In the summer of 2005, my best friend and I traveled through Europe for an entire month (translation: we had entry level jobs and our companies would survive just fine without us). She and I had developed inside jokes over the years, and we’d even created our own vocabulary. The pronunciation of words started to change— from where or when this originated I couldn’t tell you—but suddenly the letter “u” was substituted by the letter “i”: funny became finny, fun became fin, and puffy became piffy.
That summer when we landed at Heathrow Airport, she looked down at my swollen feet and remarked, “Your feet are piffy.”
Not since 2005 have I suffered from piffy feet. It didn’t return, in fact, until my last month in Santa Barbara when I broke out in full-body hives. My doctor suspected it was due to a weakened immune system and loads of stress. After all, I was moving out of my house, transitioning out of my job, moving back home, going through a nasty breakup and planning a trip to Bali, which represented the great unknown. It’s enough to make anyone’s body protest in anger.
The piffy feet were a part of this experience, too. I had blisters beneath and between my toes, and swollen ankles that endowed me with sizable cankles. It was an eyesore, to be sure, but it also started to affect my ability to do things like run, practice yoga or even walk. I spent three days at home with my legs up the wall, hoping that the swelling would eventually subside.
Be patient, I told myself. It takes time.
Two weeks later, I flew to Bali.
The first five days of travel were taxing: a 15-hour flight to Qatar, a 14-hour layover (okay, the hotel wasn’t so bad), a 9.5 hour flight to Denpasar, and a 1.5 hour drive from Denpasar to Ubud. By the time I arrived Ubud at 2:00am, my body didn’t know what day or time it was, and I spent the next 2 days battling jet lag. That didn’t stop me, however, from accomplishing as much as humanly possible.
In just two days, I had managed to work 10 hours at Hubud, update my resume, set-up job alerts, complete my yoga invoices, take two yoga classes, grocery shop, prepare a meal in my bathroom sink, do sit-ups on the hotel floor, walk miles of foreign roads, trek through miles of rice paddies, read four chapters of a book, purchase 3 headscarves and 2 lightweight shorts, and post one blog. It’s my way of functioning, really, and I don’t know what I would do if I weren’t being “productive”.
American ideology advises us to push through the pain (which I often do) and celebrate our strength, our fortitude, and our indefatigable determination. Not until something physical or psychological happens do we actually stop—and that’s not even by choice; it’s by force!
Then we, the loyal workers of the world and innovative problem-solvers, come up with the best solution. When we’re told it will take two months, we ask how we can get it down to one week (or get a second opinion, or different medications, or pretend it’s not as bad as it really is). Either way, we’re just lying to ourselves. We’re lying to ourselves because we don’t like the truth.
So I’m staring down at my throbbing, piffy feet and I pass by a nice-looking spa. I go inside to have a look. The spa offers something called a Balinese Boreh, which is a 90-minute treatment that includes a spice oil massage, a Balinese boreh mask, and a hot shower to complete the session. The Balinese Boreh is highly recommended for people who have “a fever, headaches, muscles aches, and arthritis.” That’s me, right?!
The woman at the front desk says they can take me in right away.
Five minutes into my Balinese Boreh, I’m thinking about work and the topic for my next blog and what I’m going to do tomorrow and if I’ll shower tonight and what I’ll eat for dinner and—
“Is feel okay?” my masseuse asks.
“Yes, this feels nice,” I reply.
“Thank you,” she says smilingly.
She slides her hands onto my back and applies pressure.
“Is feel okay?” she asks again.
“Yes, this feels very good,” I reassure her.
“Thank you,” she repeats.
She moves onto my shoulders. “Is feel okay?”
“Yes,” I say, “this feels great.”
We do this song and dance about 20 times but for some reason I’m not annoyed; instead, I feel like crying.
I realize during the massage that this woman cares about it feeling good, that she actually wants me to enjoy myself. I wonder how many times, over the course of my life, that I’ve paused to ask myself that same question: “Is feel okay?” Is this okay with you, Julia?
Then I start to wonder how many times, over the course of my life, other people have cared about that same question. Is this okay with you, Julia?
I’m disappointed to admit not nearly enough people did.
This epiphany happens while I’m face down so I can properly weep without risking embarrassment. The gift of that massage was the huge, flashing marquee that should’ve been there all along: I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR ASKING THAT QUESTION.
No one held me at gunpoint, forcing me to overwork, to overexert, and to give too much of myself; that was all me.
No circumstances kept me enslaved to the point where I didn’t have the option to rebel.
No person had power over me that I had not granted (and continued to grant out of sheer habit).
In short, my life had been shaped by what I had welcomed into it and what I had refused.
This was a liberating moment for me. I decided right then and there that this would be the FIRST question I would ask: Is feel okay, Julia? Is this okay with you? And, to take it a step further, I would surround myself with people who cared about that question, too. I’ve wasted too much time doing otherwise.
After the massage ended, I reluctantly vacated the room. The woman at the front desk escorted me to a table where my tea and fresh papaya were waiting. I sat down, let out a sigh, and looked down at my feet.
They didn’t look so piffy anymore.