After last week’s tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas, I heard many people asking questions about it. A typical question I heard and heard more than once from multiple people was, “What kinds of guns did Stephen Paddock use, what sort of ammunition did he use, where did he get the guns, and how did he get so many to his hotel room?”
As it often does, my mind wandered into a pocket of digression.
In 1989 at my request, my therapist arranged for me to be given a battery of intelligence tests and psychological tests.
I’d been concerned about difficulties in thinking through some of my issues relating to PTSD and thought such testing might help me and my therapist find the stumbling blocks.
It turned out I had problems with only one of the tests. I sucked at the TAT, the Thematic Apperception Test.
The TAT is a test in which you are shown ambiguous pictures. For example, one showed a man lying in bed and a woman who appeared to be grief-stricken. The test asks you to invent a story explaining the picture and to say how it turns out.
You’re supposed to look at each picture and answer the question, “What the heck is going on here?”
For the one just described, you might say the man had been suffering from cancer, the woman is his wife, this was the scene right after he finally died, and she was crying, but the next day she remarried to a soup maker, and lived happily ever after, because she always had plenty of soup.
Based on a system chosen to evaluate my answers, I got an F. I landed in the bottom fifth percentile.
When the doctor testing me unveiled my results, I asked him if he had any guesses why I scored so low on that one test. Was it the lingering effects of longpast brain trauma, so I’d probably never get over it?
He said, based on the totality of my results, most likely my problem with the TAT was due to my avoidance of triggering rather than neurological damage.
He said that PTSD made me hyper-alert for possible triggers, so it interfered with the construction of dramatic narratives whenever the images evoked tragedy.
By the way, I was poor at the time, and Harborview ate over $800 in fees so I could get that information. Thanks!
Getting back to what happened in Las Vegas: As I’ve said we need to answer that question, “What the heck is going on here?”
But this isn’t the first mass shooting in America and won’t be the last. All of us who have feelings are traumatized by each one.
When we hear the accounts and see the pictures we are going to have trouble answering the question fully, because to answer the question fully would be to trigger an avalanche of memories of trauma.
So our questions narrow their focus.
What kinds of guns were they? How did he get them there? Narrow the questions and the answers can be as detailed as we need them to be.
There’s a wall standing between us and escape from the nightmares we keep experiencing, and we focus on the wallpaper design.
“This is no time to talk about gun control.”
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time a math professor and three times homeless. He has been involved with Real Change since he supplied the art for the first cover in November of 1994. This is his weekly column Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
Wait, there's more. Check out articles in the full October 11 issue.