I’ve been hiding at home for the better part of 5 years.
I finished two master’s degrees following my car wreck, in programs that were at a major university and required you to be present for all classes, and I didn’t miss a class. I also worked retail during that time, so I talked to A LOT of people, and was pretty well known at my store. I started therapy close to graduation though, and when all of the trauma started spilling out, I gained a lot of weight, found myself being frequently triggered (especially while driving) and generally just disappeared to the comforts of home to recover and rest in between venturing out for work.
I am in a much better place now, after a few years of really hard work. But it’s still hard, and I am rolling into a phase of life in which it looks like I’ll be going back into the public eye, so to speak.
Hiding at home has been great, but it’s not ultimately fulfilling for me. I know when I need to rest and I know what my capacity is, but my capacity to be in public (and this is everything from going to the grocery store to giving presentations to elected officials, it all has a similar exertion from me, believe it or not) is changing as I’m moving along in my recovery process, and it kind of feels like it’s time to start reclaiming what I like to do. I like to volunteer. I used to be very active in community building and downtown affairs, and now I’m armed with a substantial amount of knowledge and experience that I didn’t have before. I think it’s important to volunteer and be engaged in civic affairs, and I want to do that. As often happens, “THE UNIVERSE” is pushing me back into it a bit before I’m ready, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities pop up since I gave a presentation last week to connect in the place I live and to be re-engaged in ways that are similar to what I enjoyed and found so fulfilling before.
I’m a bit rusty. Remembering a lot of names, shaking a lot of hands in quick succession, all that goes into participating in committees and boards of directors and other community-oriented positions is something I haven’t done in a while. Making others feel welcome and comfortable, showing up on someone else’s schedule – haha, if you experience PTSD, you know how challenging and overwhelming that can be!
And then there’s the reality that I can be triggered at any time, by so many things, by words or conversations or contexts and THAT MIGHT HAPPEN WHEN I NEED TO BE HAVING MY PUT TOGETHER PUBLIC FACE ON! And it is EXHAUSTING for me to be “ON” – the longer I have to be my public persona, the more exhausting it is. I’m not a fake, I’m very much myself, but it’s a protected version of myself that shuts down the reactivity and maintains a cheerful state of calm and engaged. I like to positively contribute to my surroundings, and attitude can be everything.
That isn’t always feasible, and I’m not even sure it’s best, but it’s what I do and how I cope and what works for me. It can be impossible for people who experience PTSD to be able to step out into the public eye, but it can also be how some people who experience PTSD cope. PTSD doesn’t always look like the retiring, protected homebody, it can look like the consummate, engaged professional who is rarely home. Both of those are perfectly valid, and both need to be rooted in the most important thing – noticing how you feel, knowing what YOUR healthy boundaries need to be and taking good care of YOU.