051 Q&A (Personal edition)

051 Q&A (Personal edition)

You asked, and today, I am going to answer. We’ll talk about shoes–or the lack thereof, protective equipment, what I study, where I have lived, and my chronic illness.

Now that there are more of you. I asked for your questions, then tried to make this one cohesive episode, but there is just too much to say. So, today will be all about questions I received about me and my choices, while next time will be all about the garden and plans for its future.

Questions about my choices

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: why am I not wearing shoes?

I started walking barefoot almost three years ago, and have only put on shoes for three reasons since: being forced, being lazy, and when the situation benefits from wearing them. That means, I am barefoot almost all of the time. Over the years, my calluses have grown, and my feet can withstand a lot. That means, my threshold for putting on shoes is a lot higher now.

I started going barefoot when I was looking for an alternative to taking opioids for my chronic back pain. I gradually transitioned to sleeping on the floor. I stopped wearing shoes. I became friends with the floor for resting. And it helped.

When I released by summary video about the first three months of working on the land–and thus showed how I work without the context of my journey–some people got really mad, others got mean. Most of you were curious.

I’ve made a video about why I don’t wear shoes before, but it was #008, and it was offline for a while because I was getting too many comments from people requesting I walk barefoot in cow dung or washing my feet naked. I know the internet gives anonymity, but some people should consider that there are still people on the other end. The video is back online now that there is enough traction for the rest of my videos, but it has been a while, and it was prior to all the construction work.

I cut myself all the time with my kitchen knives. Yet, none of you have suggested that I put on gloves. My feet haven’t gotten injured outside since I ditched shoes. We all take certain risks in life. Have you considered that going barefoot might just not be a risk you are used to seeing around?

Of course, there are shoes in the garden house. The sandals offer protection in areas with a lot of thorns or small shards. The rubber boots offer protection for areas that are not navigable without all-round protection. I put those on when I feel the benefits outweigh the risks of wearing them.

Risks? Yes, I struggle with proprioception (so knowing where things are in relation to me and each other), and I rely a lot on the input I get from my feet. In shoes, a lot of that input is lost. I also don’t know how to step properly when not barefoot, and often injure my joints when wearing shoes. And finally, I pay a lot less attention where I step in shoes.

That rusty nail you all are so worried about is most dangerous to me when I’m wearing rubber boots. In bare feet, I look where I step. I step slowly. If there was a nail, I’d feel it the moment it touched my skin, and I could adjust. In boots, I would step confidently into the nail that would go through my boot and into my foot all the same. It’s not as black and white as some of you might think. Oh, and I am vaccinated against tetanus, of course.

In shoes, a lot of the roof project would not have been possible. I needed the full range of motion that only going barefoot gives me. I needed to wrap my toes around the beams for stability. I could not have done that in shoes, and would have had to compensate. I would not have been able to feel each rung of the ladder, instead adding the risk of slipping. You see, it’s not that easy.

I live barefoot, so putting on shoes means adding a layer of “uncertainty” to everything. It means carelessness and lack of haptic feedback. It changes everything for me.

In addition, going barefoot calms me. I can feel the ground under my feet, the chill of a cold puddle of rain, or the soothing warm of a heated rock in winter sun. Every surface feels different, interacts differently with the soles of my feet. I feel the earth. I feel alive when I am barefoot.

In shoes, I stumble through the world, lost and disconnected. I wouldn’t go back to that lifestyle for anything.

I absolutely appreciate all of your concern. Seriously, I do. Most of you were thoughtful and kind in your comments. However, that does not mean I have to agree with you. If me going barefoot bothers you, I will continue to bother you.

I am not like most people. I walk barefoot. I wear clothes that look like cleaning rags to some of you (thanks for that thoughtful comment, by the way :D). I don’t shave. I wear my hair in dreadlocks. I say what I mean. I don’t lie. I am chronically ill. I am autistic. None of that will change anytime soon (and most of it won’t ever change). You’ll have to accept that if you watch my videos or they will keep bothering you.

Thank you all! I appreciate every single one of you–even those who told me I’m a dandelion away from lala land, whatever that might mean.

Okay, while we are talking about risks, protection, and all that stuff, let’s also cover personal protective equipment in general: If I put on everything that I’ve been told I need to wear, I’d look like a snowman from the future and be unable to move. Some of you want me to wear shoes inside. Some of you want me to wear a mask whenever I am inside the garden house. Some of you think I should have worn gloves for all of the roof work.

Personal protection is important. But it is also highly situational and, well, personal, or rather, individual.

