In conservative Missouri, it marked Kander as a Democrat who could identify with gun owners even as he supported background checks opposed by the National Rifle Association. Although he lost that Senate race in 2016, Kander was soon after launching a presidential campaign with the encouragement of none other than Barack Obama.
And then, just as suddenly, he quit electoral politics — not because of public setbacks, but because of private pain. In October 2018, he announced his decision to seek mental health treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The discrepancy between Kander’s outer and inner life has produced his gripping and candid new memoir, “Invisible Storm.” His conclusion is that the treatment is working.
Kander waited more than a decade before seeking help himself. He had resisted the idea that his four-month tour as an army intelligence officer in Afghanistan, ending in February 2007, had caused the fear, anger and sleeplessness that haunted his return to the civilian life in Missouri.
“Honestly, I was ashamed of myself for all of this,” Kander writes. Although he endured heartbreaking moments, “For me, nothing that I experienced counted as ‘trauma.’ For one thing, I had never been in a firefight.”
Nor could Missouri voters suspect his struggles. Kander poured his energy into relentless political work, in which he showed unusual gifts.
In 2008, at age 27, Kander won a seat in the State House. Four years later, Missouri voters named him secretary of state.
As his term drew to a close in 2016, he leapt onto the national stage with his challenge to incumbent Republican Senator Roy Blunt. But his emergence as a Democratic celebrity left him with unspoken guilt, as “I had just become famous for an advertisement featuring my skillful handling of a weapon I had never fired in combat”. he says in his memoirs.
The day after losing that race, Kander saw a therapist for an emergency appointment his worried wife had booked. He was diagnosed with depression, but the supporters he lured in defeat dragged him back into the political whirlwind.
Elected figures such as Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren weren’t the only ones to cheer him on. There were sports and entertainment personalities like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jimmy Kimmel and Jason Sudeikis.
“I had been invited to the cool kids table and it made me feel like a cool kid,” he wrote. But the feeling proved fleeting.
In the spring of 2018, “numbed by the heights of the election campaign”, he decided to abandon a candidacy for the White House. He would run for mayor of Kansas City instead.
Well positioned to win this relatively short race, Kander increasingly found himself contemplating suicide. He stunned the political world in October by going public with his private angst.
“After 11 years of trying to move past the symptoms of depression and PTSD, I finally concluded it was faster than me,” Kander wrote on Facebook. “That I have to stop running, turn around and face it.”
He needed help navigating the Veterans Affairs bureaucracy to get treatment. He got it from an organization called the Veterans Community Project, whose director had volunteered for his campaign for secretary of state.
And within months, the therapy had significantly eased his pain. His goal in writing the book is to encourage the vast number of other veterans suffering from PTSD to seek it out for themselves.
“What I want people to take away from this is that you can cross to the other side,” Kander said in a phone conversation. “It’s worth it.”
For him, the other side now means working as head of national expansion at the Veterans Community Project. He also sits on the board of Giffords, the organization founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, to advocate for solutions to gun violence.
Kander sees an echo of the psychological damage veterans can suffer in the growing ranks of children and parents who have witnessed and survived America’s mass shooting epidemic. “Trauma is trauma,” he says.
Giffords has yet to convince congressional Republicans, including Blunt, to let Congress take serious action. The shooters in the Buffalo, Uvalde, and Tulsa massacres of the past few days would all have used AR-15-style rifles like the one Kander assembled in this campaign ad.
Editor’s Note: If you or someone close to you has considered suicide, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK at 741741.
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