Growing up, I used to get panic attacks from being in a crowd, be it at a party or in a busy shopping centre or on an MRT train platform. There were always too many pairs of eyes. I felt their vision like searchlights sweeping over me, somehow exposing my awkwardness to the world. People frightened me, more than spiders and snakes and heights.

To calm myself down, I would keep my gaze low. As I moved through the sea of bodies, I concentrated on the herds of shoes that shuffled past me. Shoes were less intimidating than faces, because you could observe shoes without them observing you back. The worn soles, undone laces and scratched heels gave me comfort. They were dirty and imperfect, like my own scuffed shoes.

Then I went to school and learned that my shoe-gazing habits pointed to a little thing called social anxiety. And it felt like a glaring and unfortunate personality flaw. But I learned that other humans, too, had personality quirks and strange motivations and irrational fears – their own scuffs and scratches – that were as valid (or invalid) as my own.

With time, I grew to be slightly less fearful of people and started to behave more like a functional human being. Life remains scary. But it’s a little less scary now that instead of staring down at people’s feet, I’ve begun asking permission to take a walk in their shoes, scuffs and all.

3_Danny Wijaya, ExdLab BW

About the writer

Highly neurotic and extremely light-sensitive, Davelle Lee has a brain full of jumbled thoughts about the bewildering world around her. She tries her best to make sense of it through the lens of psychology.

Davelle will gladly work for cake (preferably with an appallingly low cream-to-sponge ratio). A former features writer for Simply Her and Her World magazine, she is based in sunny Singapore.

She is almost permanently in sneakers.

Photo: Danny Wijaya, ExdLab