After months out of the spotlight, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is going public.

Staffers have for months downplayed speculation about Giffords’ return to politics, saying it was too early in her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head the congresswoman suffered during an assassination attempt at at event in her southern Arizona congressional district.

View Photo Gallery: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, known as a rising star in the Democratic party, returned to the House for the first time since she was shot last January.

Now the Congresswoman herself is addressing the issue of when (and if) she will return to Congress. “I want to go back to work,” Giffords said in an audio message published this morning on her Facebook page.

“Hello, this is Gabby Giffords. I miss you,” she says in the message. “I’m getting stronger. I’m getting better.” In the meantime, she says, “My staff is there to help you. They keep me informed on your behalf.” At the same time, she acknowledges her own struggle to enunciate words: “There is lots to say. I will speak better.” (The full audio is at the bottom of this post.)

Giffords’ husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, told ABC’s Diane Sawyer on Monday night that his wife won’t make a decision on her political future just yet, adding only that it would come sometime before the May 2012 filing deadline.

Arizona State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) told a local news station that she expects Giffords to make an announcement in January, around the one-year anniversary of the shooting.

If Giffords runs for re-election, she is almost certain to win. Challenging someone who has become a national hero is a herculean task.

(Talk of a Giffords Senate bid has fallen by the wayside. There are now two Democrats in that race — former state party chairman Don Bivens and former Surgeon General Richard Carmona.)

If Giffords decides not to seek a fourth term in 2012, redistricting has made the seat — what was the 8th but will now be the 2nd district — approximately three points more Democratic, meaning that her party would have a good chance to hold the open seat.

Two possible candidates, Republican State Sen. Frank Antenori and Democrat Anthony Prowell, have filed statements of candidacy and created exploratory committees. But as of September neither had raised any money. Giffords’ supporters, meanwhile, have kept her campaign fund strong. At the end of September she had $879,000 on hand.

Listen to Giffords’ full message here: