|Download PDF of this full issue: v53n2.pdf (27.4 MB)|
By Everett Cox
I once had the diagnosis of paranoid or paranoid schizophrenic.
A psychiatrist gave it to me. That was a year after I returned from Vietnam.
"Progressive and incurable," he said, "You will get progressively worse, never better. You will end your days in a mental hospital."
That made me mad, horrified, angered, depressed. It crushed me. I had been suicidal before. I was suicidal in Vietnam, praying for a rocket to kill me. I had tried opium, maybe smoked heroin, too.
First Sergeants, you gotta love 'em. Just kidding. But, yes, sometimes you do. "I'll ok an early out," he told me. Early out! That's what I was praying for, didn't I already say that? A rocket, a mortar, a bullet, even friendly fire, for God's sake. Early out!
Instead, it was to be a college acceptance. Ha! That lasted a couple of weeks. The nightmares lasted decades. The drugs, well, I'm sober now, but who's counting?
Can a diagnosis make you sick? Can a diagnosis kill you? Forty years after the first diagnosis, after I had tried suicide with electricity and drugs, a Vet Center counselor said, "It is PTSD." I refused to believe him. My fate had been made clear to me. It was terror. I was doomed. There was no escape. I could run, but I could not hide.
But, and this is important, I did not accept my diagnosis. I said it was a mistake. I said it was a prophecy or a curse. Yes, it's a curse. Maybe karma when I learned that word. I was rejecting the diagnosis, but not completely. After all, it had been a psychiatrist, a doctor. I would never, even to this day, stop considering the possibility he was right. The demon continues to lurk.
One day, I was interviewed by a VA psychologist for my PTSD medical claim. "Do you know," he says, "most Vietnam vets with your diagnosis killed themselves a long time ago?" I didn't know. But I wasn't surprised. Incurable and progressive. Never better, only worse. You'd have to be nuts not to kill yourself or live immobilized by depression or drugs. My two best friends were Jack and Jim.
I like to think what saved me was intuition and experimentation. But mostly, it was luck. Pain helped, too. Botching a suicide attempt gives pause. What really gave me my life back was words. Forty years after Vietnam, I began to speak about Vietnam. Then write. Then cry. Cry for years. It still brings me to tears.
Now, I can look back on the time I was incurable. I am happier than ever. Call me crazy.
Everett Cox was born and raised in the Hudson Valley. He enlisted in the US Army in 1966. He served as an aerial camera specialist at Marble Mountain Air Base in 1969. He worked as a laborer most of my life. From 2014 to the end of 2021, he worked as a veteran peer facilitator for the New York State Joseph P. Dwyer Veteran Peer Program. Currently, he lives in Paris (France).