Noah Galloway on Combating Depression, Building Mental Resilience, and Starting Over
While deployed in Iraq, Noah Galloway's vehicle ran over a roadside bomb that changed his life forever.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Noah Galloway was a college student in Birmingham, Alabama.
After watching the Twin Towers collapse, he went on a run to clear his mind. The next day, he dropped out of school and enlisted in the military at just 21 years old. Galloway's first deployment was during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
He had finally found what he was looking for — the military had given him a sense of purpose. He served one deployment, and then he re-enlisted.
Three months into his second deployment in Iraq, Galloway was driving a Humvee when the vehicle ran over a tripwire that detonated a roadside bomb large enough to throw the entire armored vehicle through the air and into a canal adjacent to the road.
"Thankfully, we landed wheels down in the water," Galloway told The Profile. "They said the water was up to my chest, huge hole in my jaw, arm was taken off immediately."
This was Dec. 19, 2005. On Christmas Day, Galloway woke up at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. "I woke up unaware of where I was or how I got there," he says.
Soon, he would discover all that he had lost. The roadside bomb had taken his left arm, left leg, and military career.
Suddenly, Galloway was back in his home in Alabama with a new label: wounded veteran. The physical injuries were obvious, but it was the mental ones that haunted him. He fell into a deep depression and began drinking heavily.
"I didn't realize how bad my depression was until I came out of it," Galloway says. "It was such a bad place I was in."
After his marriage fell apart, Galloway was arrested for a DUI and spent 10 days in jail. He knew he had to do better, not only for himself but for his kids. So he worked on building mental resilience while strengthening his body until he dug himself out of the powerful grip of depression.
He went on to run ultra-races, marathons, and Tough Mudders. He appeared on the cover of Men's Health magazine and placed third on the TV show, "Dancing with the Stars." And still — he recognizes those accomplishments don't define him. They were just chapters in his life journey.
Galloway embodies everything The Profile stands for. It's about shedding the labels society has slapped on you and re-claiming the power to re-invent yourself — no matter your age, your current circumstance, or your past traumas.
Below is an excerpt of the interview, but I encourage you to hear his story in full here:
I recently wrote about the danger of labeling people. When you came back to the United States, you're still Noah Galloway, but to everyone else, you're now, "Noah Galloway, the wounded veteran."
GALLOWAY: Even to this day, I deal with that. I try to tell other veterans, "Be proud of the time you served, but that's a chapter in your life." In fact, my chapter was only five years. And I loved it. And I'm proud of it.
Here we are wanting to improve veteran suicide [rates], but when we talk about veterans, we act like that's all we are — crazy and we kill ourselves. You know what? NFL players have a high suicide rate. That's just as important as us. The entire country has a suicide issue we need to deal with. Don't label us as just that. When you label people, they will become what they're labeled.
I grew up in a town that was literally on the other side of the railroad tracks. I was on the bad part of town. I remember as a teenager, we were treated like we were the bad kids. So what did we do? We lived up to it.
There are so many veterans who are CEOs, business owners, and venture capitalists. Some of them do talk about being veterans, but it is often not the first label, and it's probably because they don't want to be put in a certain box, right?
Yes. There are so many musicians whose music I've been following only to realize, "Oh my gosh, you were in the military? You deployed? I had no idea."
You want to take pride in being a veteran, and no one wants to talk ill of veterans, but let's be real, no one's hiring us because of the way we're labeled.
Every movie portrays us as broken — and we're not. There are a lot of successful people. You know, I like to think I'm successful, and yes, being an injured veteran got me attention, so it's hard for me to argue that, but I don't want to just be that.
I've juggled being divorced and a good father to my three kids and managing life and fitness and everything else.
In you book, "Living With No Excuses," you write, "I'd sit at home and drink and smoke and sleep. That's all I did." How did you feel in those first months back as you're making your recovery?
Lost. Confused. I had found this career, and it was taken away. I had done manual labor before I got injured, so I was like, "What do I do now?"
I got re-married, rushed into a second marriage that didn't work out because I was in this dark place. And then I was this sad shell of a man. But I tried to hide it because I didn't want to admit I was scared and confused.
So you started drinking to dull those feelings.
I took pride that I got off all this medication, but all I started doing was self-medicating, and it was doing me no good. I was in denial. I didn't know how bad my depression was until I finally came out of it, realizing I needed to be a better father. It was such a bad place I was in.
You're at pretty much rock bottom, and one evening, you've been drinking and driving. You get pulled over by police. You've said before that the police officer who arrested you for a DUI actually saved your life. How so?
In a small town, you get pulled over, they see a Purple Heart tag, they see you're missing an arm and a leg, the war's a big deal in the news.
The night that I got that police officer who didn't know who I was and he did me a huge favor because I needed that. I ended up spending 10 days in the county jail because I made the judge mad and was held in contempt of court. It was a sad place. When I was locked up, I was in this county jail where there were people headed to the penitentiary.
I was talking to these guys, and I was like, "I can still recover from this." You know what I mean? I can turn this around. I don't need to keep going down this rabbit hole. It was that police officer and those guys I talked to that were a huge help.
You write: “One thing about my depression: I hid it very well. Now, looking back, it was pretty obvious. So I guess the more accurate statement is that the person I was hiding from the most was myself." Do you remember the moment when you recognized that?
Yes, I do. There was a full-length mirror in my bedroom. I would just look at it and see my injuries. I had been in fitness my entire life, now I was out of shape and I was injured. All these different things. It would make me angry, and it would be something I did just to stir the pot with my own emotions.
I was doing that one day, and then I walked out in the living room and saw my three kids sitting on the couch watching TV. I realized that to my two boys, I'm showing them what a man is, and that's what they're going to become one day. To my little girl, I'm showing her how a man's supposed to act, and that's what she'll look for one day. And that terrified me.
I turned and all of a sudden, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew I had to make changes, and I had to make them fast. I credit my kids for every bit of success I have. Without a doubt.
You have this mental framework that I can't get out of my head. Explain "The Al Bundy Effect."
Al Bundy, from Married With Children, is a depressed shoe salesman that is unhappy with life in general. The only time he gets excited is when he talks about scoring four touchdowns in a single football game back in high school. It's the only time he gets excited.
I see a lot of veterans — and other people do it — but I point out to veterans that you can't live in the past because you'll never be satisfied with what you're doing now. You'll never progress and challenge yourself again because you've peaked too soon. But you only peak when you decide you've peaked. So Al Bundy chose to peak in high school and never did anything else.
As a veteran, I served in the military, loved wearing the uniform, proud that I had that American flag patch on my arm, but it was a chapter in my life. One chapter.
The last couple of years, after being on Men's Health, Dancing With the Stars, and American Grit, I've traveled all over, people were excited to meet me, speeches everywhere, made all kinds of stupid money, and then everything stops. Well, what do we do now? Well, it's time to start another chapter.
It was a great run, I enjoyed it, but my life's not over. Whether I'm in the public eye or not, Noah Galloway's going to keep doing something whether people know it or not. My family and I are going to have a good time. We're going to work and do the next thing we have to.
I've tried to show my kids that. Hey, guess what? This Christmas isn't going to be as big as big as the other Christmases because dad took an 80% pay cut when everything stopped. But you know what? We're doing great, and it's OK. We're going to figure out what we're doing next.
It doesn't matter how old you are, you can start over. You can start a new thing.
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