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Thursday, December 01, 2022

With Nightmares and Tears, a Kentucky Town Feels the Long Reach of a Tornado’s Trauma

With Nightmares and Tears, a Kentucky Town Feels the Long Reach of a Tornado's Trauma

Mr. Holt had prided himself on his physical fitness, but he lost 20 pounds in the hospital and feels out of shape. He is even more concerned about his mental health. “An able mind,” he said, “is 10 times better than an able body.”

Mr. Holt knows the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. He was once haunted by them. He served in the Army, deploying to Afghanistan as a door gunner on a Chinook helicopter. When he returned, family and friends told him he seemed different. He sensed it, too.

“I can’t say that it went to drugs, I can’t say it went to gambling or women,” Mr. Holt said of his monthly income that seemed to vanish. “It was like I was walking on a cloud for a whole year. Just giving people money, trying to help people, but I wasn’t helping myself.”

He said he was certain of one thing: “I’m not going through that again.” He knows that is easier said than done.

Before he started at the candle factory about three months ago, Mr. Holt was working with young people, coaching them in sports and taking them on college tours. “I was broke but I was happy,” he said. The job at the factory paid only $15 an hour, but he could work nights, leaving his days free – in theory, at least – for coaching.

In a way, he is still coaching. He is often on the phone with his candle factory co-workers, trying to help them deal with the trauma. “Instead of sugarcoating,” he said, “I’m just letting them know: There are going to be bad days.”

There is a measure of comfort in being close with others who shared that experience. But they can offer only so much reassurance, as conversations devolve eventually into an echo chamber of their collective anguish. “It makes me feel good for the moment,” he said. It was a fleeting comfort.

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