Veteran walking the nation for PTSD and suicide
Sergeant First Class Jimmy Novak, 42, arrived in Grant on Sunday, May 19 on his walk across America to raise awareness for veterans’ PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and suicide.
His journey began on March 22 at his home in Dupont, Washington and will end on Aug. 22 at Disney World in Florida.
After 21 years with the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, Novak wanted to do something to mark his retirement.
On average, 22 veterans take their own lives every day.
Novak struggles with anxiety and depression, and during his first deployment, those struggles morphed into suicidal thoughts.
He had a lot of survivor’s guilt, as his job was relatively safe while others were in combat.
On Dec. 21, 2004, he asked his commander if he was ready for lunch.
“In a minute,” the commander responded.
Minutes later, a suicide bomber entered the chow hall, killing 22 Americans and himself.
“If [my commander] had agreed to go when I asked, we would have been there,” said Novak.
He didn’t process what happened well, and because of his support position, he didn’t feel justified in the emotional response he was having.
Although the Army pushed seeking help, he didn’t feel comfortable doing so, and therefore internalized everything.
“I was worried what my peers would think of me, I was worried about career implications, I was worried how it would affect my security clearance, all these different things. So I did what a lot of people do, and just crammed everything down.”
He began having nightmares and suicidal thoughts, eventually developing a plan to end his life.
“I really don’t know what snapped me out of it. I just know whatever internal signal I was waiting for never actually happened,” he said.
After deployment, he reintegrated with his family but still didn’t share what he was going through.
He related it to tinnitus, sometimes the ringing in the ear is extremely loud, and sometimes it can’t be heard at all, but it’s always there.
He said, for the most part, the thoughts went away, but resurfaced when he became a recruiter.
As he approached retirement this year, he said all the things he’d been cramming down since 2004 began coming up. He’d catch himself weeping at unexplainable times and avoiding conversations and situations with peers.
He finally made the decision to seek help, which gave him the opportunity to talk about what he was feeling, what he had gone through and the things he’d been ignoring for years.
And now, Novak wants all people, not just veterans, to know it really is okay to seek help.
“By actively addressing the issues you have, you make them more manageable. I don’t suppose they ever just go away and become all better, but when you internalize things, they get bigger and bigger and bigger.
“When you put your feelings into words, it forces you to hear your thought process and allows you to put your thoughts into a different perspective,” he said.
In addition to raising PTSD and suicide awareness, Novak said the trip would also give him the opportunity to reflect on his career, the struggles he’s overcome and where he wants to go from here.
So far, Novak has walked four states, but Nebraska will be the first he anticipates walking with no assistance. Due to weather and unforeseen circumstances, he travelled by vehicle through parts of Washington, Idaho and Wyoming.
He’s been on foot since he left Cheyenne, Wyo., and plans to walk the rest of the way, sans a stretch in Missouri to visit family spread throughout the area.
The rest of his journey will take him through Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
He left the Plainsmen Inn Monday morning in the rain for Imperial, where he stayed Monday night.
His wife of nearly 24 years and their three children, ages 20, 16 and 14, plan to join him at his final destination at Disney World to celebrate his journey.
Visit jlnovak.com for more information on his journey.
Those seeking help can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).