Army veteran Seth Kastle had everything going for him when he came home from serving 16 years overseas. That's why it was so confusing to him when his life began to fall apart.
He had a job, a loving wife, family, and friends. He knew things would be different when he moved back to Kansas, but he didn't think they'd be thatdifferent. But he felt an extreme anger building up inside, a fire inside his chest that he couldn't explain or get rid of.
Kastle was unknowingly suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event — like war.
"I waited until it was too late," he said. "I didn't even know what PTSD was."
Seth Kastle on the far right. Image courtesy of Seth Kastle.
Kastle struggled for years without getting help, pushing away his loved ones — including his wife. There were outbursts at work. He was drinking too much. It all started to add up.
"There have been a thousand times looking back where my wife should have left me," he said.
Kastle and his wife stuck it out, though, and Kastle began to find ways to get through his battle.
He tried going to VA group therapy, but because of the time slots he could attend, the groups were all full of Vietnam veterans who were 30 years ahead of Kastle in their reintegration process. It wasn't the most helpful for his current state of mind. Eventually, he was able to find a therapy resource that worked, and it helped him get back on his feet and keep his marriage and life intact.
But he still wasn't sure how to talk about what was going on, especially with his little girl.
PTSD resources to help you broach the topic with kids were lacking online. So, one day, Kastle came home from a bad day at work, sat down, and wrote a story about his experience with PTSD in 30 minutes. Then, he filed it away on his computer, not intending to ever see it again.
It wasn't until a close friend and fellow veteran published a book that Kastle was inspired to keep going with his own story.
Kastle created the children's book titled "Why Is Dad So Mad?" to help explain to his six-year-old daughter his struggles with PTSD. And when it was published, he read it to his daughter for the first time.
"There's a section in the book where I describe the anger and things associated with PTSD as a fire inside my chest," he said. "After I first read the book to my daughter, I remember her saying, 'I'm sorry you have a fire in your chest now, Dad.'"
"She was four at the time. That's something I'm always going to remember."
His daughter isn't the only one putting the pieces together from the book. Kastle receives frequent emails from appreciative parents trying to explain PTSD to their own children. And that gives Kastle all sorts of feelings, mainly because he never intended for his words to be for anyone but his own kids.
"Why Is Dad So Mad?" has been such a success that he decided to co-write another version with his wife, who is also a veteran, called "Why Is Mom So Mad?"
Kastle hopes to help break the taboo on PTSD and start conversations about it with loved ones.
"There's a stigma associated with PTSD, and a lot of it is the warrior culture and masculinity that you need to be able to handle this," he said. "And if you can't, it's because you're weak."
But that's not true, and Kastle said if our military members have more resources to help talk about PTSD, reintegration back into home life could be a lot easier.
According to the PTSD Foundation of America, one in three troops returning home are getting diagnosed with symptoms of PTSD, but less than 40 percent will ultimately seek help.
The stigma, shame, and discrimination around mental health issues is damaging for those who face symptoms as well as those who are close to them. We all play a role in tackling outdated views on mental health, and we can help shift attitudes by educating ourselves, listening more, and showing support to those who need it.
Kastle admits that it was extremely hard to walk into the clinic that first time, but seeking out that resource ultimately changed his life. More support and resources for our vets will create more success stories like his.
"I can easily admit that every piece of my life is better now that I took that step," he said.
And, now, the man who didn't even know what PTSD was is using his voice to educate a younger generation on it. That's how you chip away at a taboo.