With 2017 marking the 20th anniversary of my descent into a severe mental health crisis, I’m using it as a reminder of how that dark time was the start of rebuilding my life and turning me into who I am today.
So, as writing is such a cathartic practice for me, I’m going to look back and write in detail about how and why going barefoot almost all the time is a massive part of who I am now. It’s a way of life – and formed a vital aspect of my recovery from severe depression in 1997.
The fact that my bare feet are constantly connected with the ground is a coping strategy devised during that long and despairing 10-week spell in a psychiatric hospital, which included being sectioned under the Mental Health Act for 28 days. Most exercises involving mental concentration are done barefoot – including yoga, martial arts, and tai chi. Not that I do any of those, but I’ve discovered over the years that walking barefoot has massive health benefits…both mental and physical.
For me, going barefoot on all types of terrain is a prolonged reflexology session, allowing energy to flow naturally through my body, preventing many diseases and ailments. I believe to this day that being barefoot is what keeps me young (ish!) and relatively fit.
Abandoning shoes in almost all situations stimulates my blood circulation; helps my body eliminate a fair amount of fats and toxins; prevents varicose veins; and improves my posture and balance. Many podiatrists and sections of the medical profession now recognize the enormous health benefits of going barefoot when it comes to alleviating sleep disturbance, muscle and joint pain, asthmatic and respiratory conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, heart rate variability, and immune system activity and response.
But as well as these physical benefits, going barefoot has an enormous impact on my mental and spiritual well-being, eliminating hypertension and stress.
When I’m barefoot, whether it’s on urban streets, in open countryside or on woodland paths, I’m so much more aware of my surroundings. I’m at one with the terrain, not just a spectator. Focusing on my steps and not my problems, clears my mind, putting me at ease, considerably reducing stress and tension.
For the last 20 years, I have rarely given myself the option of shoes – and it’s meant that with every step I take, my thought process becomes more focused on the path I’m treading. Consciously I try to steer clear of stones, thorns, glass, and, yes…dog poo, too! When that happens, all negative thoughts vanish and I’m able to focus solely on walking.
Wearing shoes nowadays just makes me downright grumpy and bad-tempered, and is reserved mainly for business meetings and unenlightened restaurants. I’m not saying being barefoot all the time is right for everyone. But for me, having bare feet is a major coping strategy, and has changed my life.
And I also put it to good use for other people, by incorporating it into a variety of charity activities. I guess I’m as well known by my local newspaper and radio for my barefoot charity events as I am for my novels. In the past two years I have undertaken a quite gruelling 10-mile barefoot trek to raise awareness of Lyme Disease, been handcuffed and marched 2-miles barefoot through the streets in a charity carnival parade on my way to the stocks (twice!), a 5-mile barefoot run for Sport Relief, donating my shoes and doing a 5-mile barefoot walk to highlight the urgent need Syrian refugees have for shoes, campaigning barefoot to save our local cottage hospital, and I was working closely with my local Mind charity on a major event when Government cutbacks forced them to close.
Any type of footwear – flip flops, shoes, boots, even socks – acts as a barrier, dulling our senses. I tell skeptics to think how desensitized our hands become in gloves, and I ask them would they ever listen to music while wearing ear muffs, or watch a beautiful sunset through a piece of gauze? No, of course, they wouldn’t. So why block all those wonderful sensations that the soles of bare feet take in and pass on to the brain for processing about our environment?
Ballpark figure – I reckon I’m barefoot 95 percent of the time now. I just wish I had the courage to give all my footwear to charity and go the final 5 percent too.
So, there we have it…a mental health coping strategy devised 20 years ago, of having bare feet as a way of life, is still a major contributory factor in strengthening my mind and fighting my mental health issue. It has successfully turned my life around.
Stewart Bint is an international novelist, journalist/magazine columnist, and PR writer, who usually goes barefoot. When not writing he is an active awareness-raising campaigner for mental health and sepsis, having gained a place on the 2016 list of “Inspirational Mental Health Advocates that are changing the world.”
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