*This post and the audio contains adult content and may trigger some readers and listeners who have experienced trauma in their lives.
Dealing with Death:
I think I saw my first dead body when I was 18 or 19 years old as a Volunteer Firefighter, but my first distinct memory of death was as a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman. I was assigned to the Critical Care Division at the National Naval Medical Center now known as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, more specifically in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). As an ICU Corpsman I was trained to care for the sickest, most injured, infected and critical patients the Navy had to offer. This was to be my crash course in fighting death, dealing with death and handling dead bodies. I did not appreciate the light yet.
The Navy did an excellent job in preparing me for this task and my youth helped push me through without being too traumatized…at the time. I pushed IV fluids into patients whose insides were coming out. Wrapped the dead body of a 20-something young women who died in childbirth. My next morbid task was to wheel her covered body past the room her newborn child and husband were in. I was there at the end of life for elderly military retirees, and I helped provide comfort for the 40-something father dying of cancer as his child yelled “Why does Daddy have to die?”. These are among the memories that are forever saved to my mind’s dark highlight reel.
After the Navy I got into Information Technology. I was removed from dealing with sickness and death for a few years. Then I felt the call to help again and got back into and put over a decade into Public Health and Public Safety. Both on the job and off, I was privy to the suffering of others. Some I could help, others I had to watch helplessly as they died. These experiences are part of my darkness. There are many others with far worse stories and experiences.
Influence from Jocko Podcast:
Among these stories are those told on the Jocko Podcast. The Jocko Podcast and its hosts Jocko Willink and Echo Charles have been a major influence on me. As I’ve shared on this website and on the ‘People, Process, Progress’ podcast, my friend Mike recommended Jocko Podcast to me and once I started listening, I was hooked. I was hooked on the perspective it provided me as I found myself in a valley of darkness. Some of the stories Jocko tells based on the books he has read and the guests he has share both the depths humans can sink to and the contrast we should each appreciate when we think our day is tough.
Among the darkest stories include walks through the Nanjing Massacre or the “Rape of Nanking,” perpetrated by the Japanese Army against Chinese civilians During the Sino-Japanese War, the Mỹ Lai massacre carried out by U.S. Army Soldiers in Vietnam and a more recent episode focusing on the atrocities committed by ISIS in Iraq. So what do these incidents have to do with dealing with personal trauma? I’m not a professional, but to me they provide perspective on how bad things are where I am, how hard they could be and how hard they actually have been in other parts of the world or in America in different periods of time.
By learning the depths of evil and darkness humans can commit, we also learn the unbelievable strength humans can have in those environments. During each of the horrific events above people had to endure the highest levels of cruelty, witness horrible death and lost family and friends up close and regularly. For those that survived life was never the same. Some fostered their hate and exacted vengeance, some found justice by placing those responsible on trial and others lifted themselves up through inner strength and by banding together to survive the moment and the long, or eternal struggle to live life after being around so much death.
Tools to help Deal with the Darkness:
- “Get help or talk to a Brother or Sister”
- If your darkness is dragging you through substance abuse, dangerous behavior or suicidal thoughts then you need to get help
- Look into your EAP program.
- If you’re not employed call your local Mental Health department.
- If you don’t want to reach out via these methods, talk to someone else in your field or inner circle.
- Stay in the game. Don’t leave others wondering what they could have done differently to help save you. Don’t put that on them.
- Regular exercise
- I’ve talked about this as does Jocko and many others, but this warrants a mention and high ranking on this list.
- Whether at the start, middle or end of your day, pushing yourself physically also pushes you mentally. This mental push helps push out the darkness or allows you to focus the fear, anger or other negative feelings you’re having on something else like push-ups, walking or that damned Assault Bike.
- You will also feel better about yourself as you get in better physical shape.
- Make Your Circle Small
- We don’t need the most friends. We need the highest quality friends. Friends we could not see for a while, but we pick up where we left off.
- Friends that truly celebrate our successes and support us in our failures.
- Clean up your social media. See “a.” above = you don’t need 1,000 Facebook friends; you need 10 solid real-life friends
- Stop Blaming Others and Outside Forces
- If you’re staying up too late, drinking too much, ignoring your wife and kids that’s on you. There is no “they” here. There is you and your decisions.
- Listen to the stories on the episodes I mentioned. This doesn’t minimize your pain, but it should provide perspective into where you can find the positive, appreciate those around you and reflect on what you are taking too seriously.
- Find Your Mission
- This is a well-known statement from Jocko and others, particularly for those leaving the military, but it also applies to those retiring from Public Service and those of us choosing to shed that light on our own darkness.
- My mission as I practiced the steps above was initially to not feel like a lazy POS and to do better on the next year’s Memorial Day Murph. Then it became being a better husband and father.
This is the immediate and near term focus we can all have. What outcome do you want as you begin to appreciate the light again? As the veil of fear from COVID is lifted how will you re-emerge a better person? As your health improves and you talk through your issues, where will you take your newfound purpose?
My purpose here is to continue to provide people’s stories. To share their processes and those I’m familiar with. To provide some small way for anyone that reads the blog or listens to this podcast to make progress. We owe that to each other as humans and this is how I’m working to do my part. Thank you all for your time here.
Related Jocko Podcast Episodes:
- 31: My Lai- https://jockopodcast.com/2016/07/13/31-book-review-four-hours-in-my-lai-by-michael-bilton/
- 60: Rape of Nanking – https://jockopodcast.com/2017/02/01/60-the-importance-standing-up-against-evil-and-its-heavy-cost-the-rape-of-nanking/
- 271: Hollie McKay – https://jockopodcast.com/2021/03/03/271-there-is-evil-in-the-world-stories-of-the-horrors-of-war-only-cry-for-the-living-with-hollie-mckay/
Stay safe, wash your hands and Godspeed,
Kevin Pannell, PMP, Creator & Host, ‘People, Process, Progress’ podcast
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