ptsd makes me a turtle

PTSD makes me a turtle.

I start to feel stronger. I can function on a daily basis. Sirens and loud trucks still make me jump, but don’t cause panic attacks. Casual mentions of sexual assault make me nauseous, but I am able to bounce back much faster. I start to attend events by myself again.

And then it all gets to be a little too much. Too big of a trigger to bounce back from without retreating back into my shell.

It’s tempting to see this as a backwards step. Regression. I saw it that way for a long time. But this has happened so many times–poking my head out at this overwhelming, beautiful, loving, unjust, terrible, vibrant world, and then needing to return back to my inner cave of safety–that I know this healing is not linear. If I say it is circular, that suggests it has no end, and though maybe this is true, I prefer to see full transformation instead of an end: this will always be with me, but eventually, will it not, like everything, become something else? Is this healing spiral? Is it spiraling in, to some mystery I have yet to behold?

Or is it just….turtle-like? Poking my head out when I feel safe to do so. Crawling back inside when I need to remember that I am, indeed, safe inside my own body, despite what my body tries to tell me.

I struggle with how to relate to the news. With local, national, and global instances of such deep injustice (Michael Brown and Eric Garner and so so much more). With how to balance showing up for justice and for a better world, and continuing my circling or spiraling or turtling or whatever it is I am doing to survive now.

I tried going to a protest. I had to leave early because the noise was starting a panic attack within me. And though I felt guilty walking away from a protest (something I had never done before), I had to ask myself what good I was to the movement if I was having a panic attack in the middle of people shouting “no justice, no peace, no racist police.”

I have decided that retreating into my turtle shell is not denying the world or the suffering in it. It is also not denying the wonder of the world, and the joy and acts of love and kindness that are also in it (because those are there too, despite what the news is always telling us). Even with their heads tucked in, turtles are still present. They still take up space. They still offer energy out into the world, energy that affects those they interact with and, I believe, a greater energy field that we can’t see, that is reverberating among and within and between and across us all.

I am choosing to focus on making the energy I put out safe, and healthy, and loving. Sometimes that means I must retreat. I know myself: when the time is right, I will always come out. But PTSD makes me a turtle. And in accepting that, I feel more able to engage with the world in all it’s complexity. Maybe it’s not the “right” way to fight the good fight or “do” activism. But are we not in a larger conversation about what those things really mean? About what really works?

We are part of a movement but we can’t all play the same role. Movement involves moving. Moving parts. Parts of a whole. Different parts. I move in the movement in a very different way than I used to. I have had to shift. Many of us have to shift. This does not mean we are not still moving. This means we are trying to care for ourselves and survive so we can move with more grace. And so we can keep moving at all.

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5 thoughts on “ptsd makes me a turtle

  1. Thank you, Lena. As one who has experienced panic attacks and have to turtle now and then in order to protect myself, I understand and applaud you! There are many ways to be a change agent!

  2. Thanks for this Lena. I also move int eh activist world differently now that I am in recovery from CPTSD. But by doing this, I ensure I won’t burn out or self destruct as I did in my first early in life activism.

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