It was about 5 o’clock one morning, Christopher Brown recalled, several months after he first deployed to Iraq in December 2007. He was loading plywood into a tent when he heard bombs exploding nearby and immediately sought refuge in a bunker.
That’s the moment that sparked years of hurt for Brown.
“Just that intense moment right there made me feel like, when I came out of the bunker, I wanted to go outside the gate and handle whoever it was that did it,” the 28-year-old said. “And that’s what sparked the PTSD, the moment where the anger and the paranoia and things of that nature started.”
He had joined the Army as a 20-year-old in October 2006, wanting to support his baby daughter, Makenzie, and to honor his father, John, a 20-year Air Force veteran who also had served four years in the Army, who had died a few months earlier.
But in 2008, “I started getting into trouble a lot. I didn’t realize what was going on with me,” he said.
After being put out of the Army and sent home to Rock Hill with no place to live, Brown spent three years bouncing from couch to couch in other people’s homes, a “degrading” experience.
“It makes you feel inadequate.”
Eventually, Brown moved in with his mother and began making music to help heal his mind. In the fall of 2013, he started school at Allen University in Columbia as a student in the music department, where he would meet his future wife, Esther.
One semester later, Brown took a break from school to focus more on healing himself.
“You have to find things to occupy your brain space, because if you’re not doing that, then all the thoughts of anger, paranoia ... and violence (come back),” he said.
He has returned to Allen this fall, now a business student with dreams of one day opening a music studio.
“I have come a long, long way,” Brown said. “I don’t snap at people as quick. I don’t get irritated as often. And I’m doing it all without meds.
“It’s just like a megalithic stone off my shoulders, because I used to feel like the whole world was going to end. And I just feel like there’s a bright future ahead of me. And there’s a lot of work to be done, and I can do all of it.”