Boots, hardly…but an incredible pair of shoes. The Dansko clogs given to me by my mother were sturdy, comfortable, and colorful. A rainbow of colors felted into a black background that carried me through two of the most transformative years of my life thus far.

They were a Christmas gift given one week after I graduated with my BA in Psychology and proceeded to move in with my abusive father (I kept telling myself I was doing it for the health insurance). Three weeks later, I was crawling back to the welcoming arms of my mother, having failed to fix my father and further broken myself in the process.

The economy was in the toilet, and seemingly no jobs were to be had. I had quit my retail job in anticipation of finding something in my new state, and thus came back home to endless games of computer Solitaire in between cover letters and scam job postings on Craigslist. I finally landed a part-time clothing retail job in a small boutique (SO not my style), and wore my new shoes every day. They put a smile on my face, and my customers were constantly admiring the bright colors that shone through the grey New England winter and my depressed state of mind. 

After a few months at the boutique, I obtained my first “real” job, as a case manager in a community mental health center. This was the most overwhelming thing I had chosen to do in my life. Having no experience, I dove into trying to help my caseload of usually 50-60 and never fewer than 40 adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses. Those shoes were a conversation starter with clients who did not initially feel comfortable talking and with other professionals who controlled the resources my clients needed.

The clogs carried me through many places: bed bug infested apartments, courtrooms where I sat next to clients and testified that they were a safety risk or were failing to take adequate care of themselves, the frantic drives to clients who left messages with hints of suicide. They also carried me through many positive events and emotions: the feeling of relief and hope when a client successfully completed detox, finally making a connection with a client who had struggled to engage in services, and the feeling of satisfaction when a client successfully advocated for themselves using strategies we had practiced.

Many personal events happened during the two years those shoes remained in commission, but what sticks out most to me about that time was my work. By the time the shoes were tattered and worn down, I had learned a lot of what I needed to know about myself and my calling. They saw me through crises of “Am I good enough?” and “How can anyone possibly do this for years?” to the realization that my best is good enough and letting go of the notion that I have to fix everyone was how I would be able to do this work for years. When I enrolled in my MSW program, the shoes had been worn almost every day in my whirlwind tour of the community mental health system, and they were tired. Pieces of felt were falling off, and the tread was nonexistent. I reluctantly shoved the clogs into the back of my closet, to be looked upon with fondness and gratitude.