticing other people’s feet and ankles when I’m out in public. Their healthy, normal joints. I know this probably sounds nuts, but I figure that I can’t be the only person in the world who does this?

Riding the subway in NYC is a fascinating place for people watching, and, um, feet watching. There’s also a kind of unwritten “rule” of subway etiquette of not staring at people like a big weirdo. Especially if you’re stuck on a crowded train for a while, there’s often no place left to look except down towards the floor. And guess what? There are a lot of feet down there!

During this past week of intense pain and swelling, I noticed that I couldn’t stop myself from glancing at other people’s feet. I was mostly noticing the different summer shoe styles and I was secretly envious of the fashionable sandals I saw on women of all ages. It wasn’t fair that these women were free to romp around in fun footwear while I hobbled on and off the train wearing sandals that look like a hospital orderly’s with the extra attractive accessory of an Ace bandage wrapped around my right ankle. Summer fun in the sun, right? No cute wedge sandals for this lady. But you know, I’d walk around in a pair of paper bags if it meant I didn’t have any pain.

I think what it boils down to, my phases of jealousy and feet fixation, is that I envy these subway riders’ (and everyone else’s) healthy, mobile, pain-free feet and their pain-free lives. And I’m angry. I’m angry that spending a week recently walking all over Manhattan, showing my visiting sister the wonderful sights of New York City, strolling through Central Park like a normal person, has now rendered me stuck at home with ice packs on my feet and a much higher dose of steroids to swallow. I pine for the days when I didn’t have to worry about pacing myself or that too much walking could cause a flare-up, forcing my life to essentially shut down until it recedes.

So if you happen to be riding the subway or walking by me on the street during the next few days and you catch me looking a little too long or wistfully at your footwear, don’t be alarmed. I’m not a crazy person, nor do I have any creepy foot fetishes. I’m probably just a bit delirious from pain and I’m coveting your beautiful, skinny, normal joints–pointy ankle bones included. I want your feet. Actually, I want mine back.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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