I’m Climbing the Hills of Adversity, Just Not in Heels

Beth Ullah avatar

by Beth Ullah |

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“Shoes are the quickest way for women to achieve instant metamorphosis.” — Manolo Blahnik

As the holidays approach, I’m reminded to be thankful for what I have. I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) at 26 years old, and when I became paralyzed, I thought I’d never walk again. I’ve since recovered — not completely, but enough that I no longer require full-time care.

Now that it’s December, party invitations have started arriving through the letter box, and twinkling lights adorn nearby houses. I am grateful for every invite, especially after so many months of living through a pandemic. I know any holiday events must include precautions to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

I’ve excitedly begun planning what to wear to these parties. However, I’ve realized that, without thinking, I’ve matched my favorite dress with my favorite gold, glittery heels — heels that are collecting dust in my wardrobe. Heels that used to make me feel like a princess. Heels that I can no longer wear.

heels and MS | Multiple Sclerosis News Today | A pair of pink, glittery high heels are displayed on a platform, with a brick wall and sunlit window in the background.

Beth’s glittery, golden shoes. (Photo by Laura Ellen Photography)

I’m nostalgic for the woman who loved to dance the night away in those 4-inch heels. I’m not that woman anymore. I’m so grateful for the progress I’ve made (I can now roll over in bed!), but that doesn’t erase the longing for the person I used to be.

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Before MS, I viewed heels as a symbol of confidence and femininity. In the same way that my walking stick now feels like an extension of my hand, heels were not only an extension of my legs, but of my self-image. I always felt more self-assured and like myself when I wore them.

When MS descended, I struggled with my confidence. It felt as though my physical deterioration was accompanied by a decline in my femininity and self-esteem.

While I was regaining my function following a paralyzing relapse, there was a period of time when I relied on a wheelchair. It almost seems counterintuitive that after taking so many steps in the right direction during my recovery, I had to discard a pair of shoes. As I became less reliant on my chair, I had to think about the functionality of supportive footwear.

Though my physical function improved, I continue to experience a lack of pressure and sensation in the soles of my feet, a type of neuropathic pain, and spasticity in my legs. My feet still constantly feel numb. I’ve learned through trial and error that even though thicker, chunkier boots appear more supportive, it’s better for me to wear shoes with a thin sole to maximize any sensation that’s present that day.

Somewhere along the way, the association I’d made between high heels, femininity, and confidence dissipated. My confidence returned, slowly but surely. I learned to be comfortable in my own skin, and realized I’d gained a sense of serenity — the kind that appears after facing adversity.

As for my gold, glittery heels? They’ll stay nestled in the back of my wardrobe. Rather than reminding me of what I’ve lost, their gold sparkle helps me to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and all I have gained along the way.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Cynthia MacFarlane avatar

Cynthia MacFarlane

Have you tried Naboso insoles. They have helped me so much, and have taken away that feeling like there is felt glued to the soles of my feet.

Beth Ullah avatar

Beth Ullah

I'll look into them. For me, I've found that the closer my soles are to the ground the better. I don't wear socks in the house at all so I'm barefoot. The more 'barriers' I have, I find it harder to walk. I've just had a quick google, definitely looks promising, thank you!

Ben Hofmeister avatar

Ben Hofmeister

I wrote recently about finally letting go of the last pair of shoes that I actually ran in. It seemed a little silly to wear "running" shoes in a wheelchair, but for some reason it felt like replacing them was severing a link to a pre-MS past and identity and I couldn't do it until I was ready.

"Fine...I'll use the wheelchair, but I'm keeping the shoes as a reminder that I could run once!"


doreen lubin avatar

doreen lubin

boy do i understand every word said. Ichave ms 35 yrs.

Rhiannon Brusco avatar

Rhiannon Brusco

Hi Beth!
My golden heels are green snake skin heels. I was a trial attorney and felt so in control when wearing those heels - in the courtroom, boardroom or dance floor. They have been parked in my closet since 2010 when I was diagnosed and lost all the balance I had for another 5 to 7 years. Now, although I am fairly well balanced, the heels remain in the closet, something my eight year old daughter likes to try on. There was once a time ....
Thanks! Rhiannon

Kathleen Ahearne avatar

Kathleen Ahearne

Interesting! Just checked out the site! Thank you and may try them... considering! I wear bare feet in Tony Little Cheeks :) help my walking and a runner outdoors but always keen to consider options! I miss high heels too - a happy memory to replaced by new ones.

alison sponaugle avatar

alison sponaugle

Since I have not been working, I haven't thought about wearing heels, but that is something will definitely affect me because of the balance issue. I won't be wearing heels anymore either. Since my diagnosis with MS so much has changed.

Dori Hoch avatar

Dori Hoch

I really felt inspired by your story. I was diagnosed just 3 and a half years ago with SPMS at 68. I too have had to let some of my shoes gather dust. I have to keep adjusting to the new challenges with my decline in walking. I was a life long walker, so I try to find ways to continue doing just that. My roller walker is now my best friend. Staying positive is the key and well as being thankful for today.

Marybeth avatar


I completely understand your ambulatory issues and numb feet. I hate the times when my legs get so heavy and unresponsive that I feel safest barefoot. I never thought I would choose my shoes based on their weight and thickness. I live in TOMS shoes because they are easy on and off and thin. It I am grateful the good days, remember how many folk are facing even tougher challenges and remind myself to smile…?

Dena Calvanese avatar

Dena Calvanese

I too can relate to this. At only 5 feet 1 inch, I liked wearing heels even in everyday pants and sometimes jeans. As my balanced worsened, I kept waiting for a shift back because I really like how I felt being a little taller. Then I had an incident where my leg froze up. I had been applying for a staff position at a college. I was stuck. I had to take off my heels, in the rain by the way, and shuffle back to my car, where I sat and cried for a bit. For a while I kept all those heals, but eventually my hope to wear them turned into them taunting me that I would never wear them again. I finally gave in. I had a friend working with refugees, who often needed shoes, so I donated them. My friend told me the women were so excited to have such nice shoes that made them feel good about themselves - so how could I in turn not be happy about that. Consider giving your heels to a woman who needs a lift, you'll feel good about it too.


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