Former Delta Force operator Tom Satterly has sympathy for what he knows many have experienced as a result of the unprecedented COVID-19 shutdowns and the anxiety spawned by the deadly pandemic.
After over two decades of service in the U.S. Army’s most elite special operations unit, the Indiana native found himself with the telltale symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as he retired in 2010.
They included heavy drinking, depression, bouts of anger, self-isolation and high levels of anxiety, combined with suicidal thoughts to the point of nearly taking his own life.
Truthfully, Satterly recounts in his book, “All Secure,” these problems had been building for years through countless operations overseas (many of which are still classified), including seeing heavy combat in the famous “Black Hawk Down” battle in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993, and later in Iraq, where he helped lead the raid that captured Saddam Hussein in 2003.
“All secure” is the phrase his unit would call over the radio to signal the chaos of firefight was over, everyone was safe and soldiers could let their guard down, he told The Western Journal.
Satterly said while the stressors that Americans have experienced due to COVID-19 are different, they can still lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Based on media reports and the quadrupling in phone calls his and his wife Jen’s nonprofit the All Secure Foundation is receiving, it’s clear many are struggling emotionally right now.
“We just threw PTS at America: isolation, stress, unknown. You’ve got an enemy you can’t even see. You lost control,” he said regarding the COVID-19 shutdowns.
PTSD is defined as a mental health condition triggered by having experienced or witnessed a terrifying or traumatic event.
Satterly said the frailties that people took into the COVID-19 crisis are likely magnified under the new stressors.
“If you’re prone to lashing out, you lash out even more,” the retired command sergeant major said. “And then there’s people that aren’t prone to lashing out, that are just terrified because they don’t understand why they feel this way and what they’re doing.”
The National Center for Health Statistics working with the Census Bureau released data last month showing that one third of Americans have showed signs of clinical anxiety or depression, The Washington Post reported.
“When asked questions normally used to screen patients for mental health problems, 24 percent showed clinically significant symptoms of major depressive disorder and 30 percent showed symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder,” according to The Post.
By way of comparison, between January and June 2019, 6.6 percent had showed symptoms of depressive disorder, while 8.2 percent of adults had symptoms of anxiety disorder and 11 percent had symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder, the NCHS reported.
Rates of anxiety and depression were far higher among younger adults, women and the poor. https://t.co/sb9eTn5wku
— Rachel Schallom (@rschallom) May 27, 2020
Much as the end of Satterly’s military service did not mean the end of his PTSD, the highly decorated combat veteran believes Americans will have to grapple with new pressures as they return to their pre-pandemic lives.
“The rollback after two months of not doing something, it’s scary to start again. There’s more uncertainty,” Satterly said. “Now I have to go back to work and will I get sick? So now there’s more fear, more stress.”
One of the first steps to dealing with post-traumatic stress is to acknowledge it’s there.
“It’s OK to be afraid. We’re all afraid,” he explained.
“And it’s OK to not know what’s going on. We’ll figure it out,” Satterly added. “If we stick together and trust our faith, we’ll make it through this.”
Other keys are giving yourself grace and sharing what you’re going through with others.
“When you learn to forgive yourself, we’re the hardest judges on ourselves, and so we project that onto everyone else, and think, ‘they’re all judging me,'” Satterly observed.
“It’s really us judging ourselves,” he continued. “When we give into someone else for faith and love and help, and we stop blaming, that’s when we start to heal. I tell people to talk, just start talking. Open up.”
Satterly said that person may be a therapist, a friend or a family member — someone you can trust with your emotions. For him, it was his wife Jen.
A further important step is getting back to who you are at the core, before PTSD altered your outlook on life.
“What is it that you believe in? What is it that fills your heart? What is it you’re following?” Satterly said he likes to ask people.
For a lot of people, he pointed out, it’s faith in God, which often may have been shaken or even lost through the trauma.
“What is the Bible?” Satterly asked. “You go back and you read the Bible and you’re going back and you’re reliving stories that you’re living now. And if you go back and read it and look at it again, you’re like, ‘Wow, they talked about this.'”
“They talked about somebody going through something like this. It’s reliving stories you just forgot. People that lose their faith, they just move away from it. And when you bring them back, they’re like, ‘That’s why I felt so good back then. That’s why I feel horrible now.’”
King David — the leader of ancient Israel and a renowned warrior — was very transparent with his emotions in the many psalms attributed to him in the Bible.
He penned one of the most popular passages in scripture: Psalm 23.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul,” the psalm reads.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
“PTSD is where people get stuck in a pain,” he told The Western Journal. “They get traumatized, and then they live their life through that trauma and so everything gets filtered through that trauma.”
Something the counselor and life coach has found helpful in working with people struggling with PTSD is to have them start envisioning what their life could look like if they no longer had to live with the trauma.
“I always have them take one little step beyond where they are,” McCray said. “If you can get past this, what would be the one next step you would want to take?”
Further, he exhorts people “to hold on to something they know is true about themselves. Maybe something before the PTSD. Help them just start, living from the core,” while encouraging them to “walk through the pain.”
A favorite Bible passage McCray likes to direct people to on the subject of loving themselves and others is 1 John 3: 18-20, which says, “My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality.
“It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.”
Dr. Michael Maiden, lead pastor of Church for the Nations in Phoenix, knows firsthand about God’s ability to heal people from manic depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
His trauma happened in the mid-1990s, he recounts in his book “God of the Comeback,” when his church treasurer embezzled millions, which resulted in the Arizona preacher losing his church and his young family’s home, and becoming the subject of a high-profile criminal investigation.
Maiden was cleared, but it took years to recover all that had been lost.
“A lot of the things that come with trauma — unforgiveness, anger, resentment, bitterness — all those things … we can sometimes justify having toxic emotions because we’ve been through traumatic events, but that’s not the way to be healthy,” he said.
Maiden found forgiveness and openness about the pain can set one down the pathway to healing.
He felt God spoke to him during this difficult time in his life and said, “Michael if you will forgive the people who hurt you, I will make you forget the pain they caused you.”
Maiden sees his life and testimony as a prophecy of what God can do in the lives of others who have suffered trauma.
“I believe that there is a loving God who knows what they’ve been through, and he’s able to heal them,” he said. “And part of that healing process begins by forgiveness and honesty, openness and just beginning to talk to someone, beginning to get it out, beginning to get it all out.”
June is PTSD Awareness month.
#MoreThanEverBefore people are experiencing emotional and #mentalhealth crises, such as PTSD, in response to a wide range of situations and stress. As we recognize June as #PTSDAwarenessMonth, it is important to know the signs and get help. Remember, it is okay to not be okay. pic.twitter.com/unbPiCC0dM
— Second Lady Karen Pence (@SecondLady) June 9, 2020
The Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255 (press 1), and help is additionally available at or VeteransCrisisLine.net. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is also 1-800-273-8255.
Satterly, meanwhile, knows there is hope and healing for those suffering from PTSD, where they can return to a place of feeling “all secure.”
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