Growing up I am sure I asked my mom about the origins of the phrases she used most often. Somewhere along the way of growing older I have filed that information away like old clothes I am not quite ready to part with. As a side affect of that filing, I tend to misuse a phrase or get the wording slightly wrong as I make a comment in the moment without really thinking. While watching a documentary I was reminded of where the phrase “waiting for the other shoe to drop” came from and how even in its origins it could be tied to anxiety.
Ah, those darn shoes.
The condensed version of the origin story goes back to early tenements in our country. The walls and floors were quite thin. Families depended on the income from the man of the house who usually worked long hours in some industrial job. At the end of a long day you could literally hear as one shoe from your neighbor would hit the floor and then the other. The documentary I was watching referenced several ways this would cause anxiety.
Young mothers would try to use the sounds from the surrounding apartments to determine if it was alright for her child to be loud or not. If they heard a shoe drop then they knew their neighbor was home and awake.
Another point of anxiety was the loudness of the dropping shoes. If one was having a conversation and heard a shoe drop then they might wait until the other shoe dropped until they resumed said conversation. Thus the waiting of the second shoe might cause some anxiety in both scenarios.
What an interesting word to describe a multitude of emotions and how we deal with them.
Since I was a child I have lived with this constant feeling as if there is this imaginary shoe always ready to drop. That shoe hung over my head in bad times and in good. When it was a really good time the weight of that shoe felt worse, almost foreboding. I grew up with this feeling like I wasn’t meant to stay happy. That being happy was not just fleeting but was something we held onto tenuously as if it were this fragile thing. Losing my kindred spirit, my grandfather, at such an early stage in life led me to always waiting for a shoe to drop during my “happy times”.
I learned that happiness can be fragile.
However, if one is always living with a sense of dread concerning happiness then it will become a self fulfilling prophecy. Much like any other mental health issue, one can not just simply say “Be happy. Enjoy what you have. Stop having anxiety over being happy.”
Sadly life is generally not that easy or simple. While happiness can feel unattainable at times, it is also not something we can grab onto and hold tight to when it does arrive. All we can do is enjoy happiness while we have it and hold onto the memories to get us through the harder times of life. So much about life is knowing when to hold onto something and when to let it go.
Even as an adult I am still pretty horrible about knowing the difference between holding onto something and the ability to let go. I have gotten better about being in the moment. The feeling of another shoe dropping does still loom over me at times.
When I start feeling like the anxiety of waiting for a shoe to drop is looming over my happiness, I have to remind myself to take a deep breath and live in the moment. I need to stop searching for bad things to happen because they will. We can’t really get rid of all the bad but we can enjoy what we have and when we have it.
Something that really helps me put life (anxiety, happiness, reality, sadness… etc) into perspective is the thought that no one lives without some kind of self doubt or anxiety. In some ways we are all waiting for the other shoe to drop on some subconscious level. Knowing I am not the only person to live with anxiety makes me feel better. The whole thought of a problem shared is a problem halved.
It is all about how I choose to move forward. Do I let my anxiety disable me from moving forward? Will I just sit and wait for the bad things or even go in search of them? Can I do myself the biggest favor and enjoy what I have? Most times I have to remind myself to stop poking everything with sticks.
If you also are someone who feels the weight of a dangling shoe, here are a few additional reads to help learn more about and deal with the anxiety and stress linked to that feeling: