A road map of Illinois. There is a red flag below Champaign-Urbana.

I’ve not posted in over two weeks. Being in a shadow world the past couple weeks has meant I didn’t have the processing and writing time to digest what’s happened and to make sense out of the experiences. 

I’ve been on a journey – a walk in the shadows, a side quest – as I learn how to surrender.

  • How do I let go, trust, and give over my care to another?
  • When do I need to surrender?
  • Who do I feel safe surrendering to? 
  • What do I need from another in that surrender?
  • How does it feel to be completely safe in letting go?

In this journey, I have been off-loading my Wonder Woman persona and letting go of my attune-to-others and rescue-others heroine mask. I’m learning to allow others to support me and show their care for me.

What initiated this phase of surrender?

In mid-August, I dislocated my second toe and I have substantial, painful bone bruising (edema) on the ends of the long bones of my right foot. I will need to have surgery involving pins to correct it. I’m leaving the “how?!” and “when?!” answers for another time. 

A person's legs on a bed. The right foot is bare and resting on an ice pack. The left has a sock on. There's a book shelf in the background.
My dislocated toe on ice

The impact is that the pain feels like I’m always stepping on a Lego brick (iykyk) and walks on pavement or uneven woods quickly become very painful. I can’t remain standing for very long. I walk comparatively slowly now; I have to remind all my tall friends now that I can’t keep up. I ask for rides if we’re going farther than about a mile (I used to walk five-to-seven miles without thinking about it). My energy and pain level shift dramatically over the day. My life in dress shoes is now my life in black sneaker-white sole kicks. 

The physical challenges are just part of the impact. My identity as a walker, runner, hiker, dance partier, and city-trekker has been turned upside down. I’m uncertain when or even if I’ll get that identity and lifestyle back. As a person learning to manage complex PTSD, my key strategies for maintaining mental harmony – exercise and movement – now need substantial revision. 

The first inkling I had of the embodied feeling of surrender was when I was getting MRI imaging of my foot in September. With the rhythmic machine vibrations moving through my body and “Lady in Red” piped into my headphones, I recalled the last time I had needed an MRI almost 20 years ago. I was lying on the floor of my faculty office wracked with intolerable dizziness and nausea. I was trying to convey instructions to my colleague (let’s call him Jason) for the biology class I was supposed to be teaching. I’m pretty sure it was a jumbled, halting, incoherent mess. Finally, I asked Jason to call me an ambulance. 

It’s at that moment that I can feel myself surrender my care over to Jason. The image that came to me in the MRI a month ago was of Jason on his knees kneeling slightly over me. Although I know other people are there, they appear fuzzy to me. Jason was incredibly calm, patient, and gently communicative. Despite the chaos and uncertainty of my health at that moment, I allowed him to attune to me. I allowed his protection of space around me to create our own little bubble world that was perfectly quiet, still, and safe. 

This moment of letting go was completely contrary to my default way of walking through the world, where I _always_ masking myself, attuning to others, and acting as their caregiver. 

I’ve noticed several moments when I allowed that kind of surrender, moments where I noticed another person attune to me, since that transcendent memory came to me in the MRI machine in September. Last week, after a full day of invited talks with faculty and graduate students at my not-brother’s university, I surrendered my care to my not-brother. He invited me to lay down for 30 min in pajamas and brought me an adult beverage in bed. It’s one of the kindest moments I’ve ever felt, right up there with Jason with me for the ambulance. 

A river with the sunrise in the background. There's a building on the right with lights on and a bridge over the water in the distance.
Dawn in Iowa City

I felt myself surrender my care to others again this week at a small professional meeting among people who work with graduate student instructors. We asked about how we _really_ are and we meant it. We truly wanted to know what’s been happening behind our glowing, social media posts. My not-brother gave me a ride to the restaurant for dinner because of my hurting toes. A new friend gave me a hug after a very public, very emotional moment. An old friend gave grace when I just needed space when they were hoping for quiet time together with me. I had a meeting of hearts and minds with a colleague 20 years my senior having similar personal and professional transitions. I allowed colleagues-now-friends to help me, to check in with me FOR REAL, to bond with the real me (not the performative, masking, “I’m fine” Wonder Woman me), and to show their true care for me.   

I have even surrendered to myself. I had two separate long drives in the past two weeks, six hours each way. These drives by myself were therapeutic and confidence-boosting. Yes, I crossed a lot of the landscape of the land currently called Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. I got to see _a lot_ of corn, observe the leaves change color over the month of October, and watch the harvesters create plumes of corn dust that blow across the highway. In the solitude of six hours at a time in the car, I learned to be with my thoughts, memories, reflections, and wide range emotions with compassion. Because there wasn’t anyone in the passenger seat, I wasn’t self-conscious or self-editing about letting the tears flow and the sobs catch in my throat when I needed to let it out. I had the choice of the company of very close friends with voice-text and phone calls on my drive. Solitude, agency, autonomy, nature, belonging, and presence.

There are a few pieces of magic in surrendering that I want to share.

  • When I surrender and let go, I stop trying to control the events, the feelings, the perceptions, and the reactions of others. I allow the reality that is.
  • Life is so much easier for me to navigate when I surrender and let people show their care for me.
  • There are people who WANT to give care. They experience extraordinary pleasure in helping to meet the needs of a person they care deeply about.
  • My close community circles are far more joyous and at ease when we are communicative about and dynamically responsive to each other’s needs.
  • My feet and toes are weird, and I’m learning to embrace the weird since they’re the only feet and toes I get.
Toe feet crossed on a bed. The toenails are painted purple. On the right foot, the second toe has a crook in it.
My weird feet. The second toe on my right foot is dislocated.

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