How to Combat Depression with Veteran, Double Amputee Athlete Noah Galloway
Noah Galloway had women swooning over his picture on the cover of Men’s Health. He endeared himself to millions when he shared his story on Ellen, and stole hearts across the country when he strutted his stuff on Dancing With the Stars. He’s an athlete who’s competed in marathons, Tough Mudders, and Spartan events. He’s got three beautiful children that are the center of his world, and he’s a professional speaker who captivates and inspires audiences around the country.
But before he did any of those things, Noah had to pull himself from a dangerous depression and unhealthy lifestyle that left him overweight, bitter, and cost him a few days in jail. His downward path began in Iraq, in 2005.
“I can either destroy you or I can save you.”
From a rooftop in Iraq, Noah Galloway indulged that feeling of absolute control over the life and death of the people below him. He maintained watch over the people that night and the next, performing his duties right up until the day his left arm and leg were blown off.
Noah awoke on Christmas Day 2005. His mother sat beside him, torn between joy that her son was alive and pain at having to tell him what he had no memory of: The Humvee he’d been riding in had rolled over an IED. He’d absorbed the brunt of the blast, and the others would all be fine, but Noah would have some major obstacles ahead of him.
For years, Noah waged an internal battle with a familiar theme; he had the power to destroy or save a life. This time, however, it was his own life he had to make that decision about.
The once strong, proud soldier who’d stood on that rooftop almost dizzy with power now struggled to stand at all. “I felt like I’d lost that side of me,” says Noah. He was still the same man on the inside, but with two missing limbs it was impossible for him to understand how he’d ever feel in control of anything ever again.
It took years of depression, broken or damaged relationships, substance abuse and anger before Noah Galloway understood he still held power in his own grip. He’d since had 3 children. His marriage ended but he was a Dad forever, and that’s what ultimately got him to get off the couch and back into life.
Noah Galloway credits his kids for being the reason he changed.
It was an awareness of power, again, that struck him. This time it was the knowledge that he held such power over shaping three little lives. He was the example his sons would have of how to be a man. He was the one who would make sure his daughter understood how a man should treat a woman. When he realized the power his example would have over his children’s lives, he decided to change the example he was setting.
It was not an overnight change; years of unhealthy living left him overweight and out of shape. Depression still threatened to resume control in his heart and in his head. He was self-conscious of his appearance and terrified of failing, but he had a plan and he had help.
Noah’s own father knew a thing or two about living with a physical disability. He’d lost his hand in an accident when Noah was a teenager. Noah’s uncle is a Vietnam veteran. He was able to talk with Noah about his own combat-related struggles. The two men mentored Noah through as only those who’ve been there and done that can.
Noah started his path back to fitness in the dead of night, working out in an empty gym. With each pound of excess weight he shed, he left a little bit of depression behind. As his muscles remembered how to burn and bend and build, Noah learned how to adjust his balance and create a new core strength. As his physical balance grew his mindset grew along with it.
He reconnected with family and friends. Fitness was the vehicle he used to rebuild his life, and it’s what led to where he is now.
It was hard to overlook Noah in the midst of competitors. In the midst of athletes pushing themselves through races, over obstacles, and past all barriers, it was impossible not to notice the man missing one arm and one leg, somehow holding his own. Noah may have been competing for his own sake, but he became an inspiration to others.
Men’s Health magazine noticed him enough to put him on its cover. Producers at the Ellen Degeneres show saw that cover and reached out to him. That landed him a coveted spot on the internationally famous comedian’s show, where he was also presented with a $10,000 check for his charitable fund.
Noah’s life changed again, almost as suddenly as it had changed before.
This time it was an upward swing and everyone wanted a piece of Noah’s energy, presence, or accidental fame. He could have made a million dollars if he’d accepted the call from Survivor. He could have appeared on every morning show or afternoon talk show that reached out as well, but Noah had other priorities.
He’d missed much of his kids’ earliest years, and now that he’d fought his way into the life he wanted as the dad he wanted to be, he wasn’t about to miss one more minute with them. Flying all over the country for talk show appearances didn’t hold a candle to having breakfast with his kids and leaving them for months in order to live on an island with strangers competing for a million dollars was out of the question.
