This I Believe

Vicki - Etters, Pennsylvania
Entered on March 14, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I Believe in the Fundamentals

I believe in the fundamentals. Which ones? This is the same question I asked my husband when he urged, after yet another frustrating attempt at communication, “Vic, you’ve got to remind yourself of the fundamentals. Every day. Just do it, no matter how basic it seems.”

For me, unfortunately, it’s not so easy to remember that I can trust my husband, that I am loved, that I am a loving person, and that I am safe—these are the fundamentals of which he spoke. Even though I think that I know these things, I forget. And sometimes, I am unaware that I have forgotten until someone reminds me. I forget because I have PTSD.

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, used to be known as shell shock, a condition which may afflict soldiers who have been exposed to the devastation of war. The battlefield, however, can be anywhere, and for some, it is the home, the one place that should be safe. The disorder affects the nervous system in such a way that, even after a person moves to relative safety—out of the abuser’s home, for example—he or she may live as if an attack might come at any moment. Even though the mind knows that there is no need to fight, the brain malfunctions, stuck in a mode anticipating imminent disaster.

A malfunction, perhaps, but after all, how do I know that I am safe? How can I really believe that, when I turn on CNN and the first story is about a boy abducted at gunpoint, waiting at the bus stop with more than a dozen other teenagers? This just proves that there is no safety in numbers or familiar places, and if a crazed person wants to do some damage and you’re in the way, you are out of luck. Or a very nice person might in one careless moment blindside your vehicle, or a tornado might unexpectedly come through your town. Is living in “fight or flight” mode a more realistic way to be?

Maybe, but it’s also grim and joyless, when it’s not terrifying. I’m lucky; I can sleep. But frequently, when I wake up, my breathing is shallow and I feel panicked. On the other hand, when my body isn’t in PTSD mode, when I’m present in the moment, I feel good. This is the moment when I’m playing a board game with my children, and I laugh so hard that I gasp for air. This is the moment when I’m deep into my yoga routine and all that exists is my breath, going in, going out, going in again. Then I can trust; then I can love and be loved.

If that next moment (of disaster) does come, I will either live through it, as I have done before, or I will die. If I die, I will still be loved. And if I live, I will still remind myself to believe in the fundamentals. Life just feels better when I do.