There is one scene in the three-month video that I regret putting into the video (or any video for that matter): I am trimming grass with a string trimmer while barefoot. That is a dumb choice. It’s also not a choice I would make. It’s something that happened, because I was going from task to task and simply forgot to put on shoes. And then I didn’t notice when I was editing, because seeing myself barefoot doesn’t trigger a reaction–it’s normal to me. I should have worn shoes for string trimming, and I usually do. But I am human, and I forgot. I got away with it. But it was risky.

But the thing is, there’s one scene. I don’t regret the rest of my choices, and would make most of them again.

If I’d worn gloves for all of the roof work, I would not have been able to do it. The nails were very short, so I could barely get enough grip with bare hands. In gloves, it was impossible. I tried. I still wore gloves for a lot of the roof project.

But I don’t wear gloves in a lot of situations other people might. I don’t wear gloves to do the dishes. I don’t wear gloves to plant or repot. I don’t mind getting dirty. I don’t mind building up some calluses by getting a bit scratched. I don’t mind any of that. So, I’ll wear gloves when I do things that I am not comfortable happening to my hands.

Risks are perceived so differently by all of us: I’m sure you’ve driven faster than the speed limit or quickly moved the car from one spot to the next without putting on your seat belt. Those are risks I don’t take.

You also wouldn’t be stumped by me being barefoot if I was a child. A lot of the homesteaders on Youtube have children. Many of those children are barefoot about as much as I am, running around their parents through leaves, construction sites, and whatever else you call me irresponsible for. With kids, it is something we are used to seeing, so we don’t even stop to think about it. When a 34-year-old (okay, 33 years, 11 months, and a couple of days) walks barefoot, it stumps you. You don’t tell indigenous people in the steppes to put on shoes. It’s how they are portrayed all the time. But when a white woman walks around what you call civilization, it stumps you.

Next time you see an unusual choice, think about why it stumped you before judging. We all need to stop judging each other based on the skewed picture of reality our modern society has allowed us to develop. I feel you all. I’ve been there. I used to be a career-woman wedding photographer who cared about weddings pretty enough to make Pinterest. I don’t recognize that person. I am still far from as tolerant and open-minded as I would like to be. I still judge–a lot. But I try. And more often than not, I catch myself while judging to step back, think, and maybe understand.

Before we move on to questions about me, there is one question or comment that I received a lot–from many different angles: why am I wearing headphones? Some of you asked out of concern thinking I’d get attacked by mountain lions or men. Some of you asked out of curiosity to find out what I’m listening to. Some of you probably just think those ugly headphones are ugly–and I agree with that, for sure.

As you’ll notice when we talk about the garden next time, I don’t have to worry about getting attacked by wild animals. I mean, yes, technically, there are two feral cats that could suddenly jump up and scratch me, but they are shy–and I have a dog. I am also rural enough to not worry about strangers too much. I am surrounded by a village filled with people who all know each other. I might not know even 10% of them, but those I know are lovely people, and I am not worried about the rest one bit. We probably should not talk about politics, religion, or tolerance, but a different world view and mindset don’t make them a danger.

I was listening to audio books for most of the footage you saw. There might have been the occasional full-length listen to the Hamilton musical or my Liked Songs playlist, but most of the time I listen to audiobooks. On bad days, I tend to listen to audiobooks I already know well. I don’t know how many times I’ve made it through the entire Harry Potter series (though I can no longer listen to them…) or some of the series by Dennis E. Taylor. On good days, I might be enjoying a new fiction book (favorite of the summer: Beartown) or trying to learn something from a non-fiction book (favorite of the summer: Dirt to Soil).

Questions about me

The headphones are actually a great segue into questions about me. I wore headphones a lot, because they calm me. They replace the noise of civilization (or my own construction) at least partially with a familiar voice or a song I like. I use them as pacifiers. And I’ve been relying on them too much. In addition to when it was loud, I started wearing them when my thoughts were too loud, as well. Lately, I’ve been working on reducing the latter. I’m still happily putting them on when there is noise–or when I really can’t think at that time.

I have mentioned a few of my issues in vides before, but some of you have asked for a more complete pictures. I haven’t answered in much detail before to avoid sounding like I feel sorry for myself or enticing a pity party.

I guess there are three parts to this, though they are all connected: my rare genetic disease, endometriosis, and autism.

For sixteen years, I fought to be taken seriously. I kept telling people that I am not okay, and doctors and other adults kept telling me that I am fine, and should stop complaining. I’ve been told I’m making it up. I’ve been told my mental health is causing all my issues, and I just need to relax. I’ve been told that all women have pain during their period, but they all manage. I’ve been told that we all have aches and pains. It’s all just part of life.

No, hell, no. It’s not. After 16 years, my friend told me about endometriosis, and I did research. I mentioned it to the doctor at the hospital where I was staying at that time, and they told me it was unlikely. I would be in more pain. At the time, I was in a hospital bed with severe abdominal pain that made it hard for me to even talk. I was scheduled for an abdominal operation that day, but even though they were in the right area, and an endometriosis check is part of their checklist–and the patient had requested one….–they closed me up without checking. They just checked the box that they didn’t find any. Apparently, they are only required to note if they stumble upon some unless there is a suspicion of endometriosis. I guess, my suspicions didn’t count.

But, I now had a diagnosis that fit, so I fought to see a specialist, and finally got my diagnosis a few months later. But there was still the entire rest of the month, all the issues that didn’t seem to be connected to my cycle, so after a few months, I kept looking for more answers.

“I’ll have to see the amount of doctors you have seen as a symptom,” one doctor told me. She diagnosed me the first time she saw me, never followed up, and refused to even look at test results, because she had made up her mind. So, I added another doctor to the list.

By complete coincidence, I needed a printout from a doctor. They sent me more than I asked for, and included a letter from an orthopedic doctor I’d seen about a year before. He had noted that I seemed to be very hypermobile. No one ever told me. But now that I knew, I started another internet search that rivaled that of my bachelor thesis. I learned anything I could about hypermobility and soon about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. A few weeks later, I went to yet another doctor a friend had recommended. I had the diagnostic form filled out for him. I insisted on getting the genetic testing done. And, to my utter surprise, he agreed.

The next eight weeks were forever long, but in the end, I had it black on white: I hadn’t made any of it up. I have classical Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare genetic disease that affects the connective tissue. And, to my even greater surprise, I also had Osteogenesis imperfecta, so a disease affecting the strength of my bones.

The doctor I’d taken the test with had nothing for me. He didn’t know the disease–and luckily admitted that. He did not know how to help me, but told me to get back to him if there was anything he could do.

“When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.”

Well, turns out I’m a zebra. Ehlers-Danlos is rare. Classical Ehlers-Danlos is even rarer. My subtype affects the joints less than in a hypermobile-type zebra. My entire body is a mess. Connective tissue is part of essentially everything from your joints and your skin to your blood vessels and even your immune system–oh, right, and the stomach and digestive system. I have changing allergies. I have days when I am strong, days when I can barely walk because everything hurts. Some days, my right ear is partially deaf. Some days, my eyes get blurry in the evenings. Some days, I’m totally fine, other days, I might faint in the middle of a hallway.

And then, once or twice a month, I get the added issues of endometriosis. Endometriosis is an absolutely-not-rare disease that is thought to affect 1 in 10 women. Tissue that should be in the uterus grows elsewhere, and because the tissue contracts and expands throughout the menstrual cycle, it hurts. For 1-3 days per month, I can’t do anything but roll up under a blanket, medicate the hell out of my pain, and wait for it to pass. Let me just put this out there: period pain that goes beyond what a simple pain reliever can handle is not normal. If you suffer more than that during your period, try to make a doctor listen to you.

The part that is usually hardest for people: I won’t get better. There are better days and worse days, but there is no cure. I can take pain meds, and I can work on my body’s resilience. But there is nothing else. I’ve had the operation for Endometriosis. I’ve taken their pills. None of it made it better for more than a few weeks or months. In the end, I was always where I started. So, I stopped taking the pills. I am not getting another operation unless it starts getting worse.

Instead, I went all-in on the resilience. The garden has helped a lot with that. I don’t need exercises, I need functional movement and mobility. Nothing like repairing a roof to get that. Climbing around the roof like a monkey, pushing heavy boards around, holding items at the far end of my reach, it all helped. I’ve gotten a lot stronger over the months I worked on the garden.

The garden has also been a lot of help for my mental health. Childhood trauma, abuse, and a lifetime of not being believed or listened to, have left my mental health in a fragile state. Add being female and autistic to the mix, and I’m a mess. Anxiety, seasonal-affective disorder (though a darker summer is enough to kick it off), panic attacks.

Working in the garden has been one of the best things, if not the best thing, I’ve done for my mental health. Most of the work I did required my physical attention, leaving my mind occupied enough to focus, but also free enough to think. I had a reason to go outside, to spend time outside, and to move around.

I am admittedly a bit scared of winter, as I won’t be able to spend as much time in the garden now, but I hope that the winter is as dry as the predictions. So far, it is a wet mess. After the snow storms, we are now stuck in a perpetual fog soup.

I wouldn’t mind as much if I didn’t have to go to school. Ha, look at that segue into the next question 😉

What are you studying?

I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Landscape Ecology and Nature Conservation at the University of Greifswald in Germany. I live about 35 to 45 minutes away by car. And currently, car is the only way to get there, as we live in a place without regular public transport. There technically is a bus stop right outside but it is essentially a school bus for the little kids.

I’m in the first semester, so I still have almost two years ahead of me. That also means, two more years of staying in Germany, at least. There is still a lot of doubt surrounding all of this. I have a feeling, though, that it will get better next semester, when the basic classes are done, and it is all electives–well, and summer…

My bachelor’s degree was in Marine Ecology and Fisheries Science at the University of Hamburg. I wrote my very elaborate thesis on marine-protected areas. Let’s see if the current program can add some land-based and more general conservation to this.

I’ve also studied in the Netherlands for a year just before the pandemic hit, and finished an Associate’s degree in California. I was pursuing a bachelor in Marine Biology back then, but we were forced to leave the US before I stood a chance to finish.

Where have you lived?

Speaking of California, some of you want to know more about where I’ve lived, my accent, and my story.

Let’s start with the accent: I grew in Germany but learned English very early, because my dad is an English teacher. Sometime during my teenage years, I also got obsessed with going to the US on an exchange. I applied for a government scholarship that was very competitive, and then spent months preparing for the interviews. Ever since getting second place, and not getting to go, I’d dreamed about moving to the US.

It wasn’t until I was 24, that my now-husband and I decided to try making it happen. We applied for a business visa with my wedding photography, and somehow got our visa for four years. Our four years in California were great. We both loved living there. We had a great group of friends. I was studying. And thanks to the almost constant sunshine and a lot of movement, I wasn’t as sick as I usually am.

We were in the process of applying for a green card to stay in California permanently. But a few weeks before we were going to submit the application, Trump decided to change the rules. There was no way to make the necessary changes in time. So, we had to leave. I lost the only place I’d ever really felt at home at.

We’d been to New Zealand on vacation, and the immigration laws were promising, so we hired another lawyer, and got a visa for New Zealand next. I spent most of the next six months planning our move–and diving and hiking as much as humanly possible.

New Zealand is a beautiful country. Seriously, it is stunning. And we enjoyed it there. It wasn’t LA, and I had a hard time letting go of that. If I hadn’t been grieving LA, we might have fought more when we were told that the done-deal visa wasn’t as done a deal as everyone kept telling us. At the time, it all felt pointless. With eight weeks left to the end of our visas, we had to plan another move. We had to choose a place to move to, first, though. We didn’t spend as much time on that as we should have–though I can hardly blame us considering the deadline.

We moved to The Hague in the Netherlands. Neither of us really liked it there. And then the pandemic hit, and we realized that we were not surrounded by people we were on the same page with. So, we went back to Germany. It felt like giving up. We moved to a small town near Hamburg where I studied and my husband worked (though neither of us actually went in-person a lot, as this was during the worst of COVID).

And that was also why we started looking again. We were paying city prices for an apartment that combined the worst of city life with the worst of rural life. As soon as I got through the last classes with attendance, we started looking elsewhere. We literally searched for statistics on cheap rent. I drove East to check out the area around Stralsund and Greifswald, and soon after we had rented an apartment here. It’s what can only be described as a tiny old apartment in the middle of nowhere.

Since the energy crisis after the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, utilities have gone up enough that we now pay about as much in utility as rent. And while it’s no longer as cheap here, it is still a lot cheaper than our place near the city–and prices there would likely have broken the budget.

So, now, we live in a little apartment in the middle of nowhere. Last year, I tried to build a balcony garden here, and that somehow snowballed into renting first one, then a second, garden. I am surrounded by a beautiful partially-protected forest. Except for the constant flux of neighbors hopefully moving in or moving out in defeat and the weekly lawn-mowing, it is quiet here. It’s not perfect but it is exactly what we need at the moment: no more, no less.

We hope to save up enough to move on once I get my master’s degree. With only one “real” income and quite a few medical expenses on my end, there is never as much money to save as I’d like.

There are two choices for what comes next that largely depend on finances: in a perfect world, we’d buy a boat, restore it, and sail around the world to see everything that is out there, before settling down somewhere to homestead. Sailing for homeland, so to say.

But boats are expensive, and with the way the world is moving, we might need to skip that step, and go straight to buying land somewhere in Southern Europe where we don’t need visas, and building a life there. But somehow, that step is scarier than buying a boat. A large part of me doesn’t want to settle down before I’ve seen more of the world.

But for the next few years, there is a garden to restore, and I’m excited for every bit of that. But I’ll tell you all about that in the next part of this.

For now, let me know if you have any more questions.

So long, and thanks for being here!