by D. Z. Stone
For many women shoes matter. For shoe lovers diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), their love of fancy footwear, and especially high heels, can be challenged by the physical symptoms of the diagnosis. RA is a chronic inflammatory disease, more common among women than men, and it affects joints throughout the body, especially the small joints of the hands and feet. Wearing high heels not only causes swelling in the feet but can also impede overall mobility and damage joints.
So what happens when a high-heel devotee with RA is unable to wear her most beloved shoes because they cause unbearable pain? The questions was recently posed to the thousands of women with RA.
The responses to this informal survey fall into two camps. About half the respondents say they gave their heels away to friends and charity, as their RA made wearing them excruciatingly painful. The other half stashed their collections in the backs of their closets, inadvertently creating their own personal shoe shrines, which they visit regularly.
The Shoe Shrine
“I open the closet and stare at them longingly,” writes Tonia Falzarano Murray, who held on to several pairs that were just “too cute” to let go.
Charla Smith Karella, who also opted to hang on to her heels, tells the CreakyJoints community, “I take them out once in a while and try them on. If I can’t get them all the way on, I just put the toe part on. I look at them. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I shine them. But, they never need it. Then I put them away.”
“I have over 200 pairs of heels that I can’t part with,” writes Elizabeth Denholm. “I occasionally take a pair out for a wee cuddle, but I live in hope that I’ll be able to wear them again one day.”
Many are optimistic about future possibilities for RA treatment, including 27-year-old Mandy Marie, who kept her high heels for this reason. “I have hope that my body will heal, and I will be able to wear [high heels] again.”
Sharing the Love
For the respondents who chose to give their shoes away, their action often stemmed from a place of acceptance.
Scarlett Case Kyle says, “I put on my big-girl panties and gave them away. Reality tells me that I will never be able to wear them again.”
Jessica Lasha Diederich donated all the pairs of heels she had spent years acquiring. “It was a very tough decision, since I was one who had a museum at the back of my closet of all the shoes I used to get to wear. It was a very sad day for me!”
Giving away cherished shoes was more difficult for some than others. Karen Abbott Jaco painfully recalls, “I cried after they left my house. I kept three. I thought, someday. Well, this spring I said good-bye to them too. I have worn them less than 12 times total.”
Many of the donated shoes went to women’s shelters or dress-for-success initiatives. Some women with RA, like Patty Harden Fot, got creative in their shoe giving. “Many of my heels went to the preschool for dress-up,” writes Fot. “Six pairs of cowboy boots went to a western-themed restaurant.”
Sharon Houk, who also donated her shoe collection, discovered the growing niche market for shoes that are fashionable and RA-friendly. Houk says she purchased some “truly adorable” RA-friendly shoes and sandals. “I have far fewer shoes, and I miss the heels, but the new ones still have style.”
One respondent to the survey thought completely outside the shoe box, neither storing her high heels in the closet nor giving them away: “I spray-painted mine and planted flowers in them,” wrote Katrina Tholen.