By Josh Letner
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The intense stress of combat deployments in Iraq, years as a Washington, D.C., area firefighter, and an abusive childhood finally got the best of U.S. Navy Chief Mike Wade. After a night of heavy drinking and prescription drug use, Wade made a threatening late-night call to his commanding officer.
When Wade awoke facedown on his floor the next morning, the police were at the door.
It sounds like the end of a long sad story, one Americans have largely ignored during every war in the nation’s history. But for Wade, it was the beginning of his recovery. He points to that morning as a watershed moment in his life — the moment he realized he had a problem.
“When I finally did come apart and boiled over, at the moment, I kept pointing my finger at everything around me, anything but what was going on inside me,” he said.
Wade was sent to several military hospitals. Finally he met three Marines who, like Wade, fought in Ramadi, Iraq.
“Once I was able to talk to those three Marines, and have the firsthand perspective of events that I was involved with in Ramadi, Iraq, I realized it wasn’t my spouse, it wasn’t my relationship, it was all me,” he said.
Wade was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has spent the past several years undergoing treatment and speaking to soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in an official capacity for the Pentagon.
On Saturday, he addressed an audience of tornado survivors, volunteers, first responders and veterans in the Justice Center at Missouri Southern State University.
Vicky Mieseler, Ozark Center’s vice president for clinical services, said she heard about Wade’s presentation from a co-worker’s brother who was stationed at the Pentagon. She thought Joplin’s tornado survivors and first responders would benefit from Wade’s no-nonsense presentation about PTSD.
“I thought this might be a unique way to present PTSD and help people understand the connection to it with the military, and why what we went through might be similar,” she said.
Wade agrees. He says PTSD is most commonly associated with combat veterans, but it can affect anybody.
“You don’t need to have been in the military. You don’t need to have gone to Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam or World War II,” he said. “Traumatic and life-threatening events happen to everyone, not only to someone in uniform, but every single citizen and every single person on the planet. This disorder is a normal reaction to stress and trauma. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Wade said that the Joplin community has suffered a life-threatening event that could cause people to exhibit early symptoms of PTSD. He said the manmade destruction that he witnessed in Iraq does not compare with what a tornado did to Joplin.
Mieseler said she has seen people display the early symptoms of PTSD, but no cases have been diagnosed because not enough time has passed since the tornado.
“We’ve seen the symptoms, but we wouldn’t diagnose anyone with PTSD until 90 days have passed because there’s still time to get the symptoms under control,” she said.
Mieseler says the trauma of May 22 is likely to affect people for years to come.
“I think people will slowly realize that this event has affected the rest of their lives, and that they’re going to have some issues that they will always respond to and that they have to be in control of,” she said.
Wade says he still battles his symptoms. He, like other veterans, will likely battle them for the rest of his life.
“People always ask me, ‘How’s it feel to be recovered from PTSD?’ And I always correct them and say, ‘I’m not recovered.’ I don’t think I’ve recovered from PTSD; I just learned how to live with it,” he said.