By: Jana Greene
If you were enticed to read this piece because the title sounds low-key fetishist, move along. I mean, nothing would surprise me anymore. This is no kinky boots I’m talking about…hardy har har.
I’m referring to the oft-quoted, stoic-to-a-fault narrative that when you’re hurting. You know – the old adage: “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps requires you handle it yourself. That’s the whole point of having bootstraps…self-sufficiency. Two little loops are supposed to save you from whatever mayhem you may be facing.
I was thinking about this yesterday because having a pity party is a very lonely experience. It necessitates solitude for proper misery. But as the only attendee, I got pretty sick of myself.
Which is exactly why I texted my dear friend. It was a high-pain day. I had been more or less bed-bound for four days previous. I still am, actually.
My therapist has taught me to consider my “days off” (days when I have no proverbial “spoons” – Google “Spoon Theory…”) as true days of rest. She encourages me to take that time to write, read, even binge watch something to take my mind off of things.
It’s a great idea and it was working great until yesterday. Yesterday was the day I was going to feel better and do better. Except that my body decided NOPE, it wasn’t the day.
The thing about chronic illness is that the world keeps going. You may have the best support circle, and still feel lonely sometimes. I’m losing myself in a days-long pajama binge of watching TikToks and writing mid-grade poetry. Everyone else is out doing All The Things. I’m happy that everyone else is doing All The Things. I just sometimes want to do them too, and resent having this lifestyle “forced” on me.
So rather than sink into a deeper funk, as I said, I finally texted my friend.
I think I said something like, “I’m not doing so well.” And she replied, “Need a hug? I’ll be right over.” This, as it turns out, was the perfect thing to say.
Usually, I rebuff my friends’ offers to come wallow with me. But I was in just the right mood to accept help, I guess.
Usually, I say “No, it’s okay. I’ll be alright.”
Usually, I would honestly rather isolate, because it takes too much mental and emotional energy to engage with another human.
Usually, I don’t reach out at all.
Usually, I pull myself up by my bootstraps (or just kick ’em off and run around barefoot.)
But not yesterday.
I called out to my Bootstrap Buddy and she took time out of doing All The Things in her busy life to come sit with me, hold me, and listen to my blathering about not being able to do All The Things, too.
The origin of the expression “pull yourself up by your bootstratps” is: To improve one’s situation through hard work and self-determination, rather than getting assistance from someone else. But upon researching the beginnings of the term – which seems to have become popular in the turn of the 20th century, it seems it was often made tongue-in-cheek; the idea being that pulling oneself up off the ground by one’s own bootstraps is actually a physical impossibility.
The original verbiage meant to “elevate” oneself. To literally leave the physical ground. It was a smart-ass comment about doing for oneself what is is only possible to do with help.
I don’t always have it in me to put in “hard work” and “self determination.” Sometimes I’m empty. in those times, it cannot be done; although we can fall on our faces trying, blinded by pride.
We all need that one person – or several people – who will get into the muck and mire to help pull our boots up, out of the mud. I’m fortunate to be married to one. But I also have friends willing to hold space for me in that place.
All the self-reliance and pride in the world cannot compete with being held and listened to when we are at a low point. There are times when lifting ourselves is a physical (or mental) impossibility.
Thank you for elevating me, and picking me up off the ground, my precious Buddies.
I’m so very grateful.