I’m very appreciative of all the attention that Mark Donald is bringing to the cause of post traumatic stress, in Battle Ready: Memoir of a SEAL Warrior Medic. War and the weapons of war are intentionally designed to kill people in the most effective way possible and they don’t always end up killing the right people. Their injuries can be horrific and Donald spent several years treating the most horrific injuries that man can inflict upon each other.
“The changes that combat causes in the mind and spirit, are a result of exposing a normal mind to abnormal, horrific, terrifying, and continual stressful circumstances; it is a normal and expected reaction, Mark Donald. (Donald 332). Post traumatic stress, Donald says, is a condition, not a disorder (Donald 332). However, Donald notes that not all of the changes have to result in harmful effects. Many of his friends and teammates of been able to positively refocus their lives towards other endeavors and he has yet to come across one wounded warrior who hasn’t found some way to benefit from their experience (Donald 332). And special operations personnel don’t have a corner on the “stress,” market.
While Navy SEALs and others are known for their capability to put their outside problems, past demons and ghosts and past mistakes into a box so they can achieve the laserlike focus necessary to do their jobs, we must always remember that despite the fact these people are extraordinary individuals, they still not superheroes with a gigantic “S” on their chest and they still must deal with their problems – just like you and I.
Donald uses several incredible quotes throughout his book. One I particularly like this from another one of my personal heroes, the now deceased Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
” The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it,” Schwarzkopf (cited in Battle Ready, Donald 271).
Particularly relevant here is the reluctance most of us for delivering bad news. A couple of years ago I picked up this term, which I Donald also uses in his book (Donald 269): the only thing worse than that is bad news delivered late. That is Donald’s quote, mine is a variant on that, that bad news does not get better with age. There are times when I get behind on projects with clients and as bad as I don’t want to do it, it’s always better to admit what is really going on, (Dr. Phil calls it’s “getting real,”) and then working together to move forward on a solution. Fact is I’m not perfect. I know some of you out there are but sometimes we all write checks our egos can’t cash. This also increases stress.
There is another important survival skill that is rather understated until the end of the book – faith. I am probably the last guy to be talking about faith so I will let Donald do the talking here. His mother told him not to get caught up in what his mind tells him, because it’s what’s in his heart that drives us. “Believe in good and good things will happen, that’s all the Lord is saying, that’s all that faith is, mijo,” she said (Donald 286). Sound advice – where can you apply it in your life, right now?
- As part of his SEAL training, he thought about how certain trainees developed the mental capacity required to weather life’s storms and it all came down one word: faith (Donald 286). He also remember listening to POWs recount the horrible conditions they entered in the prison camps of Vietnam and how they echoed the same words from survivors of the Holocaust (Donald 286). They all had faith, and he was beginning to realize his tower of strength was built on a foundation of faith and a belief in a higher power (Donald 286). His own father, with his particular faults, attempted to build their home once and failed. So he just started over.
- Donald noted that one of the pillars of the special operations community is an unwavering commitment toward one another (Donald 299). Although I have seen it in a few special folks who have never served, I find this level of commitment very difficult to find outside of the military and I think that’s a large shock for people coming out of the military into the civilian workforce. I have been in situations where my supervisors have had the bone pointed at them and where I’ve had it pointed at me. It is always interesting to watch how the rats scramble away while there are a few people who stand by you. I guess those are your true friends. The ones who are willing to take on personal hardships for themselves and their families because they are demonstrating loyalty to a friend. I’ve had people say that “dude, I’ve got a family to feed,” so they tow the company line. Well, I have a family to feed to, but I’ll figure that out – right now if you can only be loyal in the easy times, then you’re not getting the meaning of that word. That is one thing I admire about the special ops community. They have each others backs even when the going gets tough. Whereas in many corporations nobody truly has anybody’s back, particularly when the going gets tough. Of course, when you find those people who will stand by you it is an amazing thing.
- Even the worst of times are survivable if you reach for help (Donald 324). In all the books I’ve read so far one point is clear, we are not designed to live alone. We are designed to live in groups, tribes, towns, cities and countries. We are designed to be interdependent. Life gets tough when we live against the design.
I think another extraordinary characteristic about members of our military, is their ability, regardless of whether they served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq 1 or 2, Afghanistan or any of the numerous smaller and even unknown battles, is that they still managed to hold her chin high and say “not on my watch!” (Donald 308). They don’t want ticker-tape parades or public praise they just want respect for those that came after them (Donald 308) before them and for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Donald ends on an upbeat note – “Combat stress is not a disorder. It is a circumstantial condition that affects everyone in the family, especially the kids. The only way to effectively deal with it is by continually emptying the boxes, and that takes talking to someone.” (Donald 333). Whether you are dealing with post traumatic stress, or just OBLT (overwhelmed by life today), or for any other reason, remember that its affecting not just you, its affecting your kids, your family and friends. I’ve noted several examples above of people doing the right thing, so if you are in this category or ever fall into it, remember to keep doing the right thing and take care of yourself – its not just your life that’s at stake.
To order Mark Donald’s book, click the link below. And thank you to Mark for responding to my email – he does public speaking so if you’re looking for a keynote speaker, visit his website at http://www.markldonald.com. He also does a podcast on SOFREP Radio.
There are also links Mark puts in his book to support our veterans: www.nswkids.com to help Naval Special Warfare families, www.oasisgrp.org OASIS provides professional analysis and assistance related to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, and www.purpleheart.org.
Donald, Mark L., and Scott Mactavish. Battle Ready: Memoir of a SEAL Warrior Medic. New York: St. Martin’s, 2013. Print.