Noah had another “No” ready for the producers of Dancing With the Stars. No way, he told them, was he going to leave his kids in Alabama while he spent months in LA, not even for Dancing with the Stars. He wasn’t a dancer, anyway.
If that was his only objection, the producers said, they could work with that – Dancing With the Stars regular performer Sharna Burgess would come to him!I’m always encouraging people to get out of their comfort zones ~ Noah GallowayClick To Tweet
So it seemed like he was again going to have to be the example he taught. Of all the things he could have imagined himself doing, dancing was not one of them, let alone on national TV. But if this was the opportunity the universe was disguising as a gauntlet thrown down before him, he wasn’t going to leave it there. He still looks bemused when he speaks about it, as his steady smile grows even bigger and his eyes project laughter at the memories.
Sharna proved to be a perfect match for the new dancer. The two worked so well together and developed such a friendship, Noah barely blinked when a move went wrong and Sharna’s foot connected with his previously-shattered jaw. Noah can be seen in a video clip of the rehearsal, smiling as the blood trickled from the newly vacated hole in his mouth and he picked up his tooth from the floor.
Perhaps another partner would have been less amused by the incident, but Noah has been through so much worse than that, that he doesn’t sweat much these days. He even joked about it when the pair returned to Ellen. “I listen much better now,” he laughed as Ellen played that clip and Sharna laughingly apologized again.
Noah Galloway’s life has quieted down now.
The media has other stories and the world is locked down with the COVID-19 virus. He may not be able to directly interact with students or corporate workers from the stage, but he can be seen on Instagram and “I’m Tweeting more than ever,” he laughs, as he makes it a point to stay connected to the outside world.
Underneath Noah’s lighthearted demeanor, though, is the unmistakable resolve of a battle-hardened soul. Noah’s learned some powerful lessons in some painful ways, and aside from being the best dad he can be, his truest purpose now is being a voice for others who are grappling with depression.
One lesson he had to learn, and which he emphasizes to others, is the danger of repressing emotions. Men, especially, tend to hold on to the belief that crying makes them appear weak.
“If you hold in that sadness, “ Noah cautions, “ it will come out as anger.”
Once he let himself go and allowed himself to release those emotions, his anger had less of a hold on him. “If your body wants to have an emotion, there’s a reason for it,” he tells his audiences.
Occasionally he has breakthrough moments with individual mentees or audience members. Seeing a grown man cry always cuts straight to his core, he says. He relates to that person’s pain and understands the magnitude of the moment. Still, he’s honored to do his part to help another.
Isolation can be dangerous for people battling depression, he knows. It can also be a weapon used by depression, to bring more people into its fold. He’s experienced it himself, and he’s not about to let it happen again.
In the midst of this historic time, as the entire world is being told to isolate, Noah knows depression is having a field day as it freely enters homes and hearts everywhere. He’s adamant about sending hopeful messages out to his community, to remind them they are not alone and encourage them to both reach out if they feel depressed, and reach out to help others in danger of being overwhelmed by depression.
His own mom teases him about being more accessible these days, laughing in mock shock that he actually answers the phone when he calls.
Noah’s life changed once in a heartbeat, and took him years to change back.
He may regret some of the decisions he made along the way but he values the lessons they taught him. “I have a better appreciation for things now,” he says, than he did before he was injured. He’s better equipped to face the unanticipated moments in life, such as the Coronavirus quarantine we are all in now. He’s not worried about pushing his kids to be over achievers and launch junior businesses, or learn a new language, and he’s not pushing his online followers to do so either.
Instead, he’s joking about Netflix binging and posting pics of his dog, congratulating people who take showers while quarantining. There’s enough seriousness in the world. Noah is bringing humor to this battle, as laughter has its own power.
Noah’s more at ease with himself and optimistic about his life today than he once would have imagined he’d be. The one thing missing is the one true love he’s struck out on finding to date, but he’s not complaining. “I’m living my American Dream right now,” he says.
And he’s earned it.