Two years ago right now I was out of sorts. Stressed out, you might say. COVID had suited me just fine, actually — the more chaos around, the calmer I get. I was sleeping fine until I wasn’t. Two years ago, of course, was when we pulled out of Afghanistan. I went from business as usual to crying uncontrollably, I wasn’t sleeping, and still I told myself I was good in high stress and that this was where I thrive. 

Except, I wasn’t. 

Only in hindsight did I actually look at my stress levels in my watch, and I’m not sure I would have changed anything had I seen them in the moment. Perhaps, but that’s not my focus here. 

What ended up happening was that this stress, born of grief and loss and the feeling of abandonment, was not good for me and I didn’t know what to do while I was living with it. It was an accident that got me back on track. An old buddy was really struggling, and I ended up reaching out only because he had spent so much time in Afghanistan— he told me he was fine, of course. I got a note from his wife right after that saying he’s not fine at all. I kept calling him, and we talked, for real. Both of us were completely out of sorts. That whole mess felt like an enormous betrayal. We looked at the memorial walls in our memories and the faces we saw, that we always see, and they were hard to look back at, harder than ever. Then came the tears, and the hopelessness. 

I reached out to a couple other buddies and found out they were going through the exact same thing. Unpredictable crying, sleepless nights, anger. We all found solace in each other, even as our world seemed like it was burning down. I focused on life’s basics - I went outside, I worked out, I tried to share my feelings, which meant admitting first of all that I have them. Not an easy step! You see, stress manifests and we don’t always have a vote on where it comes from. It simply is. 

What Worked For Me:

  • SOCIAL. I talked to my friends. More than small talk - I was actually vulnerable and so were they. We are all stronger together.
  • PHYSICAL. The only way I slept at night was by tiring myself out fully. I way increased my step count and added more weight to the rucksack. Either carry it on my back or in my head was my thinking. Exhaustion born of physical stress was the only best bedtime story.

  • MENTAL. This part gets a lot of focus these days. My belief is that focusing on the SOCIAL and the PHYSICAL is what works. It decreased my stress, I slept better, and therefore I felt better. I did not consciously isolate or focus on mental health. But it did come around.

The other most important thing that happened was that I gained a lot of empathy for others. I’m used to being the guy in my own mind who can weather any storm just fine, and on my own thank you very much. What I found here is that I can’t, and there’s a lot of strength in asking for help.

Speaking of which, Emily has been stressed out lately — amplified ironically by a deadline of writing about stress in this email. She just dropped Natalie off in Madrid where she’ll be studying abroad for 6th grade - it’s stressful. Coming home to a different dynamic - stressful. She asked if I had a personal story about stress I could share with the Tribe. She’s much better at asking for help, and to me that’s a sign of strength. And while we’re two years later, Afghanistan and all the sacrifice of my friends has been on my mind lately. It’s helpful for me to share this, with you, so I don’t just bottle it all up, again. That didn’t work the first time, and I don’t think it ever works.

If you’re feeling stressed out, try asking for help. It’s a big hump for a lot of us to get over, but it works.

Jason McCarthy
Founder and CEO, GORUCK