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Jason Kander's new book explores journey to 'post-traumatic growth'

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander greets supporters as they welcome him to the stage at The Pageant on Oct. 28, 2016. Kander's book Invisible Storm: A Solider's Memoir of Politics and PTSD, explores how his military service in Afghanistan affected his political and personal life.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Then-Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander greets supporters as they welcome him to the stage at the Pageant in October 2016. Kander's new book explores how his military service in Afghanistan affected his political and personal life.

Roughly two years after he came close to unseating U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Jason Kander found himself checking into a Veterans Administration facility to get help for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

A day later, he would go public about leaving electoral politics to tend to his mental health — a journey Kander recounts in vivid and often startling detail in his new book, “Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD.”

“I spent most of that 11 years not admitting to myself that I had PTSD,” Kander said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, “because the Army had trained me, like it trains everybody else, to believe that whatever I had been doing in the military was no big deal. And they do that on purpose, and it’s necessary. Because if you don’t make everybody believe what they’re doing is no big deal, then they’re not going to do dangerous things over and over again.”

The problem with that mentality, Kander said, is that when people get out of military service, “nobody flips that switch off.”

“Nobody sits you down and says: ‘Actually, that was pretty crazy. You might need to see somebody,’” Kander said. “All those years I was having all those symptoms, I was still of the belief and of the understanding that what I had done was no big deal. So there’s no way it could be PTSD.”

As he explains in the book, Kander was often placed in dangerous situations while he was an Army intelligence officer in Afghanistan. But, he said, because he never was in a firefight, he hadn’t “earned his PTSD.”

When he came back to Missouri, Kander described being unable to sleep because of vivid nightmares. He also felt a constant sense of danger, and his behavior was not only affecting his family but also his political pursuits.

Before dropping out of the 2018 Kansas City mayor’s race, Kander wrote that he was “terrible to be around.” He felt that way even though he was polling way ahead of his competitors and was raising more than enough money to capture the post.

“I went to bed angry, and I woke up angry. I was impervious to good news and virtually impossible to cheer up,” Kander wrote. “I yelled at Diana [his wife]. I snapped at staff, something I had never done before.”

He said he was increasingly having suicidal thoughts.

“And that’s ultimately what drove me to get help, he said. “I was frightened by it, and I didn’t want to die.”

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander at state Democrats' annual Truman Dinner. Campaign aide Chris Hayden is to his right.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Kander, shown at the 2016 Truman Dinner at Busch Stadium, has not ruled out running for office again. But he's continually stressed that he is content with his professional and personal life.

‘My life is right where I want it to be’

These days, Kander works for the Veterans Community Project, a group that finds housing and provides services for veterans struggling with homelessness. He is in charge of the organization’s national expansion, which includes housing in St. Louis.

He also hosts a podcast called Majority 54 that talks about how Democrats can make inroads with voters in GOP-leaning states by building a strong candidate organization over time. And he and his wife are raising their two children in Kansas City.

Kander said that he’s certain that he’s making an impact with his work with the Veterans Community Project and as a volunteer helping get hundreds of Afghans out of their country.

“I think just my announcement in and of itself almost four years ago and the way it helped a lot of people feel seen, I am just 100% positive that I have accomplished more in terms of making the world a little bit better place out of office than I had in it,” Kander said.

Ever since he went public with his mental health struggles, some of his supporters have urged him to jump back into the political fray either in Missouri or elsewhere. He was once considered a possible presidential candidate who received glowing praise from former President Barack Obama. But Kander has rejected those suggestions and added that his new book is not the start of a comeback in electoral politics.

“My life is right where I want it to be,” Kander said. “And in fact, let’s be real, if I were to run for office tomorrow, people would use stuff in this book and say, ‘This guy is unfit.’ I think I could navigate that. But I don’t think somebody is like, ‘Hey, buy this book so you’re ready when I announce for president in a year.’ This would not be the book you would write.”

One of the things he said he wants to get across in the book is that treatment can be successful.

“I want to make sure that people who have suffered trauma actually have something that I didn’t think I had, which was somebody to look at who was experiencing post-traumatic growth as a goal,” Kander said. “Even though those people are walking around all the time. They are amongst us everywhere. But nobody talks about them.”

Kander will discuss his book with state Sen. Jill Schupp at 7 p.m. July 14 at the J. Minowitz Performing Arts Center. More information is available on Left Bank Books’ web site.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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