I left Brooklyn shortly after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the coast of New York and New Jersey in late 2012. I no longer felt safe in my apartment, not because a hurricane could damage it — on the contrary, my building withstands hurricanes — but because I realized how shut off from the world I had been with PTSD, and I reawakened to reality. Reality was, I had been traumatized and needed healing. The realization shocked and disabled me. I could no longer do my job because my mind became overwhelmed. I couldn’t tolerate people on the street, especially people I knew.
It has been five years since the hurricane. Within these five years, I learned how to regulate my emotions, and I’ve healed from multiple anxieties and other disabling symptoms of PTSD. The most recent anxiety that has noticeably healed came from simply being in my Brooklyn apartment.
I’m not sure when this anxiety began, but I remember a roommate moving out at the end of 2002 because I was too stressed to live with. The years following, I collected things, hoarding them for some future use but doing nothing with most of it. I was often agitated and screamed loud enough for neighbors to hear. I ate poorly, my refrigerator mostly empty but with aging condiments and maybe a beer or bag of forgotten carrots. Three months ago, I could not live in my apartment more than two weeks without feeling like I could explode with negative emotions.
Today, my apartment looks like a home rather than a storage facility, though there are still things to get rid of. I’m able to find things and find places for things. Most importantly, I feel calm. One day within the last three months, I regulated an anxiety that I felt while walking on the street in San Francisco. I found a quiet spot next to a building, closed my eyes, and paid attention to the sensations in my body until they were gone. While this anxiety came on in a different context and in a different city, regulating it seems to have resolved the anxiety I had at home in Brooklyn. Outside my apartment, I no longer become emotional looking at my Brooklyn neighbors at the farmer’s market.
I can think of only four PTSD symptoms that remain: poor memory, overwhelm in busy stores like supermarkets, lack of motivation, and sometimes easily crying for no apparent reason. I suppose crying could be the result of hormone changes. At first when typing this paragraph, I started with two symptoms. Then I thought of another symptom, and then another. Now I think of a fifth… what was it… oh, the feeling that my life might suddenly come to an end. That’s really a symptom in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Okay, so maybe I still have a bunch of PTSD symptoms. But I feel like I can function, and best of all, my beloved Brooklyn feels like home again.