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Who Killed Christopher Sloce? A Self-Diagnosis
By Christopher Sloce
*Editor's Note: First appeared in On the Grid Zine on June 26th, 2015.
The Sunday I self-diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, it was after I managed to retell the story of me totaling my car twice in one weekend. Once: dry, just a story. The other time, truth or dare when someone asked me if I’d ever nearly died. It was more performative, exaggerated. Well done? Not up to me to decide. After the first telling I said, “Sometimes I wonder if I don’t have PTSD.” After the second one, something clicked in me and I was emoting all over everything all night.
When I totaled the car I remember clearly getting out, half of it caved in, me not touched at all, knowing I was bleeding on the inside when I stood before the Samaritans who stopped, them slack-jawed, me insisting: I’m dying. The next week someone on my academic team asked if I had a problem with them: my vacancy might have been mistaken for hostility. No. Just feeling weird.
That Friday I had dinner with a friend before a birthday party. She noted as we left, “You seem vigilant.” What? I asked. “Like you’re looking for something.” No. I just do this. It’s part of my anxiety.
That Sunday, after I went through the weekend bleary, raw, tearful. I knew: check yourself. So I did. I went to the Wikipedia page, as I had before. While plenty of symptoms were present, I could always put them to my anxiety and depression. But three in particular stuck out: exaggerated startle response, the result of me being jumpy, that, when I am surprised, I flail arms, cuss, scream, instead of just going, “Oh wow, your hilarious joke truly surprised me.” I just thought it was a tic.
The second was nightmares, which I am well acquainted with, much more than good dreams. My most recurring nightmare is my dad is my primary caretaker and I tell everyone: this isn’t right. This is wrong. No one listens, and I try to break away. The other one? I wreck an automobile. Last night it was a black cafe racer that the brakes went out on and I slid backwards. I spun around in my dream and came to, right lens of my glasses cracked, bleeding, knowing this was it. Except it wasn’t. A guy on a tractor stopped by and we turned on a light. I had managed to hit a horse who laid dying now due to some aberration of mine, something useful I neglected. Of course, it’s a little silly: most nightmares are, but not until you wake up and move around a bit. This time I woke up, cold sweat on me like vernix. But that’s common, right?
I could chalk those two up to my noted, diagnosed neuroses. It was the third one that got me.
Hyper vigilance. A definition: “abnormally increased arousal, responsiveness to stimuli, and scanning of the environment for threats.” All I could mouth was, oh no. I didn’t just do it because I was anxious. It was some mammalian instinct that stuck with me, a holdover from evolution: my head a swivel and my eyes darting around a plain. It was me looking for something that would hurt me.
I did my tally. I did more than one quiz. They all came up probable.
I didn’t get up until five that day. I lost an hour to Lucinda Williams’s “Are You Alright?”: a smoky bourbon flavored coo of a song that asks: “are you sleeping through the night? Do you have someone to hold you tight? Do you have someone to hang out with? Do you have someone to hug and kiss you? Are you alright?” And I couldn’t answer a single of those questions even if I knew them to be true.
It was like everything in my life sprung from those 4 letters PTSD, common enough ones but together, a sort of alien encumbrance. Once you buy a red car, you see nothing but red cars. Once you self-diagnose, everything you do is a sign. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t red cars on the road (or in the ditch; it was a red Cavalier I totaled).
Totaling the car was the lynchpin event I went back to anytime I was convinced those 4 letters hung over my head, But I was convinced that I needed more evidence before I said I had PTSD. The accident wasn’t enough for me. PTSD was my Zodiac killer; the accident my Arthur Leigh Allen. But nobody ever gave a definitive answer, but, that doesn’t mean there’s not a body.
Part of my reticence was and remains the fear of being a part of some nameless horde of hyperdiagnosers; the existence of which I’m exaggerating in my head. You could call this WebMD syndrome. You go on checking to see if you have a cold, you come back with shingles. My strongest experience with this was high school, watching a group of softball players diagnose themselves as depressives based on occasional bad moods and sleeplessness. I viewed this as an affront to my own disease: stay out of my territory, this is my corner. Looking back I wonder if they were actually being honest, but know it doesn’t matter if they were or not. The government isn’t going to forgive my student loans because I have PTSD, and few people are going to sit down and grill me, call me a goldbricker. That fear is why I told myself for so long: evidence before diagnosis. But the evidence was always there. I just couldn’t nail the stimulus.
Whether it was the time I overheard my dad threaten to kill my stepmother and her lover in the kitchen of our Bristol, Virginia townhouse, the time he said he “was owed enough favors that he could have them dead if he wanted to,” whether it was the night my stepmother threatened to jump out of the car on the highway due to my dad refusing to eat at the same IHOP as the Avett Brothers or watching her kiss a lap steel player on the mouth in front of me while she was still my stepmother, the time with the golf club or the time with the pencil, learning my best friend was a chronic sexual predator, the bullying in high school for my supposed effeminacy and for my weight and dandruff in middle school, the car accident, the girlfriend who blamed me for her eating disorder then called up to apologize but say she did it because she “hadn’t found herself”, cutting off ties with my stepbrother when I heard he ran away from home because I was afraid my would use it as leverage to reenter my life: it doesn’t matter because that litany isn’t my biography and I could list more.
Sometimes the murder itself is enough and the question “Who killed Christopher Sloce?” can only be answered with “either way he’s dead.” My greatest issue has always been my need for logic in the realm of emotion to cut down on the mystery. That’s not wrong, but first you have to know what mystery needs solving. It’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, not TWIN PEAKS. I had to be able to point to one thing before I would do the diagnosis. For years I told everyone it was the anxiety, not the depression that was more present. I wasn’t wrong. I just wouldn’t let myself tell the full story.
Being no stranger to a therapist’s couch, it’s not as if all of a sudden I’m realizing I’ve seen things. But I always said, no, I’d be this guy regardless. I ignored the obvious solution, all to my own detriment.
To conclude: I ended up spilling my heart out about spilling my heart out to a friend of mine who knew all this, and he told me I was sort of like a dog who had been hit so many times I bark at food. My other friend, who had some experience with a rescue dog, said, “There’s nothing sadder than a dog the dog’s been beaten out of.”
Calling it what it is, PTSD, is my own small maneuver towards moving forward. An attempt to quit barking. Saying to myself “This is real. You deserve to trust yourself. You know what it is, you do not need to flail and hurt yourself by saying: I’m fundamentally okay except. It’s okay for those things to make me who I am, because I need love, I need to give myself what the people around me give me.”
I want my dog back.
#Real #OnTheGridZine #PTSD #SelfDiagnosis #Realizations
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