No longer running against himself

Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD

If you are interested in purchasing the books mentioned in this review, please consider purchasing through to benefit the National Defense University Foundation by donating 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to NDUF when you start your purchase at and have selected the National Defense University Foundation as the charitable organization to receive donations from your eligible purchases. Go to, select NDUF as the organization you wish to support, and start your Amazon shopping at each time you make an Amazon purchase.

Jason Kander has everything:

A law degree from Georgetown University. Service as a U.S. Army captain in Afghanistan and as a legislator and Secretary of State in Missouri. “Just barely losing” his run for U.S. Senate. Support for his potential candidacy as “the best person to unseat the worst person ever to occupy the White House,” the impeached President Donald Trump. Being on the ballot for mayor of Kansas City. A published memoir.  An entrepreneurial, author wife, and a son, True.

Everything – including PTSD.

And on an October day in 2018, the politician abruptly leaves the race for city hall and heads to the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where 11 years after deployment, he seeks treatment for suicidal thoughts and “night terrors, my consuming fear of someone hurting me and my family, my ever-present anger, my unrelenting guilt and punishing shame, my inability to feel joy, and my increasing dislike of myself.” 

Fortunately, Kander has everything including candor, which allows “Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of
Politics and PTSD
” to describe devastating depression with welcome wit, often in asides he places in footnotes throughout the 224 pages. His topic might be unpleasant, but his telling is engaging and eye-opening. (Last summer the book made The New York Times top-10 nonfiction bestseller list).

Despite the difference in theme from his first memoir, “Outside the Wire: Lessons I’ve Learned in Everyday
Courage (2018),” his second book maintains a sense of honesty with a presumed frankness about his mental monsters – and about his effort to help other sufferers find potential relief and post-traumatic growth, with the emphasis on “growth.”

He even vouches for the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system, despite an initial rejection of service due to Kander’s fear of being truthful on his initial application form. For him, the VA staff has “a thorough understanding of the challenges I was facing, and nothing I said could surprise them.” (Calls to VA Crisis Line triple after his newsworthy announcement about his depression.)

His speaking out about his being manipulated by personal issues comes only after years of trying to suppress them, mainly with a schedule of nonstop campaigning – including speeches in 46 states in a calendar year. His idle mind is his demon’s playground when he is not fulfilling public obligations.

His brain’s constant playmates – sadness and lack of self-esteem and survivor’s guilt – first show up after the baseball-loving, “average American soldier” returns from four months Afghanistan. He “had never been in a firefight,” and he is constantly cognizant of “how easy I’d had it compared to other guys over there.” 

On the campaign trail, occasionally “the lore of my military service” is inflated in introductions. His response is comic Kander, decorus in deflection: “It’s nice of you to say ‘highly decorated,’ but honestly, I was ‘lightly decorated’ at best.”

But the darkness of a traumatic incident is evidently not affected by its duration – such as seeing the face of an Afghan boy “framed by the iron sight of my M-16.” Or being in a potentially dangerous meeting with a warlord. Or nearly shooting his driver – in error. These situations result in his anguish, which he tries to disavow for a decade. 

Not anymore. After therapy, highly readable in “Invisible Storm” in the form of conversations with counselors and their subsequent, written reports about their psychological pilgrim’s progress, he surmises that a devious trait of PTSD is that it “convinces you that you never had it, and you’re just an asshole.” 

He learns the reasons for his lapses into being the latter. Now he is kinder to others and to himself, "comfortable with being uncomfortable,” aware that “I used to be miserable, and now I’m not."

The Little League coach, family guy (daughter Bella arrived two years ago) and founder of Let America Vote now works with Veterans Community Project and continues his “Majority 54” political podcast. The big question is whether he’ll run for office again. 

“Probably” one day – “but not now, and not for a very long time.”

Today, “being the poster child for post-traumatic growth is not the role I envisioned for myself when I entered public service. But {so} long as I have a platform and influence, I want to make the most of it and carry out this mission.”

‘Here’s the stuff I wish I had known when I came home’ 

Kander offers five tips about learning to live with post-war PTSD:

  • "Either you deal with your trauma, or your trauma deals with you."
    "If it were possible to outrun PTSD, I would have . . . But it caught up to me, and it was always going to."
  • "It’s not a contest”
    "Thinking ‘other people have it worse’ doesn’t actually diminish your own trauma, it just diminishes your power to heal.”
  • Mental health is physical health and physical health is mental health"
    "Now that I’m mentally healthier, I have far less pain and can exercise with a frequency I hadn’t been capable of since I was in the army."
  • "Treat yourself as you would a good friend."
    "I’m much better now at giving myself credit for my pre-therapy {professional} accomplishments . .  . The pace at which I worked was at least in part a response to trauma, but the causes I chose were a reflection of who I was – who my parents raised me to be."
  • "There will always be new challenges and possibility new traumas"

The Taliban’s return to control in Afghanistan in 2021 is no surprise to Kander, but he is not prepared emotionally.  “I had been turning down interview request because I thought I was too emotional to go on television.”

His counselor suggests he go public, reminding him that “America might need to see some of that emotion – or, more important, my fellow Afghan vets need to see America seeing some of that emotion.”

"Invisible Storm: A Soldier’s Memoir of Politics and PTSD," by Jason Kander, Mariner, 224 pages, $29