I knew that if I put those socks on, it would lead to divorce.
A year and a half ago, I ended up in the ER due to a slow mental health decline that had been happening for a couple of years. The doctor prescribed a short course of stabilizers. My friend Anne prescribed an elimination diet for my schedule. And so, the day after the ER visit, we sat at the dining room table, writing letters in which I resigned from all of the zillion commitments I’d taken on in a frantic attempt to prove myself to be a good person.
This led to me standing in front of my closet to get dressed, without any of the usual franticness of The Many Shoulds Weighing Down My Day. I reached in efficiency for the usual socks, then caught sight of these pink fuzzy ones.
I love how the pink fuzzy socks feel on my skin.
I stood there, immobilized, thinking about how I always made decisions based on what I should do... what was efficient, or logical. But I really wanted to put on the fuzzy socks. For no good reason—just because I had this feeling and I wanted to let that feeling drive the ship.
There was no reason not to—I’d already let go of Being An Adult Doing All The Things. Having placed myself on a kind of "leave", I now had time to spend carefully selecting my very favourite socks for the day.
And frankly, how long does it take to choose socks? I’d always had time.
But, as I reached for them, I was frozen by this thought: If I put on these socks, my marriage will end.
Later, a friend (who is also in the middle of a life transition) and I were talking about our most essential values, and she said “I feel like a guiding value for me is beauty. That I’m drawn to tiny things that are beautiful, and making time for that is something I need to do. How silly is that. I mean, how can beauty be a value?”
After I started wearing the fuzzy socks when I felt like it, I began reading for fun. During the most productive part of the morning, sometimes I’d sit with my tea and read, and I realized that a) without giving myself that time, I hadn’t been any use to anyone anyway, and b) that is absolutely, unequivocally, NOT THE POINT.
We talk about self care like it is certain activities. Going for a walk or a massage, or whatever... but if you have to google self care ideas to insert into your schedule, you are doing it wrong. Self care is not a refuelling pit stop for you as an Task-Accomplishment-and-Should-Fulfillment Device. It’s a rejection of the idea of yourself as a device at all. It’s about seeing yourself as a creature, and taking time to listen, and treating yourself like what you want matters is an end in itself. It’s about spending the most important resource you have—your time—on whatever silly-but-harmless dream your soul tugs you towards. Because in doing that, you express to that deep part of yourself that you value it’s input. That you’re listening.
You realize, deep in your gut, that you are not a thing.
So you stop treating yourself like one.
Then, you stop treating the people around you like things, too.
This realization is dangerous. Not because of the time involved, but because of the embodiment of a different set of values. A different way of making decisions. A realization that coming alive is a worthy goal in and of itself—not a pit stop on the way to better productivity.
For months, I kept repeating that mantra to myself. “You are not a thing”.
And then “Nobody else is, either”.
This leads to making decisions with the aid of a powerful internal compass. It leads to a new way of really listening to people, treating them as an end, not a means to something. It leads to doing things better, and to picking better things to be doing in the first place.
It’s because of the socks that I learned to listen. It's because of that listening, that I came to realize that I wanted different things for myself, and for Gary. It’s because of the socks that I realized I needed to model better things for our children.
We're taught to hold on to marriage until it is ripped from our clammy, clenched fists. I had this story of tremendous judgement in my mind. I thought that, when that all ended, people would accuse us of not working hard enough, not taking a stand for what matters.
I spent months reminding myself that I am not a thing, and steeling myself to endure what people would say.
What they said was “I’m so sorry. How are you all doing? How can I help?”. Because, turns out, they love us and care about us and want us to be happy. However that looks. They never thought we were things.
You are not a thing.
Neither is anyone else.
Anyone who says differently is selling something.