Update: Managing PTSD (Post-Trail Stress and Depression)

I was warned about how bad you could feel post-trail, but didn’t really take it seriously. But it hit me hard, the Post-Trail Stress and Depression. The intense feelings of let-down, lostness, lack of integration and inability to re-imagine an indoor, office-based worklife, that can come on once you finish a through-hike.

I started out managing it with distraction and on-going physical activity. The first few days back home were a whirlwind of chores – washing, shopping, cooking, putting things away, trying to get the mould out of our sleeping mats. After more than five months of wearing only two sets of clothing, I was struck by the abundance in my wardrobe, much of which had to be superfluous. I filled a large rubbish bag with items for the second hand shop. I chucked out my pottles of nail polish. I mean, really. I’m missing a toenail and no amount of paint is going to rectify that.

I set myself a challenge – to walk the equivalent of a marathon, 42.2k. On the Saturday after we returned home, I traversed the coastline of Wellington, under calm blue skies and a soft sun. I did it, but my feet were so sore that I had to ask Tony to run me a bath – I couldn’t bear to put weight on them by having a shower. I started running again and doing online yoga classes (shout out to Yoga with Adriene and Yoga with Candace; you ladies are great).

But the creeping empty feeling continued. It wasn’t helped by attending two funerals in the first week back home. Funerals always make you reassess priorities, and conclude that although we put so much energy into work, what really matters in the end is living according to our values and the quality of our relationships.

The next strategy I’m going to try to recover from this PTSD is to get back to work. I’m starting with a short term stint of teaching at the university then a six month contract in the public sector. I couldn’t commit to any more than that. I need to know there is an end date. After five and a half months of being outside, moving, breathing fresh air, feeling the elements on my skin, I’m not sure how I’ll adjust to indoor, computer-based confinement, especially coupled with an open-plan hot-desking office environment. I’m not sure how the transition back to ‘real’ work will go but it has to be done – the fridge and pantry don’t self-replenish, sadly.

And I’m remembering to be grateful, and to take notice of the small pleasures and privileges we take for granted. I’m grateful for hot showers and that I’m not hungry all the time. I’m grateful for my pillow. I’m grateful for plumbing.

I’m also grateful for being able to have a full and varied life even with migraine. I’ve written a post about living with migraine, which reflects on my Te Araroa experience, for Migraine Down Under, a blog and website aiming to raise awareness and increase community support for those living with migraine in New Zealand (check out my contribution here).

I’m sure once life settles back into a steady routine, these feelings of disruption will calm down – but if they don’t in six months time, there are plenty more trails my boots have never walked on!

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