"Invisible Storm" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Raw, brave, and authentic, are words that describe Jason Kander’s unflinchingly honest memoir. Kander chronicles his 4-month deployment in Afghanistan in 2006, his political ambitions when he came home, and his 11-year struggle with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD).
Kander’s symptoms included overwhelming night terrors, angry outbursts and paranoia. In addition, he experienced “unrelenting guilt and punishing shame” because he served behind the scenes as an Army intelligence officer and not on the front line.
Kander served in the Missouri House of Representatives from 2009 to 2013, then as Secretary of State until 2017. He was narrowly defeated in a race for U.S. Senate in 2016. Two years later he announced he was a candidate for mayor of Kansas City but in October 2018 he released a shocking 800-word statement announcing he was withdrawing from that mayoral race to address his long-denied PTSD.
Kander writes, “I didn't fit the profile, a four-month tour wasn't enough to mess with a person’s brain, I believed. To me, nothing I experienced counted as ‘trauma’.” He continues “Given the nature of my job over there, I had been worried less about being shot or blown up and more about being kidnapped and now that I was back in my own bed, it seemed like the Taliban captured me every night.”
There were sleepless nights when Kander stalked the house with a loaded gun. Other symptoms were back pain, a twitch in his left eyelid, and high anxiety if he sat in a restaurant with his back to the door.
Hearing Jason seriously talking about suicide, his Ukrainian-born wife Diana, urged him to seek help from the Veterans Administration. On October 1st, 2018, he walked into the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center and acknowledged suicidal thoughts going back 11 years. He was duly detained in a windowless cell with institutional-green walls and given dark green scrubs to wear. “So this was suicide watch,” he writes.
Kander eventually met with and learned to trust therapist Nick Heinecke. The book includes informative details about the content of the talk therapy and other therapeutic modalities. With the support of therapists, family, and the Veterans Community Project, both Kander and his wife grew to understand that his horrendous experiences in Afghanistan were just as traumatic as physical combat.
“Invisible Storm” demonstrates the toll military service can take on its members and their families. It exposes the failure of the U.S. to provide needed services to those making the transition from survival mode to civilian life. It also shines a light on mental health issues in general and the need for them to be destigmatized by society. The Kanders strongly urge others who suffer to seek and accept help.
Interwoven in this journal are Diana's memories of seeing Jason suffer, relating to him on his dark days, and protecting their son, True, from his father's outbursts, absences, and other symptoms of PTSD. Diana’s comments throughout the book are very helpful, especially when she explains how a spouse can also be affected by and suffer from secondary PTSD.
Kudos to Kander for this very personal and introspective chronicle of his military, political, and family experiences. Currently, 41-year-old Kander is the president of national expansion at Veterans Community Project, a nonprofit whose purpose is to get homeless veterans off the streets. VCP is designed to be more immediately responsive to mental health crises than the sometimes swamped VA system. Any vet can walk into VCP and immediately find services to help them return to civilian life.
With this vulnerable piece of writing, Kander challenges readers to continue to learn about the whole self—both physical and mental, to confront their own problems, and to understand that recovery and post-PTSD growth are possible. He advises: “Either you deal with your trauma, or your trauma deals with you.”
About the Author: In addition to his work with the nonprofit organization, VCP www.veteranscommunityproject.org, (which will receive all royalties from this book,) Kander hosts the podcast Majority 54. His first book “Outside the Wire” was a New York Times bestseller.